Carvana promises to simplify your car-buying experience, but things are getting complicated for some customers.
The online car dealer is facing a growing number of customer complaints and legal issues around the country and Pennsylvania customers are right in the thick of it.
Watch part 1 of our investigation above, and scroll down to watch part 2.
Carvana registration delays
At first, Fayette County business owner Jessica Metz loved her Carvana experience.
“I browsed Carvana several times because I’ve always wanted a Ford Fusion. It was super easy to do,” Metz said.
She searched online during down time at the store she owns in Uniontown mall and found what seemed like a great deal.
“I was like, ‘How could I pass this up?’”
But now, the car Metz was so excited to buy is clouded by one big problem.
She can’t legally drive it.
“I just kept telling them where’s my registration? And they just kept telling me different excuses,” Metz said.
More than 10 months after she bought the car in December of 2021, she had yet to receive her permanent Pennsylvania tags.
Twice, Carvana sent her temporary, out-of-state, 90-day paper tags from Arizona. The last one expired in June, making it illegal for her even to drive the car.
“I haven’t driven it since,” she said in late September when we first talked with her.
Can’t legally drive car
Making matters worse, Metz couldn’t even park the car at her home. So, it sat for months in the parking lot at the mall where she works.
“It’s illegal for me to have it at my house. They will tow it!” she explained, referring to her local police department.
She’s not kidding. Local ordinances in many communities, including here in German Township, where Metz lives, prohibit a car with expired tags from even being parked in your own driveway.
“Very frustrated,” she said.
And she’s not alone.
Pennsylvania State Police say they’re seeing a growing number of problems reported about Carvana.
“A lot of people have called us. We know. It’s on our radar,” said Trooper Rocco Gagliardi, a spokesperson with Pennsylvania State Police, Troop B Pittsburgh. “It’s something we are actually actively investigating and looking into from all the complaints about — not just one or two — but multiple different online purchases for these vehicles.”
The Pennsylvania attorney general’s office tells 11 Investigates it has at least 130 Carvana complaints from the past three years.
And that’s not all.
It’s also happening in multiple other states, including Michigan, Illinois, North Carolina, Maryland, and Texas. Some have already taken regulatory and legal action against the company.
Plus, Philadelphia consumer lawyer Bob Cocco has filed a class-action lawsuit for Carvana customers dealing with delayed title and registration transfers.
“I’ve spoken with customers all over the country,” Cocco said. “It’s a terribly egregious violation of a consumer’s rights to sell a vehicle that a consumer can’t lawfully drive. That’s a basic consideration when you purchase a vehicle.”
Under Pennsylvania law, temporary plates “expire after 60 days” and “may not be used” after that. So, unless PennDOT authorizes an extension, you can’t legally drive the car.
“To be deprived of that right is one of the most basic violations that can be committed against a car buyer,” Cocco said.
A federal judge has issued an order allowing that class-action suit against Carvana to move forward, although Carvana filed an appeal just last week.
So, what does Carvana have to say about all this?
When we contacted them, they declined to do an interview.
Instead, a spokesperson sent a statement that characterized the registration delays as “minor alleged paperwork issues during the COVID pandemic.” (Although customers are continuing to experience delays well into this year.)
The statement also said they “continuously deliver exceptional experiences...” adding, “that said— we remain firmly committed to continuous improvement...”
Read Carvana’s full statement here.
After months of the run-around, Metz says she told Carvana she wouldn’t make any more payments on the car, until they sent her permanent registration.
“I don’t want to pay on something that I can’t drive,” she said.
She also filed a complaint with the PA attorney general’s office, which mediated with Carvana on her behalf.
Finally, several months after filing that complaint with the AG, she started to get some action.
“This is a check Carvana sent me today,” Metz said, pulling the check out of a FedEx envelope.
Metz told 11 Investigates Carvana sent her the $1800 check for her trouble and to help catch her up on car payments, while she continued to wait for her Pennsylvania title and registration.
Finally, the plate came in mid-October, nearly a year after buying the car.
“It shouldn’t take that long to get your plate and registration,” she said. “It’s just been a crazy experience.”
Carvana Investigation Part 2: Trouble at the Bridgeville location
11 Investigates also learned PennDOT has taken action against Carvana’s Bridgeville location, suspending them as an agent for the state.
If you’ve driven down I-79 near Bridgeville, you’ve probably seen the trademark car vending machine tower right off the exit there. That’s the location in trouble. Watch our report on the Bridgeville location above.
Bridgeville business bustling
Business was still booming when we visited the Carvana Bridgeville dealership earlier this month.
To put it simply, being a suspended agent didn’t seem to be affecting business.
Keith Crist hauls cars for Carvana and stopped to talk with us.
Angie: How many cars you bring in every week? Crist: Oh, probably 50.
On this day in October when we stopped by, it was busier than ever, with cars being delivered and customers picking them up.
“They’re selling cars out there like crazy, back-to-back,” said customer Evelyn Miller. “There’s been clients in there, before me and after me today.”
Jing Lei and her husband, Xiao Lei, were also picking up a car. They told 11 Investigates they purchased a used Volvo online and came to Bridgeville to trade in their old car and complete the transaction.
Angie: You thought it went smoothly? Jing: At least so far.
Before getting her car, Miller checked it out with an employee and also traded in her old car.
“I transferred my registration and everything from my old car and my plates from my old car, from tags on this car, right here,” Miller said.
But there is some question as to whether the Bridgeville location is allowed to do that.
As 11 Investigates discovered, Bridgeville is on PennDOT’s “Suspended Agents” list until April of 2023.
It’s cited for multiple problems, including late submission of paperwork and improperly issuing license plates.
