Currently serving the Bay Area, greater Los Angeles County, and San Diego county metro regions, Shift is an automobile listing service on a mission to transform the peer-to-peer buying and selling experience using the power of technology.
This includes competitive pricing, no haggling, a rigorous 200-point inspection on every vehicle they sell, financing, test drives that come to you, friendly Car Enthusiasts that can provide advice, and simple paperwork.
Together, Shift tells us they’re using convenience, value, and trust as their three guiding principles to deliver real convenience and a no-hassle experience to their customers. In fact, they claim their goal is to “turn what is universally regarded as a burdensome life event into a delightful experience.”
But does the company really represent a better way to buy, as claimed on their website? Are they the right buying or selling option for you, or should you explore the competition? Let’s start off by taking a look at how Shift works.
Buying & Selling a Car Through Shift
Buying or selling a vehicle through Shift is meaningfully different than through a traditional dealer, so in this section, we’ll briefly outline everything that’s involved to provide some perspective.
The Buying Process
Note: As of this writing, Shift only serves the Inland Empire, Los Angeles, Orange County, San Diego, San Francisco, San Gabriel Valley, and San Jose metro regions of California.
If you live in one of these areas, finding available cars on their website is fairly simple and straightforward. You’ll start by selecting a location, which will then display the total number of matches.
From there, you can filter the results by the maximum purchase price or max monthly payment, maximum mileage, body style, make, transmission, drivetrain, options (backup camera, heated/leather seats, navigation, sunroof, third-row seating, etc.), and fuel type.
An example of Shift’s search results screen, with filtering options on the left. Credit: Shift Technologies, Inc.
Depending on the number of options listed, you can set up notifications to alert you any time Shift acquires a vehicle that matches your criteria.
Clicking on a result will take you to a separate page that features additional (and larger) high-resolution images of the vehicle, along with year/make/model specs, mileage, price, and estimated monthly payment. Scrolling down provides additional details, features, service information, the results of Shift’s mechanical inspection, and wear and tear photos.
Clicking on any search results will (among other things) display the results of Shift’s 200-point inspection and related photos. Credit: Shift Technologies, Inc.
As you can see in the image above, you can click the Start Financing button if you’re ready to purchase (more about this soon), or you can scroll further down the page and request a test drive.
Shift’s Test Drive Process
Shift offers free test 30-minute drives, which are handled by their Car Enthusiasts who bring the vehicle to your home or office, seven days per week between the hours of 8a and 7p (which can vary by location). Simply request one online, and they'll follow up with an email confirming timing and contact details.
Before this occurs, you’ll need to fill out a short questionnaire on their website so that you can know what to expect during your appointment, what to do if you have additional questions, and how to prepare if you’re ready to purchase afterward. If the questionnaire isn’t completely filled out, a representative will contact you beforehand.
In addition to giving you time to test drive the vehicle, your Car Enthusiast will also walk you through the car’s certified inspection report. Let’s talk more about this next.
More Information About Shift’s 200-Point Inspection
The Shift website reports that each car undergoes a thorough 200-point inspection process that helps ensure "everything is operating as it should be, and make any replacements or tune-ups, so the car is as good as new when it gets into a buyer's hands." This includes (see website for a complete list):
Engine – Noise, motor mounts, oil level/condition, oil leaks/seals/gaskets, smoke, drivability
Electrical System – Alternator/regulator, starter, power window/seat motor, all manual switches, power locks, instrument panel gauges, horn
Drive Axle – Vibration, noise, fluid level/leaks/seals/gaskets, CV boots, locking hubs
Steering & Brake Systems – Fluid levels/leaks, pump/gear, lines/hoses, shaft/couplings, master cylinder, pump/booster, percent remaining on discs/pads, lines and fittings
Transmission – Shift points and slipping for automatic. Noise, transmission mounts, shift linkage, fluid level/condition
Cooling & Fuel Systems – Water pump, engine fan motor, radiator, gaskets/hoses, fuel/injection pump
Suspension – control arms, wheel bearings, struts, stabilizer shaft and links
Air Conditioning – Blower motor, condenser, evaporator, idler pulley
Selling a Car with Shift: How Much Will You Get?
Whether you’re interested in selling outright or trading in your existing vehicle on a new purchase, finding out how much your car is worth with Shift is as easy as obtaining an instant estimate using their online pricing engine.
If you find their price acceptable and agree to a contract (which we’re told typically lasts between 60 and 90 days, depending on market demand), they’ll pick up your car and complete their 200-point inspection. If they decide to proceed, compared to some of the competition, Shift could present you with one of two offers:
- A guaranteed minimum, plus a projected seller bonus (if they believe your car will sell for more than the guaranteed price)
- A single price, which may be slightly lower than the projected bonus, but one that eliminates the variability of an uncertain sales price
Afterward, they’ll create and post the listings for the vehicle and handle the test drives and paperwork. Then, once your vehicle is sold, they’ll send you the payment within five days. How much might you expect?
Shift tells us their prices are calculated by tracking millions of data points, including what “cars within the same parameters (year, make, model, trim, mileage) would sell around the area.” This way, we’re told their listing prices are honest and well informed, and are always below average dealership list prices.
