Buying, and then selling, a plug-in hybrid on Carvana

It was a bumpy road

Buying, and then selling, a plug-in hybrid on Carvana

After six years of living a car-free lifestyle, I found myself in need of a vehicle while I was living in Asheville, North Carolina. Even though I moved there to be closer to nature, the reality is that much of the town lacks sidewalks and entire neighborhoods are disconnected from each other, so I caved in and decided to buy a car.

I purchased this car in 2019

After much consideration, and despite urging from folks that I would need 4-wheel drive in the winter (I wouldn't), I decided to get a plug-in Prius. I think that plug-in hybrids are the best of both worlds: you can do all your errands on the 15-20 miles battery range, and you can fall back to the 50mpg engine for longer trips or when an EV charger is not available.

Purchasing the car

My first attempt at buying a car through Carvana's app failed. I still had a Louisiana drivers license, and they required a North Carolina license to sell the car to me in that state. However, I found myself caught in a bureaucratic Catch-22: I couldn't get a North Carolina license without insurance, and I couldn't get insurance without a car, and of course I couldn't get the car without the license. I finally figured out my brother could add me to his insurance temporarily, and a DMV visit later I was free from the red tape.

The evening that my car was scheduled to arrive on a Carvana carrier was exciting — I waited by the window as the truck pulled up. The delivery person handed me the keys for a test ride, and I was halfway around the block when I noticed a piece of metal sticking out of the rear tire. This was both dangerous and surprising considering Carvana advertises a thorough 150-point inspection before delivering the car. The delivery guy said this piece of metal must have gotten stuck into the tire between the inspection and loading up the car on the carrier.

Disappointed, I rejected the delivery and my car was put back on the truck and carted away. Several days later the car was returned to me, back tire fixed, and I signed off on the delivery and the car was all mine.

A bumpy road

Now I had my car, but not my license plate. Just like when you buy a car the traditional way, it comes with a temporary plate. Carvana texted me that they would handle all the paperwork and registration, so I put it out of mind.

Congrats! The registration process has now begun. Carvana will finish our part in about 2 weeks. We will submit all paperwork to the DMV and they will issue your registration.

With my temporary license set to expire on December 31, I received a call on December 30 that they needed some additional information from me. I asked the person on the phone how they would get the license plate in the next 24 hours given that it was New Years Eve and the temporary plate was about to expire. The agent sounded flustered, and said no one else was in the office due to the holiday, and that she would have to get back to me.

Carvana covered the cost of a rental car while my temporary license was expired

Predictably, Carvana failed to register my car in time. Instead, they provided me with a voucher for a rental car. When I got to the rental car location, they were out of cars. I notified Carvana and received no response. Finally a couple days later I was able to rent the car. Meanwhile, I received radio silence from Carvana for at least 10 days, despite repeated emails to them asking for an update on the registration.

Given the repeated failures from Carvana, I opted to do the registration myself. It was quite easy to handle, and if I were to buy a car again from Carvana I would opt out of their registration service and do it myself.

On the road again

My experience with the Plug-In Prius was excellent. I definitely recommend a plug-in hybrid to anyone considering a car. Especially when you factor in the materials of questionable sources that must go into EV batteries. If a smaller battery can cover 90% of your trips, then there's little reason to lug a big heavy battery with you everywhere you go.

The car did start to show discoloration in a few places where presumably the previous owner made some repairs and repainted. I don't believe this was disclosed in the sale, and it was only apparent after a few months on the road.

Time to sell it back

When I relocated to San Francisco a few years later, I was excited to be car-free once again. While I probably could have shopped around for the best price I could get, I decided to sell the car back to Carvana so that I would have the end-to-end experience.

The car vending machine

The sale process was a little more straightforward since Carvana has one of their car vending machines in Daly City, just south of San Francisco. I scheduled an appointment online and showed up on time. When I entered the vending machine building, there was no staff in sight.

After waiting about half an hour, I was looking up a phone number to call when finally an employee showed up. I waited for the other customers in the lobby to receive their new car—they were given the wrong car at first, which delayed the process—and finally the agent was ready to assist me forty minutes after my appointment time.

Once I had the agent's attention, the rest of the process was easy. The agent is also a notary, so I just had to sign some documents on the highlighted line and then I walked out and took BART (the subway) home. The funds were deposited into my account via ACH that evening.

Overall Experience

While it was nice to be able to purchase a used car through an app, and the car itself served me well for the time that I needed it, the buying and selling process certainly had some hiccups. This may have been easier than doing it the traditional way, but I don't have another experience to compare it to.