“The issuing agent, during the period of the suspension, is prohibited from completing these transactions on behalf of PennDOT,” PennDOT spokesperson Diego Sandino explained to 11 Investigates in an email.
Customers say transactions continue
Carvana customers Jing and Xiao told 11 Investigates they were able to get their Pennsylvania license plate on the day we visited in October.
Angie: Did you get a PA plate? Jing: Yes, absolutely. Angie: And the registration, title? Jing: Yeah.
Indeed, 11 Investigates looked at the back of their new car and it did have a PA license plate.
So, we wanted to know — with the suspended agent status is the Bridgeville location actually allowed to do that?
We called PennDOT to find out.
Sandino said he couldn’t go on camera but told us Carvana “can do business,” but the suspension restricts Bridgeville’s “ability to perform title and registration transactions” on site.
To clairfy, we asked, “So, they would not be able to sell a car on site and transfer a title from an old vehicle to a new vehicle?”
He responded, “Correct. They would not be able to do those transactions.”
“You’re kidding!” Miller exclaimed when we told her. “You just turned me on to some new information. I’m shocked.”
Is this allowed?
We tried to talk with a manager at the Bridgeville location, but were turned away and told to contact Carvana’s media department.
Which we did.
They declined to do an interview but said in a statement that the PennDOT suspensions “only affect back end processing and work-flows.”
They would not, however, say if Carvana is conducting title and registration transactions on site in Bridgeville, which PennDOT says is prohibited under the suspension.
We tried to follow up with PennDOT to find out what this means for customers who told us they were getting license plates at the dealership, but their spokesperson backed out of a scheduled Zoom interview at the last minute.
“What’s going to happen to these people getting cars there now? If they’re (the Bridgeville dealership) violating the suspension?” Channel 11′s Angie Moreschi asked. “It’s important for the public to know this.”
Over the phone, Sandino told us all he could say was, “The state has open litigation with Carvana now.”
Now, customers hope the suspension doesn’t impact their registration.
“You have my money. I have my car,” Miller said. “Hopefully, that’s the end.”
Unfortunately, that is still unclear.
So far, PennDOT says they have not taken any further action against the dealership and still would not say what, if any, ramifications this could have on the registration for customers picking up cars there.
11 Investigates has learned that the PA Department of State is also investigating several complaints turned over by the state police.
UPDATE OCT. 31, 2022:
After these reports aired, Carvana contacted Channel 11 with an updated statement, asking us to include their “additional commentary to help further clarify.”
That statement sent on 10-28-22 said, in part: “After 4 months of not responding to our requests for an explanation as to why our Bridgeville tag license was suspended, the state admitted that they had zero grounds for the action.”
After indicating to Carvana that we followed up with the state to get reaction to their comments, 11 Investigates received a 2nd updated Carvana statement eliminating the language that “the state admitted that they had zero grounds for the action.” Instead saying, “we feel after a recent meeting that PennDOT suspended the permit based on incorrect assumptions about Carvana’s processes.”
You can read Carvana’s full on-the-record statements below. If PennDOT responds to our inquiry for additional comment, we will update this report.
PennDOT provided this response on 11-01-22 to Carvana’s statement:
At no time has PennDOT said that PennDOT had no grounds for the action. To the contrary, the enclosed letters detail the grounds of the suspension. Carvana had the opportunity to and did in fact file an appeal of their suspensions. PennDOT continues to review Carvana’s contract and actions to determine whether or not Carvana is in compliance or out of compliance with the terms of their agreement.
2nd updated Carvana statement 10-31-22:
Updated Global On the Record Statement:
Tag licenses affect backend processing of a customer’s registration and not having one makes the process more expensive and time-consuming for customers, but otherwise does not impact their vehicle purchase.
After 4 months of not responding to our requests for an explanation as to why our Bridgeville tag license was suspended, we feel after a recent meeting that PennDOT suspended the permit based on incorrect assumptions about Carvana’s processes. However, Carvana is still awaiting the return of processing privileges, or further explanation. We are exploring our legal remedies.
We would gladly put up our registration performance rates up against any other dealer in Pennsylvania.
1st updated Carvana statement 10-28-22:
On-the-record-commentary to be attributed to a Carvana Spokesperson.
Tag licenses affect backend processing of a customer’s registration and not having one makes the process more expensive and time consuming for customers, but otherwise does not impact their vehicle purchase.
After 4 months of not responding to our requests for an explanation as to why our Bridgeville tag license was suspended, the state admitted that they had zero grounds for the action. However, they have still not remedied their mistake nor provided any further explanation. We are exploring our legal remedies.
We would gladly put up our registration performance rates up against any other dealer in Pennsylvania.
Original Carvana statement 10-05-22:
On-the-record-statement to be attributed to a Carvana spokesperson:
Carvana’s dealer license is not suspended, and our ability to deliver industry-leading customer experiences is unaffected. Any other permits only affect back end processing workflows.
Carvana has pioneered online car buying by continuously delivering exceptional experiences, and we have bought and sold well over a million cars with customers while achieving an industry-leading Net Promoter Score (NPS) and a 4.7 out of five star customer experience rating average. That said, we remain firmly committed to continuous improvement and will stay hard at work making the best car buying and shopping experience available even better. Carvana is one of the largest sellers of used cars in the country, and a handful of historical registration delays are not reflective of our outstanding customer experiences.
With respect to your question about the class action, This is just a procedural ruling, it doesn’t change that the legal theory of this case is wrong. We look forward to winning the case in court and view this as nothing more than a predictable attempt by class-action attorneys to try and profit off of minor alleged paperwork issues during the COVID-19 pandemic. Although Carvana does not agree with the ruling, it relates only to procedural issues that have nothing to do with the merits of the case. Carvana is confident that it will prevail once it is given the opportunity to present evidence of its superior customer experience.
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