This is part of the recurring $ave Money Series, describing underappreciated ways to save money without significant effort. You can find all of them here, which I will update as I post more. Note, this post contains an affiliate link to Vroom.
My first car was a mid-1980’s Volvo Tank, which became mine as a 3rd generation hand me down. Family friends bought it used for their daughter to learn to drive. They gifted it to my parents and my older brother learned to drive on it. Then they handed it down to me to learn to drive.
My next car was also a hand me down, but a huge step up: a 1989 Toyota Supra Turbo. It was my father’s car, which he eventually gave to my older brother, who eventually relinquished it to me. It was infinitely cooler and faster than the tank — it had a gauge for the Turbo, and watching it kick in was fantastic.
I once received a ticket after passing an ambulance with lights/sirens on while driving on the highway. In my defense, it was midnight, and we were the only two vehicles on the road, and I was several lanes away and not impeding the ambulance. The police officer (no idea where he was hiding) only gave me a speeding ticket, and spared me the ticket for failure to yield to an emergency vehicle. Thankfully I had slowed down before he clocked me — my ticket was for going 83mph in a 60mph zone.
After marriage, my wife and I bought our first two cars new (over the course of several years). Both were reasonable priced cars for our income, and both were driven a long time (the second one, a Sorento, has a heated steering wheel. For that feature alone it was a great purchase).
Last year, with the impending arrival of Rogue Three, we decided to trade in our Honda Accord for a minivan. The impending birth combined with a new house was overwhelming enough that we did not want to spend extensive time at dealerships, and we agreed that purchasing new was not worth the money. So I shopped around for used vehicles in my area.
Odyssey’s are expensive — they are reliable, well-built, and maintain their value. They are/were in high demand in our area, so selection was limited and the price was high.
Finding one within 50 miles that met our criteria was difficult, and all were above what I wanted to pay.
Thanks to a 2015 article in the New York Times I came upon the idea of buying a used car entirely online. After exploring many companies, I found Vroom. Companies such as Vroom, Carvana, and others allow you to select a car online and complete all paperwork remotely, arrange payment or financing remotely, and they will have the car delivered to your door.
You’ll find references to Vroom as Texas Direct Auto — Vroom bought them in 2015. You can buy or sell your car through Vroom. We did both — purchased a new Odyssey and used our Accord as a trade in, though you can also sell to them without trading in.
Both processes were quick and easy, but I admittedly was nervous about buying, and my wife thought I was completely bonkers for trying it.
Buying on Vroom
Picking a car is as simple as going to their site and browsing. The relevant details, including price, are listed on their site. They had several Odyssey’s for sale with the trim level I want. They only sell cars that are a few years old are less, and the mileage on them is generally low. A quick look now shows all Honda Odyssey’s for sale are 2015-2017 (we purchased 2014 model which they no longer have), and most are under 30k miles.
Their choice was not only better than local dealerships, their pricing was better as well. The vehicle I selected was thousands of dollars cheaper than the ones I could locate online. It certainly made me skeptical. They are able to keep prices low by eliminating normal dealership costs — no massive buildings or fleets of commissioned salesman to pay off.
They have their car lots down in Texas — you can go and visit the lots directly if you are interested (or want to travel), but I based my purchase solely by looking at their pictures online.
They offer car reports through Autocheck (a competitor to Carfax), 1-year of roadside assistance, and a 90-day/6000 mile warranty (in addition to any remaining manufacturer warranty).
While Vroom offers the option of an extended warranty through them, and the Odyssey was eligible for aftermarket purchase of Hondacare, I did neither. I’m normally a sucker for extended warranties on vehicles, and if I ever should have been paranoid about needing one it should have been for this purchase. However I decided not to buy one.
I decided to pull the trigger late at night and placed a refundable hold on the one I wanted, then slept on it. The next day someone from Vroom called me to follow-up and I decided to proceed with the purchase. They state clearly on their site they do not negotiate, and the price was good enough I didn’t try to haggle. In hindsight I should have tried anyway — there was no harm in doing so, but it may not have made a difference.
