They say a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. When it comes to the remarkable journey your Carvana vehicle takes, from the moment it is acquired by us to the moment it is delivered to your door, the points that plot its incredible course are both numerous and meticulously executed. At Carvana, transparency lies at the heart of everything we do, and we believe you deserve an up close and personal view of the important steps that lead to the completion of a Carvana purchase.
Our multi-part series called “The Carvana Odyssey” serves to reveal just how much energy, effort, and passion goes in to providing you with your Carvana purchase by offering an in-depth and behind-the-scenes look at the processes and people that make the new way to buy a car possible. The Carvana Odyssey continues with us taking a trip to the Carvana Inspection Center in Blue Mound, Texas, located just outside of Dallas. Here is where vehicles that get purchased by Carvana at wholesale, or through trade, get delivered before ultimately being inspected and perfected by Carvana’s automotive professionals. To help bring clarity to this process, we spoke with Jason Tucker, our Regional Operations Manager at the Blue Mound Inspection Center, to shine a light on Carvana’s 150-point inspection process for assuring our recently acquired vehicles are Carvana certified for all.
PART II: INSPECTION TO PERFECTION
If you read Part I of the Carvana Odyssey, you’re already familiar with the heavy lifting that has already taken place before a given vehicle has technically come into our possession. However, this is just the tip of the iceberg. If Carvana’s car buying team are talent scouts responsible for finding the next wave of awesome automobiles to appear in our inventory, then consider our Inspection Center (IC) personnel as the key figures responsible for developing and honing all that raw talent. Once a Carvana vehicle has passed its post-sale inspection and is loaded onto a transport, it is shipped to an IC so it can undergo a comprehensive evaluation conducted by Carvana’s highly-skilled team of ASE (Automotive Service Excellence) certified mechanics and technicians.
Upon first arriving at the IC, vehicles get placed into a “stock-in” area. It’s here that vehicles receive a bar code and stock number and are prioritized based on how many days remain on their arbitration window after being acquired from wholesale. In lay terms, the arbitration window is a period of time Carvana has to identify any issues pertaining to the vehicle once it arrives at an inspection center. Anything that could be claimed as damage that occurred to the vehicle during transport would be identified here.
“Really what we want to verify here is, what, if any damage has occurred during transportation to the IC,” says Tucker. “If damage didn’t exist when the auction sold it, and by the time it got here it did exist, at that point we can leverage the transportation company and notify them that the car was damaged in transit.
“As long as there’s damage that didn’t appear in the condition report, we can return it back to the wholesaler or receive compensation from the transport company.”
After vehicles clear the “stock-in” area, the get lined up for inspection. The very first step in the inspection process is cosmetic inspection. During this stage, Carvana’s trained technicians go through and identify if there are any areas on the vehicle that will require paint-less dent repair, also known as PDR.
“We have a process that adheres to our guidelines for quality,” says Tucker. “We have different standards that define what constitutes a fine scratch, a light scratch, a medium scratch, etc., as well as what we require in order to fix the imperfection.”
When the initial cosmetic inspection is complete, the vehicle is then put on a lift and an inspection is performed, which includes checking the undercarriage for frame, flood, and fire damage.
“The primary goal is to ensure that everything on the vehicle is structurally sound,” says Tucker. “In addition to checking for frame damage, you’re also taking off each tire, you’re measuring the tread depth on the tire, you’re measuring the brake pads, drums, rotors, etc., and notating all of that. From there, all that information goes into the system. We won’t ever sell a vehicle that’s been in a reported accident, but we still do our due diligence to ensure everything checks out like it’s supposed to.”
THE INITIAL TEST DRIVE
Once a vehicle has been deemed safe enough for basic operation, it is taken for a short test drive. The main objective with the test drive to get the vehicle up to highway speed, perform turns in all directions, test the overall drivability, and pay close attention to the car’s suspension and identify if there is any excessive tire or engine noise. Once back at the IC, the vehicle enters the second stage of the cosmetic inspection which includes identifying the vehicle’s controls and features, and testing whether these features work properly. Similar to the cosmetic inspection process, this stage also requires technicians to follow standardized guidelines to ensure the vehicle operates as it’s supposed to. Everything from power windows, to Bluetooth and satellite radio, to the presence of a spare tire is tested and checked.
