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September 28, 2023 9:46 pm by

Carmax vs. Carvana: Where Should You Buy Your Next Used Car?

Carmax vs Carvana logos


Buying a used car can be as nerve-wracking as it is exciting. Luckily, Carmax and Carvana have emerged as two customer-friendly alternatives to traditional dealerships.

Both sell a wide variety of used cars, from budget options to luxury vehicles. They also offer impressive modern-day conveniences, such as online buying, at-home delivery, and no-questions-asked returns.

But which one should you go with? To help you decide, we break down six key factors to consider when choosing between these two used car giants.

The Breakdown

Couple using computer to shop for cars from home


When it comes to making the car buying process easy, both Carmax and Carvana excel. But they offer distinct approaches. Carvana takes the crown for streamlining the online buying process. With a few clicks, you can browse, select, finance, and even arrange delivery of your vehicle, all from the comfort of your couch.

Carmax also offers an online platform for browsing and some preliminary steps toward purchase. However, you’ll need to finalize things in person. This can be a deal breaker if you don’t live near one of Carmax’s retail stores.

Winner: Carvana

Carmax store front


Both platforms allow you to search a vast range of makes, models, and trims. Online-only Carvana offers richly detailed profiles of each car in its inventory, including 360-degree views of its exterior and interior with a detailed look at any notable flaws.

But with Carmax, you can also walk into one of their 200+ physical locations to browse and test-drive the inventory. Unless you’re already sure exactly which make and model you want to buy, Carmax has the edge.

Winner: Carmax

Carvana hauler driving through neighborhood


Price is always a crucial factor in used car buying. Both Carmax and Carvana offer no-haggle pricing, which means the price you see is the price you pay. While this removes the stress of negotiation, it also means you might pay a little more than a traditional dealership where haggling is possible.

In general, prices between the two are competitive. But without the overhead costs associated with maintaining physical locations, Carvana’s prices tend to edge out Carmax’s slightly on average.

Winner: Carvana

Carvana car vending machine at night


Carmax provides an array of financing options through partnerships with multiple lenders, allowing you to compare rates and terms to find the best fit. You can pre-qualify online, which provides an overview of what to expect, but you’ll need to finalize the details in person. Carmax also allows you to use a loan from your personal bank or credit union, which can sometimes mean a lower interest rate.

Conversely, Carvana streamlines things by offering all in-house loans through a single partner, Bridgecrest. This model offers fewer choices, but the entirely online process is undeniably easy and quick. Plus, you can pre-qualify without a hard credit pull, and customers with poor or limited credit histories are more likely to qualify — though typically at higher rates. Carvana also lets you bring your own financing, but they only work with certain banks.

If you value having multiple lender options, Carmax is the better fit. But if you prefer speed and convenience — or if you have bad credit — Carvana’s online financing is hard to beat.

Winner: Tie

Carvana agent delivering a new car to a customer


Carmax provides on-the-spot appraisals at their physical locations. You can bring your vehicle in, have it inspected, and receive an offer in under an hour. This offer lasts seven days, giving you time to mull your options. The in-person look allows for a comprehensive assessment, ensuring you get an accurate valuation. This is especially true if your car is in unusually good condition or has rare or desirable options. Carmax also offers online appraisals, but a physical inspection is required to redeem the offer.

Carvana handles its trade-ins entirely online. You start by completing a detailed questionnaire about the vehicle’s condition, features, and history. After that, you’ll receive an instant offer, which is also good for a week. While convenient, this approach doesn’t allow for an in-person inspection that could potentially increase the offer. Carvana does a final check when they pick up your trade-in, at which point the offer could be adjusted but only for a lower amount.

Winner: Carmax

Carvana vehicle inspection center


Carmax and Carvana both make concerted efforts to offer well-vetted, reliable used cars. They give their vehicles comprehensive inspections and carry out any necessary repairs or refurbishments before putting them on the sales floor. They also provide a free vehicle history report with each listing, giving you a complete picture of the car’s past.

But with Carmax, you can visit a physical location, giving you the added advantage of seeing, touching, and test-driving the car to gauge its quality yourself. Carvana’s online descriptions are thorough, including high-resolution imagery highlighting cosmetic imperfections. However, the absence of an option for in-person inspection means you’re relying on second-hand information.

Winner: Carmax

Carmax shopper test driving a car

The Bottom Line

Tallying it up, Carmax wins in three categories, while Carvana takes two. Though Carmax has the upper hand, that doesn’t mean Carvana is down for the count. Choosing between the two ultimately boils down to your own priorities and preferences.

Carvana is hard to beat if you’re seeking a hassle-free virtual experience without geographical constraints. But if you prefer a more hands-on approach that lets you get up close and personal with your future ride, Carmax is the better bet.

Either way, you’ll avoid the headaches of buying from a traditional used car dealership. That is a victory in and of itself.


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