As I wanted to do a trade-in I had to get the quote from them before they could finalize paperwork — I’ll discuss that in the next section. I sent them in some verifying information and the next day that sent paperwork out overnight for us to sign (once we had the trade-in offer).
As we had just moved and had a small gain from the sale of our old house, we were able to avoid financing the vehicle, however Vroom offers an option to finance directly through them. I wired them the money (which made me feel very important and awkward in the bank). Once confirmed they set up the delivery, with an independently contracted car transporter bringing my car up from Texas.
He contacted me to set up the delivery date, I arranged to be home, and it was time to wait.
Selling on Vroom
Before settling on Vroom to buy, I already had quotes from local used car dealers on the value of my car, as well as researching sales of similar cars online and the Kelly Blue Book Value.
To get my trade in offer I simply sent in a few pictures of the car (using my phone) and the details they needed to check its background. A day later I had my offer.
Vroom offered me a higher price than any local dealer and a price on par with the KBB value, with no negotiation required. In my case they subtracted this amount from the purchase price of the car, but otherwise you can sell direct to them.
Compared to a private sale, where I may have made slightly more money but then had to deal with the paperwork hassle of a private sale, or a dealer, where I would have had to negotiate the purchase and the sale together, this was as easy as could be.
Even if you do not buy from them and trade in your car, you should consider selling to them. This was the easiest part of the entire transaction.
The only snag I hit was a doozy. The car transporter bringing our minivan broke down on the drive north. The transporter alerted me and the company, however as he broke down in the middle of nowhere, his cell reception was spotty, making it hard for him to communicate adequately.
He had a second transporter vehicle in Texas that he had someone drive to him, and he used that to complete the trip. Because of that, it took a couple extra days for our car to arrive.
While normally Vroom wants the transporter to pick up the trade-in when they drop off the new vehicle, I had convinced them to let me keep my Accord for a week. General paranoia over the process, plus the additional delay, made me push them to let me hold onto my Accord for a week.
They offer a 7-day money back guarantee, however if the Odyssey was a lemon and they already took my Accord, I was going to be stuck without a second car, and with our work/kid schedules, we need two functional vehicles many days of the week. This was my single biggest concern and hesitation over the purchase.
When my minivan finally arrived it looked fine. The individual transporting the minivan (using a large pickup truck with a car transporter on the back) apologized profusely. I did my visual inspection, went for a test drive nearby, and ultimately satisfied, I took possession of the car.
I took the minivan the next day to my local (trusted) repair shop and had them do as complete an inspection as possible. Their only finding was that it needed new windshield wipers — otherwise they said it looked like a completely new vehicle.
We drove the car for a few days, and satisfied that everything was functional, we set up to have them pick up our trade-in. The person picking up the car (not the same person who dropped off the minivan) had no issues; he was on time and his communication was great. I suspect the person who dropped off my car was never going to be hired by Vroom again after my complaints to them.
We have had the minivan for 15 months and driven it for over 10k miles — more than enough time for it to fall apart. I did have a fuse fixed in the first few weeks, but other than that it has been smooth sailing. Other than someone accidentally damaging a door pulling into the garage, and the rock that left a giant crack in our windshield. But Vroom isn’t to blame for those.
Buying and selling from Vroom was easy — selling was easier than I could have imagined. Had the car transporter not had transportation issues delivering my vehicle, I would not have had any complaints.
Future purchases from them will still require checking value — if my local dealer has the same vehicle at the same price, it will be tempting to go there because I can see the car in person before making a purchase. But much like purchasing a mattress online, unless you see something glaring up front, you won’t know if there is a problem until you drive it for a while.
Also, avoiding the time and hassle of a dealership and negotiating among multiple dealers has a value of its own. In addition to not having to negotiate online or in-person with dealers, my actual purchase price was over three thousand dollars cheaper purchasing from Vroom.
In spite of the transportation headache, it was clearly the right decision.