By on July 2, 2021

Carvana dealership, Image: CarvanaGiven the constant hassles of Volkswagen Golf ownership lately, and how every media outlet is shouting “Highest Used Car Pricing Ever” as loudly as possible, I’ve been pondering selling the Golf to a dealer. No Facebook idiots, no trade-in for something else, just a sale.

Here in The Current Year, there are many companies that purport to give you both the best deal possible and make the car selling process seamless. I found out this week what five such companies are like in the early stages.

First, let me clarify: No, I didn’t price the Golf at every used car buying outlet online. I priced the car with five bigger names in the business. Your mileage may vary if you contact a regional service. Each one I tried is national and promises to give you an instant cash offer for your car. Most of them will pick the car up from you in the transaction, or you can bring it to a physical location should you choose. The five companies I priced were CarMax, Carvana, Vroom, Give Me The VIN, and AutoNation.

All of them required I input the VIN or my plate, as well as general expected information about the Golf. They were all interested in the mileage, if it had any hail or body damage, if the interior was clean, and how many keys it had. Other questions varied slightly but were not too exhaustive. One site, AutoNation, required me to upload pictures of the Golf to help their assessment.

Before any of this, I priced the Golf’s trade-in value over at Kelly Blue Book. I know some of you all hate KBB, but that’s just life. KBB said to expect between $19,541 and $21,394. Given the ludicrous used market right now, I figured I should be able to beat the high end of that range. So what happened?

We start with what I’d call the pleasant, professional vendors who delivered the expected preliminary experience. CarMax, Carvana, and Vroom were all easy to use. Most importantly, all three companies delivered an instant offer as promised. I’m not going to get into specifics since numbers become outdated too quickly and there are regional variables at play. However, CarMax was the lowest, Vroom in the middle, and Carvana was the highest. Carvana made a point of pointing out that their offer was higher than the KBB valuation. The other two just said “Here’s your figure, interested?” but they were within the KBB trade-in range. All sent one or two emails with my offer figure and a link to complete the transaction.

The two remaining companies offered an unpleasant, less professional experience than expected. AutoNation’s site said you could click to get a certified offer on their front page, which prompted more questions. While that was not surprising, the fact they require images of the car to complete their offer was. The AutoNation site also requires you to opt-in to robocalls and text messages to get your offer and affirm the phone number you’re providing is yours and accurate, or your offer is invalidated. Once I reluctantly entered all the information and hit submit, the site informed me my offer would be emailed in 30 minutes.

An hour and 40 minutes later there was no offer from AutoNation, but I got an email from Samuel, an Acquisition Associate. He said I should call him, and he could walk me through the process and give me a check today. I replied I was just looking for my offer, which every other site could deliver instantly and without a call. His response indicated the AutoNation headquarters was “a little backed up” and he would contact me as soon as the offer came through to review it. Not sure what we’d have talked about on the phone when he had no offer to review.

Already this was too laborious, and I thought surely within a couple of hours I’d have the offer. Nope, the AutoNation offer arrived about seven and a half hours after I submitted my request online. Their offer was almost exactly in the middle of the KBB trade-in price. Additionally, AutoNation does not offer pick-up – customers must drive to a location to drop off the car. I replied with a decline, saying the offer was too low. AutoNation left me alone after that, with just a “Are you happy?” auto-generated email from the GM of the nearest AutoNation location.

That leaves us with Give Me The Vin, which wins the award for the least professional used-car selling experience here. Worth noting, GMTV is the only one-way service that purchases used cars but has no consumer dealership side. After entering my information like the other sites, GMTV provided a range estimate rather than a guaranteed offer. Their range started well below KBB trade-in and ended in the middle of it, making it the worst offer I received. The site asked if I was declining, considering, or accepting the range, with a box to tell them why. I picked decline and said the range was too low. It’s worth noting that GMTV had the least generous timeline for accepting their offer, at 12 hours. All other services here gave at least a week, and Carvana gave 30 days.

