I recently bought a used car through Internet dealer Vroom and thought I would document my experience. This is not the first time I’ve bought a used car, not my first Internet auto transaction, and not the first BMW i3 I’ve bought, so perhaps this gives me a little perspective. I hope this post is useful for others buying a used car over the Internet, and those buying from Vroom. I welcome your comments!
Note: I am documenting my experience with Vroom and am trying to be as honest as possible. I do not specifically endorse the company, and neither do I condemn it. My purchase was successful, even though my experience was not uniformly positive. As they say, your mileage may vary!
Pick a Car, Any Car
I’ve bought quite a few cars over the years, both new and used, from dealers and independents alike. It’s always stressful, and every transaction feels like it wasn’t entirely in my favor. I guess that’s the nature of the car buying experience. All I want from a car dealer is to approach it as a business transaction without a lot of deceit and BS. I’m ok spending a little more for that.
When it came time to replace our family runabout, we decided to get a BMW i3 electric car. We had leased a 2014 model for two years (at a screamingly-awesome $250 per month) and loved it. The i3 is surprisingly roomy and quick around town, with lots of useful features and some lovable oddball style inside and out. Plus, it was dead-reliable and basically impervious to rust thanks to the aluminum and carbon fibre reinforced plastic chassis and body panels.
It was always puzzling why the i3 wasn’t more popular. Sure it looks funny, but it’s a BMW and has always been priced below the cheapest Tesla. I guess BMW just misjudged the global appetite for battery range. Although BMW increased the battery capacity from 18.2 kWh to 27.2 kWh in 2017 and 37.9 kWh in 2019, that’s still way below most successful electric cars, and drivers get anxious when they see two-digit range on the dashboard. But this never bothered us, since we rarely drive two-digit distances in a given day and, since we plug it in every night, it’s always full!
The fact that the BMW i3 is a moderately-successful older model these days really works in the buyer’s favor. There are many clean low-mileage examples available and they sell for a lot less than new. Being electric, they have very few mechanical issues apart from tires and brakes, and the body panels must be replaced rather than repaired. So if a used BMW i3 looks good, it probably is good.
We decided to look for a low-mileage 2017 or 2018 model with the larger “94 Ah” battery but without the “range extender” (“REx”) option. This is a tiny internal combustion engine that can recharge the battery if needed, but actually reduces electric range by 10% and only increases combined range by 37% thanks to legal limits on fuel capacity. We liked the new-for-2017 Protonic Blue color better than every other color (white, silver, silver, gray, black, ugh). And it always pays to pick a better interior and option package, since this adds very little to the cost of a used car.
Vroom: The Purchase Experience
A quick Internet search for a 2017 or 2018 BMW i3 with less than 24,000 miles returned dozens of hits. Limiting the selection to blue also eliminated the smaller 60 Ah battery and low-rent interior choices, since it was only available in upscale models. And there it was: A Protonic Blue BMW i3 from California with 21,554 miles and clean Carfax for just $18,890.
The car was listed by a company I had never encountered. Vroom is an Internet auto dealer that bills itself as a source of “high-quality cars” with “buying made easy” and “delivered right to you.” A bit of research revealed both positive and negative reviews, mostly centered on slow turnaround of paperwork and loan documents. The only real red flag were a few mentions of slow delivery of the car itself, though speed mattered less to me in the midst of the global pandemic!
I decided to make the purchase and filled in the online reservation form. I got a call from their agent fairly quickly, and she proceeded to ask me about my trade (none) and try to talk me into financing the vehicle through Vroom (no). She also needed me to upload proof of identity and insurance to their online portal, which I did shortly after. Then nothing happened.
Three days later, I called Vroom on the phone, wondering what had happened. I never did hear from that initial agent again. After a very long time on hold, I was able to reach another agent and she was much more helpful. From that moment on, it took just two days to finalize the purchase.
Once again, she tried to talk me into financing the car, promising that this would make the transaction easier since they would handle the title and registration for me. But I held firm that I would pay cash and she didn’t pressure me on financing any further. I imagine that, like most car dealers, kickbacks from financing make up a good share of Vroom’s profit. She also offered tire and wheel coverage beyond the 90 day limited warranty offered by Vroom, which I also declined.
This second agent is efficient, and the purchase process went much more smoothly. She had me pay a $500 deposit by credit card to hold the car and began the paperwork on her side. Three days later I received a big packet of paperwork via DocuSign to review and sign. I completed the paperwork the next day and wired the payment (including a $31.85 “inventory tax”, $150 “documentation fee”, $7 “inspection fee”, and $599 “delivery fee”) immediately. Although some people object to these fees, they are lower than most dealers charge. And $599 for an interstate delivery is reasonable compared to my other Internet vehicle purchases.
Vroom Purchase Timeline
- August 25 – I fill out the purchase form on the Vroom website and receive an email requesting further documentation
- August 26 – I receive an initial call from the Vroom agent; I upload my documents later that day
- August 28 – I call back, wait on hold for a long time, and get a new agent; she has me create a Vroom account and pay the $500 deposit by credit card
- August 29 – The agent calls back but I miss her call
- August 31 – After another call, Vroom sends me an official purchase quote and all the paperwork via DocuSign
- September 1 – I complete the paperwork and wire the full payment to Vroom; they confirm receipt and promise delivery “on or around September 13”
- September 5 – I receive a email notifying me that Vroom is preparing my car for delivery; a second email promises delivery on September 15
- September 7 – Vroom calls to confirm my delivery address, telling me the car will arrive on September 9
- September 8 – The driver calls to tell me he’s on the way to drop off the car that night! The car is delivered after Vroom has closed so no one answers when I call to report four bad tires, including one totally flat
- September 9 – I call Vroom and, after a long wait on hold, report the bad tires; I email photos of the tires to Vroom support; I drop the car with my local tire guy so he can look into replacement tires
- September 10 – With my car un-drivable, I ping Vroom for an update about their tire coverage; Vroom calls back and agrees to work directly with my tire store
- September 11 – Since the i3 uses hard-to-get tires, I won’t be able to drive the car within Vroom’s “7 day test drive” period, I ask for an extension; they give me an extra day, to September 18
- September 15 – Surprise! Vroom covers the entire cost of four new tires since they were so worn when I received the car! My tire store was able to locate the proper tires and it’s ready for me!