And because they don’t take ownership of the vehicles they sell, there’s no need for retail or showrooms (or the associated overhead), which they can further pass savings on to their customers.
The Shift’s iOS App
For all intents and purposes, Shift’s smartphone app provides access to all of the same functionality and features as their desktop site, only optimized for smaller screens.
In other words, users can find cars, set up custom notifications, schedule test drives, obtain financing, view inspection results and photos, and obtain instant estimates if they’re looking to sell a car.
The Shift iOS app is largely an extension of the desktop site and doesn’t seem to add any meaningful features or functionality. Credit: Shift Technologies, Inc.
What Are Shift’s Pricing & Financing Details?
Obviously, the price of any vehicle will depend on factors like the year, made, model, trim level, mileage, and overall condition, many of which can be filtered on Shift’s site.
However, their FAQ explains that “the total price of purchasing a car through Shift will include Shift’s car prep services charge [200-point inspection, report, vehicle history, final prep], sales tax, registration, applicable DMV paperwork and processing fees, and associated financing charges if any.” In other words, the price you see is the price you pay.
Although Shift doesn’t provide in-house financing, they partner with a variety of reputable banks and credit unions that could help make the process as seamless as possible, which is something your Car Enthusiast can assist with. You can apply through the website or before, during, or after the test drive.
Alternately, customers can pay with cash, cashier’s check, or ACH transfer.
In addition to financing, the company claims to love handling all the paperwork and fine print associated with vehicle purchases or sales, including “DMV forms, title transfer, and registration.” They “also take care of the coordination between the seller, lender, and everyone involved.”
All vehicles purchased through Shift come with a five-day/200 mile return policy, should you decide it’s not for you.
Finally, if you put the value of your current car towards your new Shift vehicle, they would credit $500 to your purchase at the time of our research.
If you have additional pricing or financing questions, a customer service representative can be reached at 855-744-3873 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
What Can We Learn From Shift Customer Reviews?
Between their Noe Valley (San Francisco), Los Angeles (Downtown), and North Park (San Diego) locations, more than 800 Yelp reviewers had given Shift an average rating of about four stars.
Collectively, common compliments referenced ease of use (including sales, test drives, financing, delivery), great customer service, and competitive pricing. More than one mentioned that other than actually driving the vehicle, the whole process was handled without leaving the house.
On the other hand, what few complaints there were frequently related to less-than-stellar vehicle condition (varying degrees of mechanical/electrical problems) and customer support experiences. Several customers also emphasized that the listed price for the vehicle they were interested in didn't include the several-hundred-dollar fee for the 200-point inspection.
Shift’s iPhone app had a similar average rating of 4.5 stars on iTunes, along with many of the same compliments and complaints.
From a company perspective, Shift Technologies, Inc. is based out of San Francisco, CA and has been in business since 2013, with three co-founders:
- CEO George Arison, who previously worked as a product manager for Google and co-founder of Taxi Magic (now known as Curb)
- COO Minnie Ingersoll, who also currently works as COO for Code for America and an advisor to Akash Systems
- CTO Christian Ohler, a former software engineer for Dropbox, Google, and Stryker Navigation
Does Shift Have Any Competition?
If you’re looking for a company that provides the ability to browse, schedule a test drive, and purchase a vehicle completely online, there are only a couple of companies competing for the same customers. How do they compare?
|Company||Test Drive?||Return Window||Financing Options||Service Area(s)|
|Shift||Yes||5 days/200 miles||Third-party or through partners||Inland Empire, Los Angeles, Orange County, San Diego, San Francisco, San Gabriel Valley, and San Jose metro regions|
|Vroom||No||7 days/250 miles||Third-party or one of their 30+ financing partners||Delivery to anywhere in the lower 48|
|Carvana||No||7 days/400 miles||Third-party or direct||Atlanta, Nashville, Houston, Austin, San Antonio, Frisco, Raleigh, or Jacksonville|
Since these sites work pretty much the same way, which one should you choose? The reality is that it largely seems to come down to two things: where you live and whether or not you want to test drive the vehicle first.
For example, while Shift is the only company above to offer test drives, their service area is limited to larger metro regions in CA. On the other hand, Vroom and Carvana offer longer return periods and higher mileage restrictions, but getting a refund on a vehicle will obviously be more involved than handing the keys back after a test drive, should you find it’s not the right fit for you.
Obviously, any customer has the option of purchasing a one-way plane ticket and then driving one of these company’s cars back, although this could greatly reduce any savings compared to buying local (flight costs, gas, state registration fees, etc.), while also putting more miles and wear and tear on a car that you just bought.
Our Final Thoughts About Shift
When it comes down to it, Shift has been in business for the better part of five years and comes with mostly positive online customer feedback.
And since they’re the only option among this new breed of peer-to-peer auto sellers to offer test drives, if this is something that’s important to you, it seems you might not have much more to lose than a few minutes of your time by scheduling a test drive or obtaining an instant estimate—if you live in a major CA metro region, that is.