My decline started an email and text correspondence event, where I was put in contact almost instantly with Jeff. Jeff sent me a text, and then another email telling me why their price was good. Jeff reiterated their offer, a single figure which was (now) the lowest part of the previously proposed range. It was over $1,500 less than KBB’s lowest valuation.

Again I declined and stated via email that I’d been offered more by all the competition. Jeff requested a picture of the better offer to compare, so I sent the best one (Carvana) over. Nine minutes later, Jeff replied with a very poorly-written and unprofessional email dogging Carvana, Carvana’s pricing “range” (they didn’t actually give me a range), and detailing all the red flags about Carvana. How about I just show it to you?

Concurrently a separate email from Jeff arrived restating their low offer once more, encouraging me to hurry up as I had only 12 hours. After that, Jeff responded to the question of the exact mileage, which I needed to update as I had assumed it a bit too low. I provided a revised Carvana offer immediately with the corrected mileage. Thirteen minutes later, I got another email from Jeff. They were going to “PASS” and dogged Carvana again, which apparently uses several-week outdated car pricing for reasons, and that’s why they pay too much for cars.

After the decline, I got another pass email from GMTV, a form letter that said the company seeks to make $300 per transaction (whatever that means) and they weren’t confident they could do it with the Golf.

What I learned here is that not all used car buying services are created equal. Three left me feeling fine, one seemed disorganized, and the other shady. Seller beware when you’re ready to sell your used car.

[Image: Carvana, KBB]

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58 Comments on “Where Your Author Investigates Some Online Car Buying Services...”

  • avatar

    I do wonder if “Jeff” is right about Carvana though. Do they just give you the big number upfront and then adjust it down after “inspection” and hope you’ll accept it rather than deal with the hassle of trying somewhere else?

    • 0 avatar

      From what I can tell, your offer will stay as-is as long as you’ve described the car accurately. I’m sure many people pretend it’s like a resume and embellish a bit, and then get jabbed when they don’t disclose things.

      • 0 avatar

        I have two friends that have used Carvana, they described their cars accuratly and the transaction was smooth as silk. Another used Carmax, same results. I would not use autonation for anything, selling a used car and especially not buying new from rtheir retail dealers, they are the worst!

    • 0 avatar

      No, Jeff is full of crap. I sold my truck to Carvana a few months ago without buying one of their cars and Carvana is 100% percent on the up-and-up. They do exactly what they say. As long as your car is in the condition you describe, you’ll get your check as promised. Here’s how my transaction went:
      1. I got my offer via their website. It was good for something like 14 days as long as I didn’t crash the car and drove it less than 1000 miles.
      2. During that time period, I shopped it around several local dealers, including CarMax, Vroom, KBB Instant Offer, and Carvana was the highest offer by about $500. Vroom was second, then Carmax (about $1000 low). KBB just passed me off to a local dealres who all low-balled me, roughly $3-5000 below Carvana’s offer. was lower than that. You’ve got to be truly desperate to go with them.
      3. I also went looking for a car I wanted and tried to trade it. I got offers similar to the local dealers. Even told them I’d trade to them if they’d match Carvana. No takers.
      4. On day 12 or so, I located the car I wanted and got the dealer to hold it for me. I then accepted Carvana’s offer and scheduled pickup on a convenient Saturday morning about 4 days away.
      5. That morning, a nice lady from Carvana showed up, verified the VIN and did a quick 5 minute (if that) walkaround of my truck.
      6. When she was done, I handed her the keys and signed a few papers since I had a lien on the truck, and she handed me a Big Fat Check. She put the keys in a lock-box and attached them to my truck.
      7. A few hours later a truck arrived to pick up my vehicle. I had no interaction with the driver. He simply walked over to my truck, got the keys, loaded it up and drove away.
      8. I cashed the check that afternoon and went to the dealer the next day to buy my new car.

      • 0 avatar

        Thank you for detailing an actual experience here. That sounds very easy, which is part of why Carvana is grabbing market share.

      • 0 avatar

        Thanks. Glad to know it is a good process.

      • 0 avatar

        Plus you have a pickup that holds value really well and one that people would want. No one wants a wagon these days!

