Sell your Car Online: Comparing Offer Prices from Carvana, Vroom, Shift, and Carmax
Updated: Mar 2
In this article we conduct the largest scale study ever (over 1,000 offers) from Carvana, Vroom, Shift, and Carmax (the largest online car dealerships). We even made a tool here that can quickly give you a price comparison for firm sales/trade in offers. We'll give some candid advice about how the offers can vary among vendors, volume of vehicles purchased, what's the "sweet spot" to sell a car, and other details.
Before focusing entirely on the price it IS important to note a few things:
- Not all selling experiences are the same (some offers still require conditional inspections, others require a drop-off rather than vehicle pick up services)
- The founders of WithClutch both worked for Carvana (and correspondingly have great things to say about their service).
You can read in more detail some of the more subjective reviews of other services in our other articles like this one here, but for now let's focus on pure valuation differences.
We used a subset of 1000 Vins that are all different Year Make Model Trims and a random known mileage for a specific VIN of each used car. All of these cars were non-accident cars and:
- Each submission assumed the vehicle had no optional extras (so comparing a base-trim to base trim)
- Each submission assumed the vehicle had no accidents or other major title issues
- Each submission assumed the vehicle was in "good" condition or one level removed from the top condition tier available for both interior and exterior
- Each submission was done for Bay Area, CA local market (and assuming no major variance between Bay Area zip codes)
- Most of the cars were between 2010 and 2019 vehicles. For older "wholesale" cars these vehicles may be better suited to other sale channels.
And additionally, although each of these online car buying companies claim "it doesn't impact value" we submitted each offer as a pure "sale" rather than a "trade-in-offer" for a new car. We also didn't both comparing these values to Kelly Blue Book, Edmunds, Craigslist or other online references since we're really most interested in "who offers most".
How do the Offers compare if I sell my car to Carvana, Shift, Vroom, or Carmax:
From the results above, you can see that in general “if in doubt go with Carvana” seems to work. They were the highest offer in 35% of cases - and as additional support Carvana does not typically adjust values or go through haggling after an inspection.
Some other interesting summaries from our comparison:
On average the online car offer was $16,800 across the subset of VINs examined
The average odometer was 37,800 miles (so most of these vehicles would be resold by the same dealership)
The average difference between the highest and lowest offer was $3,200 (much higher than expected).
So although Carvana offers were highest more of the time - be aware that finding an alternative could help in getting up to $3,200 more on average. We’ll break down some of the cases where certain selling you car online could yield more money at some of the alternative vendors.
Selling a higher Mileage Car to Carvana, Shift, Vroom or Carmax
If you’ve got a higher mileage car, its important to look at who might be the best place to sell your car online. This analysis below gives some indication of which online vendor tends to offer most for higher mileage vehicles:
Carmax tends to have higher offers in high mileage settings (100k +).
Vroom seems to have its strongest offers in very low mileage vehicles (where it has strong offers for 20-40k mileage vehicles)
Carvana does best in the “post-warranty” mileage segment where cars have 50-100k miles.
Sell Car to Carvana, Shift, Vroom, or Carmax: How do Vehicle Prices affect who gives the best offer?
It's important to note that while mileage tells one story, these car dealers also specialize in different types of cars. A quick peek at Vroom.com illustrates that they sell higher priced trucks and luxury cars than either Carmax or Carvana. Shift seems to have a broader inventory of slightly older vehicles than does their competitors. You can see these splits in the price breakdowns below.
Vrooms online car offers are particularly strong for more expensive cars (Vroom wins over 50% of bids above $35k)
For cheaper, older vehicles Carmax offers the most money in many of these circumstances.
For most used vehicles (~10-20k) Carvana tends to have the strongest online car offers
Sell Car to Carvana, Shift, Vroom, or Carmax: How does the Vehicles Age impact who gives the best offer?
While we looked at both price and mileage - it's also important to look at age of the car since some vendors will ONLY sell cars newer than 10 years old, or less than a certain mileage (for example very few retailers sell 20 year old vehicles).
If we we see the chart above, a few examples stick out for these automotive retailers:
Carvana’s offers are highest for 6 and 7 year old vehicles (2013/2014) in over 50% of cases
Just as we saw Vroom having great offers for higher priced cars, they also seem to have higher offers for much newer cars - winning a majority of offers newer than 2017 model year.
Carmax offers were strongest in the older vehicles (<2012) as in the 2015 model year. Offers seemed to weaken in “near new segments” (2018 and 2019 vehicles).
What is the easiest way to sell Car to Carvana, Shift, Vroom, or Carmax and find the highest offer?
The easiest means to sell a car is simply to get an online quote from our online vehicle valuation service which compares all of the major vehicle buyers.
Depending which offer is highest (and which brand you trust / want to experience most) you can get finalized offer from:
You can use the VIN and mileage for most offers, or alternatively using the license plate is also a means to plug in these vehicle details. And while our tool didn't require you to enter many vehicle details - it will now be required in the longer forms. From that point on selling your old car should be hassle free (and certain companies are better than others). As some broad process details:
Most can arrange to pickup your vehicle the next day (Carmax in some locations still requires you to drop the vehicle off). This can all be done touchless for those concerned about Covid19.
Most services will not do an exhaustive inspection (nothing like the 150-point inspection that's done when reconditioning a used vehicle). Instead Vroom, Shift, and Carmax all do a cursory inspection and short test-drive to confirm the cars condition (and the offer may be impacted).
You'll need to provide a Title, current registration, drivers license or other form of ID and a payoff statement if there's a loan on the vehicle (sometimes this is done in advance for some of the services).
Hopefully this has provided good context for the various online car sales platforms.