Clark Howard

CarMax vs. Carvana: A First-Hand Experience Selling a Car in 2024

Occasionally, we receive emails, texts, or even phone calls from dealerships or companies wanting to buy back our vehicles.

For the past year, I had been struck with a dilemma. We had a 2021 Toyota Camry AWD and a 2021 Highlander AWD. Both were owned outright and had hardly any miles. One car was driven a couple of days per week, and one was driven a couple of days per month. The total combined miles were about 3,000 per year.

Stuck with this dilemma, I spoke to Team Clark member Sally to get her thoughts on the one-car lifestyle. Her feedback helped propel me with my decision to sell one of our cars.

Online Quote Process

After having to jump-start the seldom-driven Camry again, I decided to get some quote ideas from dealerships, CarMax and Carvana.

Keep in mind, we paid $27,000 for our 2021 Camry during the car shortage.

Dealership Quote

I spoke with some of our local dealerships about buying back the car and received several quotes around the $19,000 range. While this was pretty decent, I continued my quest.

As someone who has been on Team Clark for a while, I know to check places like CarMax and Carvana before settling on the dealership offer. I’m so glad I decided to! I mentioned the quote that I received from CarMax to my primary dealership, and they informed me that they wouldn’t even be able to resell it for that price! More on that later.


Obtaining a quote from Carvana is easy and takes only a few minutes to complete. What was pretty cool was that when I requested the quote, I did not have the VIN number in front of me. I selected the sell/trade tab on the main Carvana website and entered my license plate number and the state that it is registered in. Carvana automatically pulled my vehicle specs. If you go this route, I recommend double-checking to make sure that all your vehicle stats are correct.

Everything looked correct except for one of the packages. My Camry had the cold weather package, which includes remote start, and Carvana did not have that box checked. Luckily, it was not a big change, but I will take an extra $9.00!

I was impressed with a Carvana tool called Vehicle Tracker, which gives you updates on the value of your car, which is driven by millions of automotive transactions and evolving market conditions. Unfortunately, we wanted to sell this vehicle sooner rather than later so I did not get to take advantage of the Vehicle Tracker.

The moment we all have been waiting for: the Carvana offer! Carvana exceeded my dealership by over a thousand dollars and came in at $20,929.


Requesting a quote from CarMax was just as easy as from Carvana. I was asked some basic questions, such as mileage, condition and even how many key fobs I had.

Once I input that information, CarMax offered us $23,600. Not bad, considering we purchased the car for $27,000 only three years prior. But was the offer too good to be true? After all, CarMax’s final quote is based on an in-store evaluation.

The Winner: CarMax

It was pretty obvious that CarMax would be the winner here. Offering over $2,600 more than Carvana was one of the factors that led to our choosing them. But we were not in the clear yet. We still need to take a trip to CarMax. Luckily, if things did not pan out, we still had our offer from Carvana.

We made the appointment at CarMax two days after the online quote, as that was the only day they were open late to accommodate our schedules. We made the appointment online and arrived about 20 minutes before our appointment time.

Sam called out our names and we made our way over to his desk to get the ball rolling. First, we went over some basic items like odometer, color, features, etc. Then Sam verified our online quote matched what he had in his system and was also upfront in telling us that the process would take roughly 90 minutes.

Why so long? CarMax does not inspect cars in-house. It is farmed out to a center in another state. Sam had to run outside and take a handful of pictures and then come back in and upload them into a database for viewing offsite. He showed us his computer screen that showed our Camry, VIN number and the current status. When the status indicator changed from amber to green, it meant that someone viewed the pictures and that the offer was solidified.

Why do they do this? It is all part of their "No Haggle Pricing" strategy. If you do not like the offer, they cannot override it or anything like that. But Sam read the results, and it was good news! The photo viewer in another state agreed that our Camry was in the condition we said it was and offered us the total trade amount of $23,600.

Now that we had that firm offer, we started the usual DMV and title transfer paperwork. After that, we were handed a check for the full amount, and we handed them the keys. That was it!

I spoke with our associate throughout the transaction, and we had a nice conversation about the “No Haggle Pricing” policy. My big question was why CarMax paid out more than their competitors, and he said that CarMax has a couple hundred locations across the U.S., with more being added all the time. Having a no-haggle policy allows them to be upfront with their customers and make them feel more assured when shopping or selling a car with them.

Sam told me something particularly interesting: the sales associates do not make a commission. Typically, salespeople at dealerships make commissions, but not at CarMax. Everyone is paid an hourly wage regardless, which makes them less about the bottom line and more about helping you drive off with a deal.

Final Thoughts

Selling a car through CarMax or Carvana has to be one of the most straightforward processes out there. Obtaining an online quote is easy. Orchestrating a drop-off at CarMax or a pickup from Carvana is just as easy, with many open appointment slots to choose from.

CarMax was the clear winner, offering us thousands of dollars more than any dealership would, and the 90-minute process went by rather quickly.

When selling a car, do your homework and obtain multiple quotes. Double-check that all questions in the appraisal process are answered truthfully and to the best of your knowledge.

Still have questions? We have a breakdown of the top things to know before you buy or sell a car from CarMax or Carvana.

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