        If Corey was actually trading for another vehicle a local dealership might bend a little more, especially since he would be paying extra for the new car today.

      • 0 avatar

        This has been my experience with Carvana as well selling a 2014 Nissan Frontier and a 2019 Chevy Colorado within the last 6 months. No dealer would come close to the price they offered me ($5000 less on the Colorado from 2 separate dealers).
        I just wonder how long these crazy used vehicle values will last, and if Carvana has a business that is sustainable over time?

      • 0 avatar

        I too found Carvana had the best offer. The difference in our experiences is the dealer that had the car I wanted agreed to match Carvana. That dealer also sold me the car I wanted for about $3k below other dealers online. I guess their strategy right now is just to move as much metal as possible.

    • 0 avatar

      I had no such issue when I used Carvana. They gave me an instant price when I started the process, and that was the price they eventually paid for my trade-in.

  • avatar
    Shockrave Flash Has Crashed

    I really enjoyed this article Corey. Good work.

    • 0 avatar


    • 0 avatar
      DC Bruce

      +1 on that kudo! Having finally convinced my S.O. that it doesn’t make sense to keep putting money into our 13-year old Honda Pilot (after a nearly $2,000 bill to get the a/c working), I’m probably going to enter the market for a replacement vehicle.

      • 0 avatar
        Dave M.

        My unsolicited but sage advice is hold off 6-9 months if possible. Inventories should be back up to speed and new car prices should soften. Plus 6-9 months of no car payments!

        Great article, Corey. If only there was a strong used car market for my Saab….

      • 0 avatar

        for $2000 theyd better be taking the dash out and replacing every single part of that system.

        that estimate is so high it makes me think they dont even want to do the work

  • avatar

    I went through the same process w the first 3 last year (pre-COVID) and ultimately sold to Carvana. Offer price was the same order: CarMax/Vroom/Carvana with a 20% spread. My private party asking was an additional 10% but being a a-la-carte 3-pedal Mini, it wasn’t the easiest thing to sell. Aside from scheduling issues, the actual sale/pickup was really quick and easy and I gave the overall experience high marks, and they subsequently sold it pretty quickly, though the flaws they showed for the sale weren’t the ones I knew of when I sold it.
    I know people who’ve had slightly different experiences; Carvana does ask for pics in some cases, and Carmax isn’t always the lowest offer. Plus Carmax will generally take any shitbox that runs and doesn’t have legal issues.

  • avatar

    Ferrari. Nice real world example. Thank you.

    Shockrave – I second your motion. Corey – great work.

  • avatar

    Nice work Corey, glad to actually see some of this deeper look that had been promised. Not really surprised it came from you!.

    The big question of course is what are you going to do with this info, is it time to send the Jetta down the road?

  • avatar

    Moral of the story: avoid VW/Audi products with pano roofs. The motor on my old A3’s roof went kaput at 60,000 miles (!). The good news was that the shop did the work kept the headliner looking brand new. The bad news was that it cost $800. Let’s just say this issue was definitely on my mind when I traded it on on what I have now, which does NOT have a sunroof of any kind.

    Not a bad time to unload a used car – I ended up getting a couple of grand more for my A3 than I would have a few months ago. It was a deciding factor in getting something new, matter of fact.

    • 0 avatar
      Art Vandelay

      Long live the Targa Top! No motors to crap out, no tracks or guides to break.

      • 0 avatar

        True, but a sedan is going to look kinda silly with a targa top.

        The problem with pano roofs – assuming they don’t leak or squeak, and the one on my old car didn’t have either problem – is that the motor is usually buried somewhere behind the panel, under the rear headliner. On more “standard” designs, the motor is usually right behind the rear view mirror, with a handy pop-out panel to access it. Swap the old motor out and the new one…mischief managed. Plus, those designs usually have an “emergency” crank you can close the roof with – you usually need an allen-head wrench to do that job.

        Not so on my Audi. The roof stuck open ***on the coldest f**king day in January***, with five inches of snow in the forecast for the next day. I had to put a plastic cover over the car until it could be looked at.

    • 0 avatar

      “went kaput at 60,000 miles (!)”

