Car Shopper Study: Dealership vs. Carvana Buying Journey

May 18, 2018

This article was contributed by Josh Stone. He and his wife, Chrissty, recently had to replace their two cars. They chose to go through a dealership for the first, and Carvana for the second. He shared some interesting insights on both experiences with PureCars.

Shopping for cars is a lot of fun, and I’ve done a lot of it the past six months.


After 12 years of sharing a 2006 Mazda3, my wife and I had to say goodbye and send her to live on a farm upstate. We knew we wanted an Audi, and after doing research online we visited a local dealership and got a great deal on a 2015 Audi A3. Shortly thereafter, we were searching for a second car and bought a 2015 Nissan Altima through Carvana. We love both of our new cars, and also enjoyed each car buying experience for different reasons.


The Dealership Experience

When it came time to replace our Mazda, we knew we wanted to get a luxury brand car. After some research, Audi was the brand we decided to move forward with, and we couldn’t be happier with our choice. After searching online, we decided on a used 2015 Audi A3, and went to the dealership to do the test drive and buy the car. The entire dealership experience was solid. It was clear from the get-go that they wanted us to have the best experience possible and I appreciated their commitment to providing impeccable customer service. I went through my bank to get the auto loan, and really appreciated how much the dealership was willing to work with us on financing even though we didn’t go through them. I definitely got a better rate working with the dealer than I got later with Carvana. The biggest downside to our entire experience was the wait time at the dealership. From the time we walked in, it took close to five hours for us to leave with our new car.


Carvana Experience

Just a couple months later when we began our search for the Altima, the thought of spending an entire day at another dealership fueled our motivation to try out a different service. Again, don’t get me wrong. Our Audi sales guy and dealership are amazing. Their service is impeccable, the A3 purchase process was easy. Not to mention, they have an industrial coffee machine that even grinds the beans, which is a major selling point for a coffee enthusiast like me. Just recently, I sat there watching the Olympics while waiting on an oil change and I was perfectly content to stay there all day. At the time, the dealer just didn’t have any cars that we were interested in.


It was at that point my wife suggested that we try Carvana. Convenience is typically expensive, so I assumed Carvana would have the highest prices. Instead, I spent three weeks researching various sedans – mainly Accords, Camrys, Jettas, Corollas and Altimas – through local dealers. After I submitted a credit application for a Jetta and didn’t hear back after a couple days, it hit us that we would again have to spend hours sitting in a dealership. Again, my wife suggested Carvana. So, I decided to give it a try and prepared myself for more hours of car searching. I already had 10 low mileage, one-owner leased used cars saved on Autotrader, and wasn’t exactly excited to start my search over again.


To my surprise, limiting search results on Carvana was as easy as Autotrader. And, I quickly came across a 2015 Altima for almost $1,000 less than the Altimas I had researched through other websites. Plus, Carvana would also work with my credit union, where I already had secured pre-approval at a good rate. I didn’t have to use the online car seller’s financing to keep the low price on the car, which I fully expected to be the case. It made me wonder how Carvana offers such low prices and still makes money, but that’s not my concern.


Over the next week, Carvana worked with my credit union on the back-end paperwork. I had to get involved some, but nothing that couldn’t be sorted out with a quick email or phone call from the comfort of my home or work.


Carvana received my order March 13 and brought the Altima to our doorstep March 24. This was a week later than expected because of minor damage our Customer Advocate (nice title for getting those pesky millennials, eh) saw at the last minute before shipping. No biggie. We were glad the damage was fixed before the car got to us.


When the Altima arrived, we drove her around the parking lot, signed minimal paperwork on their tablet and went back inside keys in hand. We have 400 miles and seven days to return the car if we don’t like it. No stress.


During the process it took to receive the Altima, the Jetta salesman reached back out to me. It was only a few days after I submitted the application, but we had already set the wheels in motion with Carvana so it was too late. Don’t get me wrong. I have always had good experiences at dealerships. I only bring that up because it illustrates some of the hassle of buying a used car. In fact, I fully expect to buy another car from our Audi sales guy in a few years.


Key Takeaways

Although we love our Audi dealership, I have to admit that Carvana from start-to-finish was also positive experience. They had the best price on the Nissan sedan and eliminated all of the hassle of buying the vehicle. On the other hand, I can’t help but wonder how long Carvana can maintain such low prices, with the add-on of free shipping and other “no-hassle” costs, particularly for those who don’t use their financing?



Ultimately, my wife and I seek out the best value and convenience with all of our purchase decisions. Any auto dealer that is able to strike that balance best is more likely to win in the end.






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