Carvana vs. CarMax: Which Site is Better for Buying and Selling Used Cars?

A woman holds keys in her car as she sits in a blue vehicle with a happy expression on her face.
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Some people just love going to a car dealership and spending hours haggling with the sales people. It’s almost a game for them.

And then there’s the rest of us — who don’t exactly live for the thrill of the car-buying process, yet we do the negotiation dance because we have no choice. We still need to buy or sell a car, after all.

If you’re in that camp, there are a few websites that have simplified the car buying and selling process that we can compare head-to-head: Carvana vs. Carmax.

Both tout a haggle-free, less-stressful buying and selling experience for used vehicles, but there are some key differences that may make you choose one over the other when deciding what to do about your car.

We’ll cover these differences in more detail to help give you a better understanding of which company you should choose to work with — whether you’re trading in, buying or just selling your old ride.

What is Carvana?

Carvana is an online dealership that simplifies the car buying and selling process — helping people to save time and money. And with vehicle vending machines across the county, Carvana has created a buzz that makes buying and selling cars more enjoyable.

Without the overhead costs of a giant dealership and paying sales people a commission, Carvana is able to offer buyers and sellers some of the best deals on used vehicles online. Instead of going from dealership to dealership, you can search Carvana’s inventory of more than 50,000 cars, choose the one you want and have your new car delivered right to your door.

You can use the website’s used car finder to narrow down the right one for you, get approved for financing and get an offer on your old car in a matter of minutes. If you’re buying a car, it’ll be delivered right to your door (or you can pick it up at the vehicle vending machine). If you’re selling a car, you’ll get an offer online and then someone from Carvana will come pick up your vehicle and give you a check on the spot.

What is CarMax?

CarMax is one of the largest used car dealerships in the country, with more than 50,000 vehicles available online and 230+ dealerships in the US. It’s been around since 1993 and became well known for their no-haggle policy.

While CarMax does have an online presence, they still function like a traditional local dealer. They have used car lots all over the country with thousands of cars, sales people to help you find the right one and the ability to take multiple vehicles for a test drive before you buy.

How Does Carvana Work?

Carvana is an online dealership with no physical used car lots — just their vending machines in 30 cities around the country. No sales people to deal with, no stale coffee in the manager’s office and no sitting around for hours trying to negotiate a deal over an extended warranty.

When you search for a car on Carvana’s website, you’ll have all the pricing information available to see upfront, including shipping costs (if any) and estimated monthly payments. You’ll buy it directly on the site and can have it delivered to your door. You can also pick it up at one of the vending machines, if it’s nearby.

You can’t test drive a Carvana car before you buy it, but you do have seven days to take it for a spin around town to decide if you want to keep it. After that, there’s a 100-day, 4,189-mile limited warranty in case something happens to the car.

Selling or trading in your vehicle is super simple with Carvana. You answer a questionnaire about your trade, and in two minutes, you’ll have a real offer — not just a quote. If you accept it, someone comes to your house to verify your car is what you said it was, then cuts you a check for it right then and there. They’ll take it away for you, too.

With Carvana, you don’t ever have to leave your house to sell, trade in or buy a car. Plus, none of those hidden fees that sales people sometimes “forget” to tell you about.

How Does CarMax Work?

CarMax is interesting in that it works both online and offline.

As with a traditional dealership, you can go to the CarMax lot, walk up and down the rows with a sales person and take as many cars, trucks and vans as you want for a test drive before you buy. CarMax now offers you 24 hours to test drive cars, too.

But similarly to Carvana, you can also conduct a search online and make a purchase via the online site or app. Your car can be delivered directly to your house or to a nearby CarMax physical location — after which, you have 30 days to decide if you love it or want to return it.

As for selling your car, CarMax gives sellers the opportunity to get a quote online in just two minutes. The quote is good for seven days, and if you accept it, you have to bring your car to a CarMax location for an in-person inspection.

What Are the Similarities Between Carvana and CarMax?

At first glance, you might not think CarMax and Carvana have much in common. CarMax feels like a big national dealership that’s been around for decades, while Carvana is the tech-forward website making waves on the internet more recently.

But each has made significant strides in streamlining the car buying and selling processes. They both highlight their no-haggle pricing, and both put the research into your hands online — without the pressure of a pushy salesperson (though CarMax does still have salespeople at their physical dealerships).

As for knowing your car’s history, Carvana will provide a CarFax report, and CarMax will give you your vehicle’s Autocheck report.

You have three ways of purchasing your car via both of these methods — outside financing, financing from either of the companies directly or via cash.

They also both have return policies, which is out-of-the-norm for traditional car dealerships. Carvana gives you seven days, and CarMax offers a whopping 30 days to return — no questions asked.

And since things can happen, despite a robust 150-point inspection from both sites, Carvana and CarMax offer similar limited warranties as well. Carvana’s is 100 days or 4,189 miles. CarMax’s is 90 days or 4,000 miles.

What Are the Differences Between Carvana and CarMax?

The key differences between the two car shopping websites lies in their physical presence and their car-selling options. And, most importantly, the amount of money you could save or earn.

Carvana is 99% online. The other 1% is if you want to pick up your car at a dealership and when someone hands you a check for your old vehicle. You’ll already have the final offer for your car by the time Carvana’s people come to pick up your used vehicle — then they’ll just hand you a check.

And while a large chunk of CarMax’s activity is online, they do have physical dealerships and require you to bring your vehicle in before giving you an offer. The quote you get online when looking to sell your car is just a quote and can change when you drive to their dealership for a final inspection.

Because Carvana has no dealerships, their overhead costs are understandably lower, and there are no commissions to pay to sales people. What does that mean for you?

Possibly lower costs when buying a car and earning more money when selling your vehicle.

Which is Better? Carvana vs. Carmax

If you’re trying to decide between Carvana vs. CarMax, which car website is better depends on your preferences. If you want ease of use, without ever having to leave your couch whether buying or selling, Carvana is likely to be a better choice for you.

But some people still like the ability to drive a car before buying it — despite at least a week-long no-questions-asked return policy — and will gravitate toward CarMax if there’s one near them.

Yet neither of them will get you as much for your trade-in as a private sale. Even with Carvana cutting out the dealerships, they’re still a middle man (albeit, a less expensive one than CarMax).

Either way, if you’re shopping online for a car, you just need to find the car you want within your budget. And with 75,000 vehicles between the two websites, you’re likely to find it and buy it without having to spend hours inside a dealership.

Kari Faber is a staff writer at The Penny Hoarder.