      60k is about what the German premium cars are built to last. That covers the initial lease and the CPO buyer.

      • 0 avatar

        Yep, about right.

        And I bet the next owner of my car will be some kid who figures he can swing the six-year loan the dealer will slam him into, and will spend every other dollar he has on mods (and vape, but that’s another story). Lord help him. The stuff that’s coming down the line includes: head gaskets, transmission issues, and oh yeah…that cool screen that glides in and out of the dash stops gliding. All known issues as you approach 100,000 miles with this car.

        I can’t complain too much, though – the car was a steal ($19500 for a fully loaded one with 29,000 miles, in perfect condition), and I figured I’d keep it for three years / 30,000 miles or so. I estimated about four or five grand in maintenance, wear items and repair. Turns out that was about right. And I dumped out of it before any of the really nasty stuff had to be fixed, and had a bit of equity.

        Not such a bad deal at all. Plus, I loved driving the car.

        • 0 avatar
          Dave M.

          That’s what kills me about Audis. Great to look at, wonderful to drive, but a a steep price to pay for those of us who like to our cars forever. Shame, really. The first German manufacturer to hit Toyota or even GM reliability will win all the premium sales.

          • 0 avatar

            Agreed 100% – you absolutely don’t want one of these with more than 100,000 miles. I’ll let Bill from Curious Cars tell the story:


        • 0 avatar

          This was the saddest Piston Slap:

          If I do end up with an S4 or M340i then it goes out to trade at 5years 11months or 59,000.

          • 0 avatar

            LOL, I know you will get the new car itch way before five years 11 months. Just lease one and be done after 3 years.

  • avatar

    I did this recently with my Highlander with only the first three services you mentioned. Both Carvana and Vroom beat the KBB estimate, Vroom substantially so. I decided not to sell the thing because we have two summer road trips coming up and I’m not confident I could buy a replacement at a reasonable price, but it was an interesting process. Thanks for a good write-up.

    (Instead, I’ve doubled down on trip prep. We’re going through the desert this time so the Highlander is in the shop today getting ceramic tint all around.)

    • 0 avatar

      Thanks for that ceramic window tint tip. [Might try that on my sunroof (to start).]

      • 0 avatar

        Picked it up this afternoon… much cooler, looks great. All set to drive through 8 hours of desert, at least until the kids get bored. My wife likes it enough that now she wants me to get the same tint on the Bolt.

        • 0 avatar

          Out of curiosity, how deep did you go with the tint? Based on my limited ‘research’ so far it looks like the ceramic nano stuff blocks the heat regardless of how dark or light the tint is.

          [I ordered “80% VLT” and I am so anxious to get validation – ok just kidding about the validation.]

          Enjoy your road trips!

          • 0 avatar

            30% on the front door windows, which is effectively the legal limit in Washington.

            70% over the existing factory tint (which doesn’t do much against UV or infrared) around the back. The 70% ceramic tint doesn’t make things much darker but it’s night and day in terms of rejecting heat. Feel validated. 70% over the factory tint in back is just a bit darker than the 30% I got in front.

  • avatar

    There’s an outfit that advertises constantly with annoying tv commercials here in Indiana…webuyanycar…dot…com. Their local point is a seedy bldg in a run down biz park. I submitted a couple cars to them for bid and the prices offered were about half of what would be reasonable. They must transact only with the most desperate.

  • avatar
    Land Ark

    The process for me in November for my leased IS300 went like this.

    I checked with Carvana, Vroom, Carmax, and the Lexus dealer I leased it from. I took it to Carmax and the dealer for an estimate. The lowest was the dealer who blamed the low offer on the new IS having just hit the lot. Then Carmax followed about $1,500 higher than the dealer. Carvana was about $800 higher than Carmax and Vroom blew them all out of the water by about $2,500. I couldn’t accept the Vroom offer fast enough. That’s when the worry started.

    I had concerns with every step of the process and did not trust them in the slightest. The customer service was adequate but not what I’d call pleasant. I had some questions which did get answered but I still felt like I would soon be without a car, without a check, and still making payments for the car.

