Home » How To Repurpose Carvana Vending Machine Towers To Build An Automotive Paradise

How To Repurpose Carvana Vending Machine Towers To Build An Automotive Paradise

Topshot 37

I have a confession to make. With my current life, there’s no way that I can reach the level of true Autopianism that the other journalists here have achieved.

When the cars of these other writers break down at the side of the road, it’s fodder for ‘content’; my cars conking out means that I miss a meeting at the office or I get a call from a spouse crying beside the road. As such, I have a two-car garage filled with exactly that number of vehicles. There’s absolutely no tolerance around my parts for the ten to twenty cars that some of my colleagues here possess. If David Tracy lived next door to me, I promise that neighbors would call the city to complain and demand nothing less than lethal injection for his crime of a backyard mud pit. If you want comedy gold, I really, really wish you could hear a recording from a few weeks back of my wife asking Mercedes Streeter ‘WHY do you own a BUS?’ or ‘Isn’t two Smart cars enough?’ and ‘where do all of these cars of yours GO?!??”

Still, I wouldn’t mind another car. As a GenXer the Radwood stuff I like tends to cost only about what a family of four will waste on a hellish weeklong trip to Disneyworld. These cars are too cheap NOT to buy, right? But what to do with them? Like a horse or an airplane, the care and feeding of such items usually dwarfs the cost of acquisition. Apparently I’m not alone with this problem, as there are various solutions currently on offer for people lacking the space to store and wrench.

First, you could purchase a place to put your toys. One example is this one where they’ve turned warehouse spaces into large private garages. Starting at around $135,000 for the empty shell, they’re about ten times more than I would likely spend on the car itself.

source: Bigdoor

You could rent a space instead, which several companies bill as ‘Mancaves’. On the website for one of them, the image of a woman in Daisy Dukes and pics of grey-haired guys in old Mustangs make it seem like a bit of a misogynist Boomer playground and not a safe space for Nissan Figaro owners to watch Formula 1, but I hope that I’m wrong. These ‘caves’ cost anywhere from $1300 to $2000 per month, but that’s just for the big, depressing, empty space. You’ll have to bring almost everything in yourself to add life to it. Plus, except for the rare times you can persuade friends to show up, you’ll be sitting alone in a metal box, which is sort of sad.

sources:  Pearson Mancaves and Mancaves

For repairs, there are now places around the nation that offer an indoor space to wrench on your cars. You get lifts, tools, even expertise in some places for a monthly fee or hourly rates:

source: Gearhead Workspace

These all sound like interesting options, but what if you could combine them all into one, big, beautiful automotive utopia? Interestingly, there was talk on the staff Slack channel the other day that got me thinking that a solution could possibly be coming.

Like many automotive news sites, we are following the beginnings of what might be the unravelling of the Carvana organization. While we could go into numbers and what bankruptcy filing might look like, all that most of us on staff are concerned with is one thing: The fate of the giant car towers.

sources: Business Wire and Carvana

You’ve probably seen these things rising up off of the highway in urban areas. When you purchase your Carvana vehicle online, you apparently have the choice of getting it delivered to you or going to pick it up out of a ‘vending machine’, which is the glass tower. You receive a giant coin that you drop into a slot and your new car dramatically lowers from the tower and glides towards you. To be honest, it’s pure theater and pretty damn silly, but the sight of all those cars in such a small footprint is pretty dramatic to see.

What will be the fate of these things if Carvana goes belly up? In all honesty, probably the same as this one that was blocking highway expansion in Indianapolis:

source: WRTW and clearpath465

This seems like such as waste, since these facilities could be repurposed into a viable business that would benefit many of us in the Autopian community, especially if it could offer different levels of services for a wide range of costs.

