A few weeks ago, my wife, one-year old daughter and and I made the hellish move from Brooklyn to a cozy Atlanta suburb amid the global pandemic. Our way of life changed in an instant. After being car-free in New York City for the past 10 years, we needed our own wheels to survive the burbs.
But thanks to COVID-19, it’s not exactly a great time to suffer through test drives and endless in-person negotiations with car dealers (honestly, it’s never a great time for that). Many dealers are now offering home test drives and deliveries, but they often have limited offerings. After talking to a few of them, it was clear that they were only just learning how to handle remote sales. That’s when I remembered Carvana, the online used car retailer that made a name for itself with flashy vehicle vending machines.
Long before the coronavirus brought public life to a standstill, Carvana has been offering home deliveries with the aim of simplifying online car shopping. Like many startups, it brought a glossy Apple-esque approach to the buying experience. Instead of scrolling through badly designed dealer sites, or aggregators like Cars.com, you can use the Carvana app to get 360-degree views of your potential car, view professional photos (not tiny pics taken by someone’s dirty phone) and easily find all of the technical details you’d want to know.
The company says it puts its cars through extensive 150-point inspections, invests around $1,000 in every vehicle and is very selective about which cars it puts up for sale. It’s hard to confirm if those promises are actually true without serious investigation, but I took the company’s A+ Better Business Bureau rating to be a trustworthy sign. And after dragging my family across the country through an incredibly difficult move, I just wanted my ideal car to show up at my house, without any of the typical dealer hassles.
So when I saw a well-appointed 2017 RAV4 Hybrid pop on Carvana, with a premium Limited trim, I knew I had to move quickly. I spent the past year researching a potential family vehicle, so I had already settled on either a recent RAV4 Hybrid or Prius. After going without a car for a decade, I vowed only to get a hybrid, and Toyota’s entries remain the best in the market from what I can tell. (Unfortunately, EVs are still a bit out of reach for me, though I’m looking closely at grabbing a RAV4 Prime plug-in hybrid in a few years.)
Sitting on my bed, staring bleary-eyed at my phone on a stormy Sunday morning, I scrutinized every aspect of the RAV4. The Carfax report was clean, with one owner and no accidents. It had most of the features I wanted (but sadly no Advanced Technology Package for a 360-degree camera and better speakers). And it was within my price range — perhaps a tad more than local dealers, but I didn’t mind paying a bit extra for the convenience of never stepping foot into an office. It definitely felt a bit weird at first to commit to a car without a test drive, but Carvana’s hassle-free 7-day return policy seemed like a better way to truly get to know my new ride.