    I documented the process real time here:

    But suffice to say, everything went smoothly from pick up to payment. I ended up getting $5,000 more than the buyout for the car and almost exactly what I thought I’d get selling it on the open market myself. If that were the case I ended up better off since I didn’t have to pay taxes, registration, disposition, or the BS dealer doc fees.

    Since everything went so smoothly it’s hard for me to say I don’t recommend doing it. But, I just felt like things could go wrong at a moments notice. I have the luxury of being able to afford whatever could have gone wrong, but I know others who would be in real trouble if they needed the money and there was a problem. And I’ve read of some folks having difficulties. Also, Vroom has all the leverage and if they decided to screw me by getting the car in Florida and saying it didn’t match my description (which on their web form was literally “pretty great” as the only descriptor) I’d have to accept whatever offer they came up with or pay for the shipping to their site and figure out how to pick it up myself.

    But, dang if prices don’t make it seem worth a shot.

    It’s also worth pointing out that while I jumped out of my shoes at their offer for my Lexus, the offer they made for my wife’s ’06 BMW Z4 3.0si with 38k miles wasn’t very good at… seriously… $1,200. Carvana wasn’t that much better at $5,500.

    • 0 avatar
      Land Ark

      Oh and it’s worth pointing out that once listed for sale on their site my car was missing 1 key, had neither the all weather floor mats, nor the brand new still in the plastic carpet floor mats, and was sans the trunk net that the car had when it left my possession.

      • 0 avatar

        So they’ve got some lot guys picking pieces off the cars before they list them?

        • 0 avatar
          Land Ark

          I mean, I fully expected to see it all listed on eBay. And I figured they kept the key so they could get the car back if they ever needed to.

          I debated keeping the mats myself but thought they would use that against me since they came standard with the car. I decided not to take a chance and stuck them in the trunk right before it was picked up.

  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    Thanks Corey and B&B. That was the type of article and comments that originally drew me to TTAC. I acquired some useful information.

  • avatar

    The car we bought from one of these services — a one-owner 2018 Fiesta ST with 28K miles — was not exactly a deal, but we loved a previous one and needed to replace a car. The ST is in great shape inside and out, looking showroom new. Somebody loved it. A lot.

    But it has been a minefield of aftermarket parts. I’m not sure I’ve found them all. Some were visible in photos, like the intake and the door visors. It was hard to miss the blowoff valve when the driver backed the car off the truck and brought it down our street, and after a few days the vibrations through the seat tipped us off to the upgraded motor mounts. Once we had the car up on ramps the welds after the cat were obvious. When I finally opened the glovebox, there was the connector for the tune.

    I could have returned the car that first week but did not want to resume the hunt. About $1200 later, the car is back to stock, no real harm done.

    All these online dealers ask about aftermarket parts; I’ve sold three cars to them. If there was an inspection process when they purchased this car, they ignored a lot. If they noted what they found, they disclosed nothing.

    And I was dumb to believe they would.

  • avatar

    The email from “Jeff” had me wanting to take a shower. He reminded me so much of the sleazebags who work for CarHop, a local/regional BHPH operation that purports to help “fix your credit” and “finances anyone” while charging just shy of usureous interest rates. A couple of my family members have been railroaded by them and I’ve had to drive over to pick them up for various reasons in my new car, bought from a reputable dealer. Every time I’d get not so subtle hints that they wanted my car and would trade. Gives me the heebs just thinking about it.

  • avatar

    I’ve only ever used Carmax, and the experience has always been professional, even if I found the numbers low at times. I ended up selling 3 vehicles to Carmax over the last 7 years.

  • avatar

    Interesting article, if completely irrelevant to me. This is what TTAC should be doing, not curating adverts from Lexus and Amazon.

  • avatar

    This was a good article. I sold my 2016 Jaguar XF to Carvana a few months ago, and they gave me close to $3k more than a dealership would have taken in a trade. It was much higher than Carnac also. The process was really easy and I’d definitely sell them a car again.

