Car Buying Stories: Return to Sender

Photo credit: Toyota
Photo credit: Toyota

From Car and Driver

For all that 2020 has changed our lives, coins still have two sides—meaning the online experience hasn’t always, ahem, delivered. Billy Huys had a fantastic experience buying online from a dealer in Gladstone, Oregon. But New York City’s Michael Livote has experienced the flip side of the online buying story. Choosing Carvana for his first-ever purchase and financing of a late-model used car, he went through two lemons before landing on a decent apple.

Livote said buying online offered “a pleasant place to leisurely look at many different cars with absolutely zero pressure,” whereas his take on NYC dealers is that “you are treated more like an ATM than a valued customer.” Carvana got the nod because it “had the best delivery options.”

After working through what he considered “a disjointed sign-up process,” he found a 2018 Mitsubishi Mirage ES with 9800 miles. A few clicks later, it was his. Livote expected Carvana would deliver the hatchback, with temporary New York tags, to his address in the city. However, on the appointed day, Livote said the company called him a few hours before the meeting time and insisted he take an Uber. “Ninety miles to New Jersey,” Livote said.

Used cars are having a moment. According to Edmunds, franchised dealers in the United States moved 1.2 million cars and trucks in June. New Yorkers have engaged in what the New York Times called, “The Great Gotham Vroom Boom of 2020.”

Livote found out later that any car Carvana delivers in New York needs to be registered in New York before delivery. A Carvana rep explained to Livote that the company has been overwhelmed with registration requests. With New Jersey delivery, Carvana can put temporary New Jersey plates on the car and transfer registration to New York after the customer’s seven-day trial period ends.

Upon arrival in the Garden State, a delivery driver introduced Livote to a Mirage ES that didn’t exactly match the Carvana photos. Livote said the hatchback “looked like it had been abused by former owner,” with stains on the dash and “a chewed-up center console.” Despite the rough edges, he signed and took the car home.

His mechanic inspected the car a couple of days later, discovering the front passenger side’s strut and mount damaged. Four days after getting the Mirage, Livote requested Carvana take it back. Carvana offered to repair the strut issue under the company’s SilverRock warranty service, but Livote refused, calling the rest of the car “pretty bad.”

Refusing to dismount midstream, Livote hit up Carvana again to buy a 2019 Ford Fiesta while the unloved Mirage was still parked outside. Carvana said it would drop the Fiesta three days later when it picked up the Mirage. When Carvana then asked for another week—while also asking Livote to hold onto the Mirage—Livote refused. He’d already arranged to cancel the insurance on the Mirage.

Exactly a week after Livote made his New Jersey run, a Carvana driver came for the Mitsubishi. Carvana then pushed the Fiesta delivery date back two more days to nine days out in total, and told Livote he’d again need to take delivery in New Jersey. When that day arrived, a Carvana rep called to tell him an inspection found the little Ford had issues that couldn’t be resolved. Strike two.

Livote went back to Carvana for a third attempt, settling on a former rental car, a 2017 Toyota Yaris with 80,000 miles.

Three weeks and five days after ordering the 2018 Mirage ES, Livote made a second trip to New Jersey to take ownership of his Toyota. “I’m still sore that it took this long to get a decent car out of Carvana,” he said, “and if I never call their advocate number ever again, I’ll be a very happy person.”

The Yaris, at least, appears to be a keeper. It came with new, quality tires, his mechanic gave it a pass, and although “it’s not perfect,” he said, “it’s also accident free and in good, running condition.”

New York allows 30 days to transfer out-of-state registration. As of writing, Livote told us he’s on his second set of New Jersey temporary tags, which expire October 2. “[Carvana] hasn’t even walked in the papers to New York’s DMV,” he said. “This is quite honestly their biggest problem: not registering cars in a reasonable amount of time.”

He said he made more than 50 calls to customer assistance over the matter before Carvana assigned him a “personal advocate” to help. According to Livote, the advocate said he won’t get his permanent New York plates until at least mid-November—meaning he’ll get at least a third and fourth set of temporary tags.

We emailed Carvana about Livote’s experience. He’s not been alone in registration issues. Posts on Reddit, assorted review sites, and two C/D staffers have echoed his story. “As anyone in the city can attest,” Carvana replied in a statement, “deliveries of any stripe can be challenging to execute—whether safely navigating low bridges or narrow streets—and delivering a vehicle is a much larger endeavor than dropping a package at your doorstep.” Also: “Each state is unique in its registration process and procedures, and we aim to comply with each of them.” All of that’s true, even if it didn’t answer our questions.

Livote said he still has faith in the promise of online buying even after all the ballyhoo. When it’s time to replace the Yaris, he’ll head back to the Internet. “But I’d look more broadly at my online options, which I hope will be better a few years down the road.”

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