You’ve all been there. It’s time for a new car, but your job and personal life and just don’t really give you the time to sell your old one. It’s a lot of work! Getting it cleaned and detailed. Fixing any minor things it needs before it will sell. Taking photos that might catch someone’s eye, and figuring out how to price it. Shift, a new company based on the West Coast, is attempting to change all that.
I’m a motorcycle and car dork who lives on the internet, and car selling can be overwhelming even for me. And that’s before factoring in actually having to deal with people. It’s no surprise so many people leave their car at the dealership they buy their next one from, and are willing to take so much less than they potentially could get.
So when I saw an ad for Shift, I decided to give it a shot. I mean, if they were terrible, I could at least give myself the excuse that I gave it a try to write about it and not feel too bad, right?
Shift aims to take all the legwork out of private car selling. They aren’t even actually a recognized car dealer, more of just a car sales facilitator. Think of it like having a friend who helps friends sell cars, but does it so often they can streamline the process so it doesn’t actually take much effort. Here’s how it works:
First, I went to their site and entered the info for my car. I bought my 2008 Mazda3 hatchback in 2009, and have taken very good care of it ever since. I ride a bike a lot, so my car had just under 100k miles and, outside of a scratch here or there, had nothing wrong with it.
Shift gave me a very rough estimate and then emailed and asked if I had any questions or if I’d like to schedule to have someone come look at in person and give me a more exact quote.
The way the money part works is this: Shift gives you a base amount they guarantee they will get for your car. Anything above that is considered profit, which they split with you 50/50. In this case, the base amount was a bit above what Kelley Blue Book listed for my car’s value for dealer trade in, and their projections had me making about what was expected for private sale.
I was heading to Italy for a Ducati launch and had very little time, but I managed to find an afternoon I could be around and told the nice man on the email I had about an hour the day before I left.
I got a call about 15 minutes before my appointment reminding me about it, and Jordan, my Shift rep, showed up right on time. I’d researched how Shift worked before letting them come bug me in person, but Jordan could not have been a better customer service rep and car evaluator.
It blows my mind when companies still screw up customer service because there are so many guys like Jordan out there who can be knowledgeable, personable, and like their job enough to treat me like a human and not a paycheck. Anyone I emailed on the Shift team responded quickly and answered any question I had, no matter how dumb, and Jordan left me with his cell phone number. Giving your car to a stranger is weird, and it isn’t hard to treat people like friends.
One very notable thing: it’s Shift’s policy to have you sign a bill of sale and sign over your pink slip so they don’t have to try and track you down when they have a seller.
I know, that’s going to freak a lot of you out. But with the promise that I could back out at any time, even once they had the car in their warehouse, I signed the paper and watched Jordan drive my car away.
Jordan’s analysis of my car was just to manage my expectations, and he let me know that the company would likely want to fix some of the scrapes on my wheels and scratches on my bumper. When Shift gets the car back at their headquarters, they give it a full run through and, with your approval, fix whatever needs fixing (which comes out of your end payout.)
Turns out, Jordan’s bosses decided that a car as old as mine was acceptable to sell with a little scratch or two. They found that one wheel was slightly out of alignment and wanted to fix one of the wheels (not all four like Jordan said they might), and they quoted me $100 to fix both items. And being the goon that I am, I’d also lost the new registration sticker, so they emailed me the form to get a new one and then took care of tracking that down for me too.
By the time I made it to my hotel in Italy, I got an email with links to listings for my car on several sites including Cars.com, Craigslist and several others. They’d given my car a deep cleaning and detailing, which included under the hood, and shot it so beautifully that I briefly started to miss it and thought about going back on the deal.
Two days later, as I was boarding the plane to head home, I got another email telling me that they’d given a test drive and taken a deposit on it. In my initial emailing with the company, they mentioned that they could send a check for the base amount if the car was desirable and they were confident it would sell. I responded and asked if that was an option with me, as I’d need some wheels when I got home.
By the time I sat on a plane for another 30 hours and then taken an Uber home, I walked in my front door to an envelope from Shift containing a check for the guaranteed amount. I let the dealer I was working with know we were on for me to come get a car and made an appointment for two days later. The next day, I got an email that my car had sold and, later that afternoon, a check for the remainder of the amount.
Kelley Blue Book estimated I would get $4,588 for a dealer trade in or $5,895 if I sold my car privately.
Shift offered me a base amount of $4,767, but then sold my car for $7,470, which net me a total of $6,067 (the base of $4,767 plus $1,300) and Shift $1,403 ($1,300 plus $103 to fix two things on the car.)
My experience with Shift was fantastic and, for a guy with a schedule as silly as mine, is the only way I would have made that much for the car unless I got really lucky. But that doesn’t mean it’s for everyone.
There are several other services like Beepi, TRED, Vroom, or Carvana, and each has their own slightly different take on the process. Beepi, for example, lets you keep your car while they try and find a buyer but then they give the buyer a ten day period to return the car if they don’t like it. They’re also all mostly on the coasts, so check do your homework on which is available in your area.
The two biggest factors for whether Shift will be good for you are your expectations and the condition of your car. Shift prices the car in the mid-range of the local comps, but if I’d had some inflated idea that my car was worth $10,000, I would have been really disappointed.
Secondly, they make money by moving cars quickly, so something that needs a ton of work is going to cut heavily into how much you make and is going to take way more of their time.
Some things really are worth just driving until they die. But, for the rest of the things, there’s interesting new options out there now like Shift.