Presenting the Autopiatower for local members of Autopian; the next logical membership step in our growing community:

Carvana Houston 1920px
source: Carvana

I was able to find a floorplan of a Carvana dealership online, and I annotated what some of the spaces appear to be:

Orig Plan
source: Carvana

It’s obvious that there’s a lot that could be done with these existing spaces to create a true mecca for car enthusiasts. Need to store a car indoors? How about a secure outdoor space? A place to wrench with the tools you don’t own or on a lift you don’t have? What about just hanging with the kind of people that will talk car stats instead of fantasy football? The Autopiatower would offer all of this, and more, in a space not much bigger than an acre or two and a few miles from your home.

The layouts for these places appear to all be different, but with the one floorplan that I nabbed you can see that changes I would propose to make:

Carvana Vending Machine Plans 2
source: Carvana

The towers vary in size across the nation, but the biggest can hold over forty cars. It’s too bad that some owners might want to cover their cars, since it would be great to drive down the highway and see a big glass toybox filled with a variety of classic cars glowing in the night – what a way to show off your car!  There’s parking lot space for outdoor storage, and additional garages (maybe two stories with lifts) could be built in the lot to increase capacity if needed (maybe a fence around this place and of course twenty-four hour security cameras).

The ‘runway’ from the tower that the cars currently move on and the four ‘launch bays’ could totally be repurposed. The bays and runway would become the workshop areas with lifts and tools you can rent; one could be made into a hand wash/detail bay. Jason even suggested monitors and cameras on moving arms for easy how-to video watching and even remote assistance sessions. Still, just having others around helps not only with safety but with sharing of knowledge.

In the old lobby, there is currently clean blue carpeting that will now be soiled by the Autopian Members ‘Team Yugo Screw Yourself’ LeMons Race Car; electric go-carts displayed in the old reception desk space are to be raced in circles around the building in nicer weather.  All the glass remains so you see the work bay where in my drawing a guy is removing the intake to replace the fuel injectors on his dad’s Z32 and vowing to never, ever wrench on a car again (wait…that was me ten years ago).

Lobby Orig
source: Carvana

Lobby W

Further back in, there’s space for racing games, and the conference rooms are ripped open to make Jason’s Taillight Bar come to life! A couch, monitors, trouble-light chandeliers and a Wall of Taillights (Parts Bin Puzzlers, zoom in and test your wits- answers below). What a great place to debate things like which M5 is Best M5 (E39 is the correct answer, by the way) or PB Blaster versus some other miracle cure. Jason or others might make guest appearances for meet/greets, trivia nights, and however else Torch is willing to prostitute himself for the good of the company.

Bar 2

Membership would be at different levels, just like it is on the site now. A garage space would be most expensive, while outdoor parking or a preset number of hours in the workshop would be a level down. You could even rent a space hourly with a minimal membership fee. As with our website, we would want this to be an inclusive group of all kinds of people and cars. Any form of intolerance will simply not fly and, as they say, return you to ‘pre-membership status.’

Look, I have no issues with Carvana; I wish them the best and feel for the employees. However, I think that the towers are not central to the whole business model; they honestly make more sense as a hangout for us than some gimmicky marketing tool. Carvana could even lease them to the Autopian conglomerate for some needed cash; I’ve put together some rough numbers and it looks like could be a profitable business. If the worst case scenario for Carvana cannot be avoided, I do hope there’s some consideration put into what could be before the wrecking ball arrives.

We need a space. Like most things in life, cars are best enjoyed with other people.

[Ed Note: There are so many small things that need to get done in order to keep this site growing and thriving and taking on a real estate project sounds insane to me and yet… this is a great idea. I love this. I love this so much. It’s too much, too fast, right? Someone talk me out of this – MH]

All illustrations by The Bishop

Parts Bin Puzzlers– read below if you want answers on the Taillight Bar wall:

Left side: Lancia Beta coupe, early BMW 2002, late VW Type 2, 1983-86 Mustang, 1969 Pontiac Catalina, 1974-79 VW Dasher wagon, 1973-78 Ford LTD Wagon, late VW Beetle, 1975-79 Buick Skylark, late Fiat Spider, 1982-1984 Camaro, Mercedes R107 or W116, Volvo 240, 1978-1980 Olds Cutlass, 1973-82 Corvette, 1975-79 Chevy Nova

