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Cars Kartik Thoughts

Buying a car online. And some stock advice: short Vroom.

Our lives have moved online at a pace in excess of any prior change in human history. 5 years ago, the concept of buying a used car sight unseen, using an online broker would have seemed extraordinary. Companies like Carvana and Carmax are working to change that. So, is it worth the hype and will it work? Read on to find out.

I’ve owned a variety of new and pre-owned cars over the years. Mostly purchased in person, I did buy a 1968 Porsche 912 sight unseen completely online from a dealer in Georgia. That it was an old race-car driver and a person who communicated with me through the whole process, made it a breeze. I subsequently traded that car in for a tidy profit after a few years and never regretted that purchase. Every other vehicle my family has owned has been one where we’ve kicked the tires and spent a day being cosseted at a dealership. With no regrets.

Did we always get the best price? Probably not. Did someone profit at my expense? Probably. Was the buying experience something that was worth it to me? Yes.

Which brings me to this review.

As all saplings must grow into trees, our kids are now reaching the age where they need to learn how to drive. None of our present cars, from my wife’s vast SUV (a vehicle so massive that it has it’s own ZIP code), to either of my more sporty rides, served as a suitable vessel for driving lessons. Which would mean that we would have to buy a cheaper vehicle. In this market. Oh joy!

The first thing to do was to figure out what we wanted. We’ve always worried that having a flashy expensive looking car is not what we wanted our kids to grow up into. Something safe. Something robust, reliable and reasonable but yet not necessarily a beater. As it turns out our unanimous choice was the VW Tiguan. Especially the first generation model with AWD. Another secret that I was aware of was that the 2018 and 2019 model years came with a 72 month 72000 mile bumper to bumper warranty (Thanks, Dieselgate).

We did look at some cars with local dealers but between prices and variable reactions of family members finding the right car was difficult. FWIW, searching on online sites, we found a 2018 single owner AWD lease return from OH, with <40,000 miles on VROOM. Assuming that Vroom was similar to Carvana and other online systems, I went ahead. What was better was the car was just at or around the 20,000 mark that we had set to spend on this purchase.

Buying the car on Vroom was not difficult but the website is very clunky. One thing to remember, is there is a non-refundable $249 deposit on any car you start the purchase process for. As we were not financing the car, we completed the payment process through our bank. Again, not totally smooth, but acceptable.

The problem is once you complete the purchase, there is no way to figure out what the next steps are. Although the site says delivery within 14 days, there is very little communication. Whether cash down or financed, it is very disconcerting to have a situation where all you can do is refresh the site and see purchase pending with no real shipping updates. What is worse is that both the online chat and the telephone system is absolutely awful. The presence of a “local hub” in our city did nothing to assuage the situation, as the hapless souls manning the “local hub”, had even less information or updates to the situation.

The car arrived 17 business days after the money was transferred in full to the company. The car did have a temporary registration. Although the cars are reportedly “fully inspected” by Vroom, there is no information as to what was inspected and what is actually the status of things like tires, oil, etc that I would have got from a regular car dealer. Other buyers who had reviewed Vroom had suggest getting a quick mechanic inspection before the 7-day return period. Which I did. And there were some mechanical issues. The car itself was clean from the outside, but the interior was clearly suboptimal. A dealer would never have sold the car in that state. Not even Jalopies-r-us. Also, on that 7-day return period, it is a joke. If you can’t get a hold of customer service to speak to a person on a delivery or status update, a return authorization is likely impossible. For all these reasons I was also glad that I did not go with Vroom Protect, their recommended warranty.

Other people who have dealt with Vroom have reported inordinate delays in receiving title documentation and I am pleased to report that my title documentation got to me well within their specifications.

Mechanically, the car had a front suspension issue. Since I knew beforehand that this car was still on the factory warranty, I managed to get this fixed at no cost to me. The car is perfect for what I wanted it for. I just got back from an ice and snow event that has St. Louis somewhat paralyzed, and it did just fine.

So. The car is exactly what I wanted, at the price I wanted.

Why then, am I being cranky?

I hate to say it, but we’ve been spoiled by the personal touch of being overcharged by dealers as well as the superior service provided by online retailers in other aspects of our lives, including other big-ticket items.

Simply put, Vroom is a Texas based regular used-car dealer who has an online purchase portal. They lack the sophistication or the organization to provide the same slick speed and ease-of-use that an Amazon or an Apple based transaction does. They lack the glam gimmickry of a Car Vending machine and a giant coin. They make car buying dull, drab and dreary. I managed to score the perfect car for what I wanted, but I would think many times over, if I had to go to Vroom again. Maybe even going to ANY online car retailer.

So, is online car buying a thing we should incorporate into our digital lives. Maybe. Just not with Vroom.

Which brings me to my stock tip. (Quick caveat, I have no experience with stocks and shares, but logic dictates that a company with no fundamentals and no USP with multiple competitors with better UIs should not do well). Recent trends have indicated traders pushing stock like Vroom that have taken a deserved beating due to their awful sales experience (see their delisting from the BBB due to multiple complaints). The logic has been that online vehicle purchases will go up and rising waters raise all boats. Sadly, the iceberg has hit the Titanic and I see no future for this enterprise. To sell, the customer has to enjoy the experience. If your experience is a cringe, unless you make disaster movies, your stock price is likely going to be akin to a gold mining experience.And probably need to go really deep.

By Kartik Mani

Widely known for my extremely poor sense of humor, my life revolves around being an interventional cardiologist in the daytime; a molecular and cell biologist, when not placing stents in peoples arteries; a blogger when I get the time; a philosopher, when epiphany strikes; a rangefinder artist, when provided the inspiration and subjects; a car nut of staggering proportions; and Son, Brother, Dad and Husband to the greatest family known to mankind.

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