My parents drive less than 10,000 miles a year, but over time they had accumulated five vehicles with a two-car garage and a packed driveway. Insurance to cover a sports car, truck, conversion van, convertible and a Honda Fit gets expensive when you’re in your late 80’s, so my mom and dad finally decided they were willing to consider giving up a few of their modes of transportation.
Our first project was their 1985 Mazda RX-7 GS 5-Speed. My dad bought it from a dealership in Columbus right after the original owner returned it because its red color attracted too many speeding tickets. It was a fun retro-rotary-engine car, but its lack of power steering made it too difficult for my dad to drive, even though he still enjoyed seeing it in the garage.
Portsmouth, Ohio is not exactly an ideal place to put a for-sale sign on your car and park it in the driveway. And I wanted to avoid my parents navigating Craigslist or taking phone calls from Car & Truck Trader magazine readers, so Chip recommended Bring A Trailer (BAT). It was a great suggestion.
After creating an account, I was able to list at a cost of only $99 or $359, depending on whether I wanted the help of a professional photographer to take the photos and videos they recommend. Our son and daughter-in-law volunteered their digital camera, so we went with the less expensive option. Buyers are responsible for picking up the car after they win an auction, and they pay BAT a commission as well, which is why the site is such a bargain for sellers.
After detailing the car from bumper to bumper and finishing our photo shoot, I completed the on-line application for listing. Once it was accepted, a staff writer prepared a detailed write-up about the car for our review and approval. Based on prior auctions they know what buyers tend to focus on, what will help a car sell, and what defects you need to be sure to disclose.
BAT is closely followed by thousands of car aficionados. The seven days the car was on auction it received comments from people who had memories of their own RX-7s, gearheads who brought up issues and great qualities about the car, and questions from buyers who were seriously interested. I was asked to reply to questions on the comments section on the listing page during the auction.
In the end we sold the car to a collector who lives outside of Atlanta who added it to the 7 other (much more expensive) cars in his car ‘barn,’ at a price that was nearly double what Dad originally paid for it in 1986. We considered it a major success. The new owner even sent pictures of it displayed with his other cars so Dad could see it had gone to a great home.
Even though Mom and Dad got a great price for their car and knew it would be well taken care of, giving it up was still bittersweet for them, so I used the pictures we took to create a large photo book on Shutterfly. It’s now a well-loved coffee table book at their house, and I would highly recommend doing the same for any car or other sentimental objects your family gives up.
Emboldened by our success, I decided to take on the sale of their Chevy Express Conversion van next. And that was quite a different experience.
My parents purchased it new in 1999, and used it extensively to visit family, so it had about 126,000 miles on the odometer. Even though the interior was well taken care of, and it had fully functioning retro electronics like game hook-ups and a VCR with TV, it had cosmetic issues inside and out. Basically, a lot more like a vehicle a family might want to trade in to get something else.
We started the process with BAT again, hoping an inexpensive conversion van might appeal to young families as Covid continued to interfere with travel. We got a very fast no. BAT is focused on low mileage vehicles and collector cars, so it wasn’t surprising. We tried BAT’s competitor, cars & bids next and got another rejection. I spoke to a dealership north of Dayton that specializes in vans, and he politely informed me that due to its age and mileage the van was worth nothing according to the Kelly Blue Book. But I was undeterred, because I knew failure would only discourage my parents from any future efforts to downsize their possessions, so I moved on to the internet.
Fortunately, there are a lot of competitors in this space now. By entering your vehicle’s VIN number, or license plate and state, you can get a quick quote that is good for a week or more, depending on the site.
We got started with Vroom, who offered $150. My parents had just completed some service work and bought a new tire before I could intervene, and this recent investment made the offer even more painful, so we moved on.
Webuyanycar.com was my next stop. After entering the year, make and model, I quickly got a call from a local office with an offer of $700, which was a lot better than $150, but I kept going.
Carmax is an online buyer/seller but also has a Cincinnati presence. Their website provides a quick quote on-line, but they may ask to see your car in person if they want to confirm its condition, which is why the Cincinnati location is convenient. Their offer was $890, and they followed up with repeated emails afterwards to see if I would be willing to come by their local office.
Carvana was my last stop. This company has done a great deal of on-line advertising, and I knew a few people who have purchased a used car from the site for their kids and were very happy. My experience was a mixed success, but still a success.
Their sell/trade page is clean, and their offer is very appealing. You enter your info, they give you a quote, and if you accept it they’ll come get your car and give you a check or direct deposit your payment to the account of your choice. So far, so good.
After entering in all the data, we got an offer of $1,323 – much better than all the others. After so much due diligence, my parents were convinced they wouldn’t find a better offer, so we scheduled a pickup at my house at 3pm on a Saturday when they could be in Cincinnati. Carvana requires the owner to be present to sign paperwork, sign over the title, and receive the check.
The van was in my mom’s name, and she was a little nervous about a company that claimed they would come to your house with a check and take your car, so at 3pm she was anxiously waiting for them to show. But 3pm came and went without any Carvana.
I tried texting the Consumer Advocate who had confirmed the appointment, but my texts went unanswered, so I tried reaching the company through their Chat With Us feature on their website. I got very creative with how I asked questions of the AI chat-bot, Sebastian, and was able to get a link to check the appointment, but it assumed the transaction had already taken place, so I moved on to the 1-888-803-0791 help line, and was told that my wait would be over an hour.
After 3 hours and 35 minutes (no, I didn’t sit waiting the entire time, but I did grow to detest the on-hold music that repeated over and over while I did housework) I was put through to David in Arizona. It was now 8pm, and he said the Louisville business hub was closed but he would leave them a message and an email. He asked me to call If I didn’t hear from them by morning.
I left a message for David the next morning but based on his Arizona area code I knew it would be a long time before we would hear back. I tried the help line again, and this time was told that they had ‘temporarily switched to Mountain Time hours’ and I should call back during normal office hours and was disconnected. So Sunday was a wash. Mom called and cancelled her Monday doctor’s appointment back home, and I got started on some research.
Carvana has no public facing office in Cincinnati, just vending machines located throughout the country, and the closest to us is in Indianapolis. But DriveTime is the parent company of Carvana, and there happened to be a DriveTime location close to us. I decided to take a chance and show up there first thing on Monday morning with my mom, the van, and all our paperwork.
After explaining the situation to the lone salesman in the lobby, he told us Carvana happened to have an administrative office upstairs, and he would see if someone could help us. In a few minutes Adam from Carvana appeared and said several people had called in sick on Saturday and there were lots of cars that were not picked up as a result. He didn’t volunteer why we weren’t contacted by text, email or phone about the no-show, but I wasn’t about to hassle the only person who seemed willing to help. Within an hour, Adam was able to pull up our information, create a check for payment, and take possession of the van so we could be on our way – mission accomplished!
If you have something interesting to sell and want to see how much you can get for it, I recommend Bring A Trailer or cars&bids. If you have patience and flexibility on pick up times, Carvana may be your best option for selling a car that’s seen better days.