  • avatar

    It seems Carvana et al are attempting to circumvent auctions and pull new inventory direct from private party sales. Smart, your website is your storefront anyway so why not use it to attract random sales and skip the auction fees.

  • avatar

    I just ran my car, and Carvana beat CarMax by $4267.00. So, Corey, I’ve got to thank you for running this article.

  • avatar

    Hmm this is timely. I sold my 2018 CTS-V just last week to givemethevin. It couldn’t have been easier. The first time I spoke to one of their reps was June 8th. Their initial offer $74k. I told him I wasn’t interested in negotiating and it would take 75 to get it done, so 75 it was.

    The next day I had to leave town to deal with a family emergency. I was gone for 2.5 weeks. I communicated with the rep a few times during my trip. When I returned home, their offer still stood. I dropped it off a few days after I got home. I could have sold it privately for more but I paid 79k for it new in 2018 so the 4K loss was nothing to own it for 3 years. And I didn’t want to deal with selling it to the general public. At all.

    For the record, Vroom offered me $68k. Now I just have to decide, M3 Comp or Blackwing?

  • avatar

    I helped my mother in law trade in her Tahoe for something smaller. I got an estimate online while at the dealership for $41,500. The dealer said the best they could do was $38k. I said, “I have an offer from Carmax for $41,500.” And they said, “If that’s the offer you should go with them.”

    We drove to Carmax, checked in and met the friendly staffer. She came out and took a bunch of pictures. A little bit later she came back with a check for $41,500. I was very surprised! She said, “At lot of people are surprised. But if you’re accurate in your description we do what we promise.”

    • 0 avatar

      I am quite late to this thread but it seems to me that what everyone missed on this article and in the comments is the little issue of state sales tax.

      I haven’t bought a new car since around 2000, but in the 3 states I have lived in, the state sales tax on your new car purchase(assuming you trade your car) is calculated based on the “net” of the new car sales contract or New car price less(minus(-) the trade.

      I was in the business back in the 70s and 80s and that’s how we always did it. So in your case JMO, assuming a sales tax of 7%, you lost $2,905.00 sales tax credit on your new car purchase……No?

      Example – Your random new car is $61,500, if you buy without a trade, you pay sales tax of $61,500 x 7% = $4,305.00.
      If you trade, you pay $61,500-$38,000 = 23,500 x 7%(S.T.) = $1,645.00. So your net transaction is within a few hundred bucks.

      Let me know if I’m wrong, have these tax calculations changed?

      Great article BTW Corey, the old TTAC……I miss it.

      • 0 avatar

        @56BelAire, excellent point. I just checked and in my current state of residence the tax should be calculated on the net after the trade-in. [The website one county over makes this clear; the online ‘calculator’ for “my” county does not.]

        (There is also an exception for sales between relatives, which is about to become relevant for me since my oldest just got married and is getting his own vehicle insurance – should probably transfer the title over to him one of these days.)

  • avatar

    My boss just sold two of his cars to Carvana, a 2019 C7 Corvette Stingray with 27,XXX miles that he bought to use with Turo that he bought in 12/2019 for a steal because the C8 had already been launched. And his own 2016 Hyundai Genesis Sedan with 10,000 miles over where he purchased it in 2018. He got $5,000 over what he paid for the Corvette and $3,000 over what he paid for the Genesis.

    The other thing to remember (at least in Florida, but not in some other states like California) if you’re actually replacing the car with another one that you’re buying at a dealership you’ll pay more in sales tax if you don’t trade it in where you’re buying the new one.

    For example, when I traded in my last car (Used for Used) I first took my old car to Carmax and got their quote which was pretty high. When I went to the dealership to buy the new car I showed them the quote from Carmax that was good for like 7 days or something. They agreed to match the offer which saved me quite a bit on taxes because when you buy or lease a car in Florida and trade one in you only pay tax on the difference between the two. So the new car was $38,000 and the old car traded in for $22,000 so I only paid tax on $16K. And even if the dealer hadn’t planned on giving me that much for the old car, they themselves could take it to Carmax and sell it to them for the $22K and they know that. However, this does not work in all states as I learned when I lived in California.

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