- October 12 – Vroom notifies me that the registration paperwork is on the way via FedEx overnight mail
- October 13 – I receive all the proper paperwork; the Vroom transaction is complete
Vroom: The Delivery Experience
Four days after I completed the paperwork Vroom reached out to let me know that the car was being prepared for delivery. The initial delivery date was 10 in days, but the car actually arrived just three days later! Although it’s nice that it arrived so quickly, it could have caused issues in other circumstances. Everything would have been easier if delivery would have been on schedule.
Vroom instructs buyers to call them on a special number to report any damage. But my delivery happened the night before it was scheduled, and Vroom was already closed for the night.
Having purchased multiple cars this way previously, I knew what to expect from the delivery. Contract truckers pick up and deliver vehicles all over the country, and they are not associated with the dealers. On arrival, it is critical to inspect the car and note any non-disclosed damage on a bill of lading. This assigns responsibility for the damage to the dealer or the trucker.
My car arrived dirty but functional and complete as promised, except for one thing: All four tires were badly worn and one wouldn’t hold air at all. I noted this on the bill of lading and immediately contacted Vroom by email (since no one answered the phone). The trucker accepted the bill and helped me fill up the tires from his pump so I could drive to my local tire store, which was right next door to the delivery location.
The next morning, I called Vroom again and opened a support ticket about the tires. There is no way these tires should have passed inspection by any selling dealer. I suspect that the company simply passed the car from auction to warehouse to delivery without much of a second look. Plus, with the car un-drivable, I would not be able to take advantage of Vroom’s promised 7-day or 6,000 mile test drive.
Happily, Vroom agreed not only to work directly with my local tire shop but to cover the cost of all four tires. I sincerely appreciated their willingness to make the situation right without much hassle to me. But it is disappointing that they didn’t catch the bad tires in their inspection, and that this cut into my “test drive” time. They only agreed to give me one more day, even if the car was un-drivable.
Vroom: The Paperwork Experience
Titling and registration is a frequent issue for used car purchasers. I once had to delay delivery for four months until the purchasing paperwork cleared. Another time my temporary tag almost ran out before the dealer could deliver the title. This is especially typical of cars from auction, which frequently seem to have paperwork delays.
Like many used car dealers, Vroom appears to simply flip cars from auction. But unlike those dealers, Vroom seems to have waited for the paperwork before selling the car, at least in my case. I was pleasantly surprised when they overnighted the title to me just a month after purchase.
The car arrived with a Texas temporary tag (Vroom is in Houston) even though it apparently shipped from California. But this was fine to last until the paperwork arrived. All of the paperwork was properly filled out and Ohio accepted the title. I’m no expert at vehicle registration but it’s much easier than the dealers make it sound. There’s no need to pay extra for that service!
The Verdict: Vroom is OK
My experience with Vroom was acceptable but not excellent. The car was as promised, they quickly processed the paperwork, and it arrived quicker than expected. But they were slow to answer the phone, inconsistent in their responsiveness, and of course didn’t notice four unusable tires during their inspection. At least they paid to make it right.
All this suggests to me that Vroom isn’t all it claims to be. I suspect that the company simply flips auctioned cars, just like most other companies in the used car business. I imagine they would live up to the claims on their website (the 7 day test drive and limited warranty) but their lower prices suggest they’re not in the same league as Carvana.
I asked the Vroom representatives about the negative reviews and they suggested that they stemmed from problems with trade-in or financing paperwork. This sounds reasonable, since these issues would definitely cause problems. But I imagine the long waits on hold and lack of coordination between Vroom agents had something to do with it as well. My purchase was especially easy, with a full and quick wire transfer and no trade-in to deal with. So it wasn’t much of a test for Vroom.
Postscript: BMW i3 Tires
The bad tires were a major issue, but not a surprise to me. Our 2014 BMW i3 required new tires after just about 20,000 miles. And it requires special Bridgestone Ecopia EP500 tires, “staggered” in two different sizes front and rear. There is no alternate tire that will fit, and they’re not usually in stock. My tire guy had to order them from Oklahoma! Even so, he was able to replace them in 6 days.
Different i3 models come with 19″ and 20″ wheels. They’re a crazy size: Tall and narrow. The Ecopia tires really are the only ones that will fit. The 19″ tires are all-season, but the 20″ are summer-only. Our new i3 came with 20″ wheels, and it does slide around in the snow!
While my local tire guy was locating replacement Ecopias, I also asked him to source some snow tires for the car. Typically for the i3, there is only one wheel that fits, the Rial X10-1, and one snow tire for that, the Bridgestone Blizzak LM-500. So it wasn’t much of a decision to order that package. Happily, the winter wheel and tire package was partly subsidized by Vroom, who covered the replacement Ecopia tires which I had already budgeted for.