“Similar to cosmetics, all of the data we gather from here, as well as test drive, goes to a technician station to determine what needs to be repaired or replaced,” says Tucker. “We compare what we discover firsthand with the vehicle, with the condition report we receive from the wholesaler.
“Sometimes the vehicles we receive from the wholesale operate just fine, but are missing certain options due to the fact they were mislabeled,” Tucker continued. “Meaning we perhaps overpaid for a vehicle that didn’t have all of the options it was listed as having. It could be missing $2,000 worth of options. Again, in those cases, we’ll either seek some sort of consideration from the auction, or they need to take the car back.”
Once the controls and features inspection is complete, a vehicle typically goes to a designated lube, oil, and filter station to get freshly outfitted. However, depending on the extent a vehicle needs to be repaired after going through cosmetic inspection, it may then go to the IC’s diagnostic team. The individuals comprising this team are some of Carvana’s most highly skilled technicians, as they perform duties that more generally go beyond cosmetic or controls and features issues. These items include everything from investigating the source of a check engine light, to tending to damage that exists underneath a vehicle’s bumper.
PDR AND PAINT PROBLEM SOLVERS
With the inspection process more or less complete, the vehicle makes its way over to the IC’s cosmetic zone where it awaits PDR and any paint or body treatments. The personnel working at Carvana’s IC as PDR technicians are especially skilled at repairing any dents that appear on the vehicle when it arrives on site. While the task of removing dents may seem simple enough in theory, it’s a job that often requires years of experience in order to carry out efficiently.
“It takes time to get down,” says Carvana Cosmetic Associate Nick Gansen. “I’ve been doing this for almost two years now, and it all just comes with time. Jacky (another Cosmetic Associate at the Carvana IC) is just now starting with us, and something that takes us five minutes, could take him 30. It all just comes with time though. Eventually you’ll get your tool, and get it in the exact right spot to fix the dent, push five times, and the dent is gone.”
Not unlike the PDR technicians, Carvana’s paint technicians also have a very specialized skill set.
“Similar to PDR, paint and body are certainly skilled positions,” says Tucker. “When you get into paint, it’s very much about technique. Same thing with body. If there’s a body issue in a precarious place where say there’s a body line, you’ve got to know what you’re doing in order to recreate that body line. That’s where the skill set and experience comes in.”
When prepping a vehicle for paint, the IC’s paint team tapes off the area requiring touchups and then places a plastic bag over the rest of the vehicle to prevent overspray and dust accumulation. Next, the vehicle receives primer, while other members of the team simultaneously mix and weigh out paint in a separate area. Once the vehicle receives the primer, it gets wiped down with tack paper to help remove dust and any static electricity that remains on the affected area. After a vehicle receives its paint treatment, it’s only a matter of minutes before it dries.
“We use a water-based paint as opposed to a solvent-based paint, so the paint dries a lot faster,” says Tucker. “When we turn it on to bake, it can take 17-18 minutes for the paint to dry if it’s a small job. More generally, it can take up to 30-45 minutes if you’ve got multiple panels that are being treated. Altogether, with the preceding prep work, it can take about an hour for a car to make its way through the paint station.”
THE FINISHING TOUCHES
After a vehicle completes any necessary cosmetic treatment, it may also make a pit stop at the IC’s parts department where parts get replaced, repairs get made, and any additional issues get diagnosed. Sometimes a vehicle will also get one more test drive to ensure everything is operating as it’s supposed to.
“Ten percent or less of the vehicles that come through here end up coming to these guys,” says Tucker. “A lot of your top level technicians work [in the parts department]. They really have a good understanding of diagnostics and are able to effectively locate where the issues on the vehicle are, particularly electronically.”
Once it passes through the parts department, the vehicle continues on to detailing.
“The first stage is the wash bay,” says Tucker. “It’ll go through our car wash where everything, including the undercarriage and all the little crevices, are cleaned. Once the exterior portion of the vehicle is cleaned, we have an associate waiting at the end of the line to buff out any scratches that remain.”
At the end of the exterior detailing process, there are three stations of interior detailing where the hard plastics, interior vinyl, and carpet get treated and cleaned. At this stage, the car is at its cleanest point and is ready for its moment in our 360-degree photo studio.