Center: 1972-3 Ford Thunderbird

Right side: 1979-1982 Mercury Capri, 1975-79 Chevy Chevette, Box Taillight, 1977-1983 Olds Custom Cruiser wagon, 1971-1976 Ford Pinto, 1978-80 Plymouth Volare, 1979-86 Jaguar XJ6 SIII, 1977-1987 BMW e23, Lancia Fulvia, 1979-81 Pontiac Firebird

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84 Responses

  1. I too, don’t mess around with shit boxes because I don’t have the space at my apartment and I also need reliable transport. That said, there’s a Carvana tower close to me in Philadelphia. If this was an Autopian shop and bar I’d be there almost daily

  2. I really want to go to the taillight bar. I do like the taillight theme, but I feel like it’s just a bar for car anoraks in general – a safe place where we can discuss extremely narrow automotive topics like “most luxurious two-stroke ever” or plastic-bodied Uruguayan cars.

    1. I think a variant called the “BMW Blinker Fluid” would be nothing but an empty glass. (kidding!)

      Any ingredients which make one of your eyes twitch uncontrollably would be fine!

        1. OHSnap- I like that! Kind of like a candy corn color progression. Can’t really think of any taillights, however, with backup lights on top and signals on the bottom (Peugeot 504 wagon is one of the few with backups at the top).

  3. Last Pants- Thank you! I was really afraid to say it but I figured that I was not alone. I mean, a house and two kids and a real job and a time consuming second gig means not much time left for wrenching. I can’t get enough of reading Jason or David or Mercedes or S.W.’s long stories of roadside disasters but as for myself I’m too old for antics like tying rocks to shift linkages in the dark to be able to get home.

    1. Somewhat Like a Rock- sorry about that; the Daisy Dukes were innocent bystanders in the point I was trying to make about the website in question and unfairly maligned.

    1. Me too. Reminds me of something a college friend once said as a maxim: “Men don’t like to do work so much as they like to be around work being done.”

      1. The 15 yrs of my working life always said “I could stand around and watch work all day. Oh wait! That’s my job.” (Former sewer district inspector).

  4. You are not alone on your confession at the top. That’s why I come here. It’s way cheaper to have David and Mercedes maintain “my” vehicles than for me to do it.

    1. Last Pants- Thank you! I was really afraid to say it but I figured that I was not alone. I mean, a house and two kids and a real job and a time consuming second gig means not much time left for wrenching. I can’t get enough of reading Jason or David or Mercedes or S.W.’s long stories of roadside disasters but as for myself I’m too old for that shit. Tying rocks to shift linkages in the dark to be able to get home is not for me.

  5. Great idea, would be really fun to do!

    Couple of nitpicks here, The email sign in sucks, I don’t see why we can’t just log in right on the same page.

    On this particular article, I am glad the video is muted, but it also needs to be paused. By the time I got down to the video something else was playing not related to the article, and I’m sure that people on mobile without unlimited internet would appreciate it.

    Otherwise, doing great! Love the site!

    1. That might be an embedding thing since that’s not a YouTube video. News stations love their auto-play articles! I’ll check the embed to see if there’s a switch to shut it up.

      Edit: FIXED! The embed from the news station defaults autoplay to true. Set that little line to false. 🙂

    2. “ The email sign in sucks, I don’t see why we can’t just log in right on the same page.”

      I read Autopian at work. I can’t access private email on that computer. So I can only comment on my phone, which advertises my skiving much more than typing on my computer like I’m working.

      Morally I haven’t got a leg to stand on, but it’s made me much less likely to comment.

  6. Full disclosure, I like Carvana as a concept and I did have a good experience selling a vehicle…but there is nothing that they do that requires the fancy tower. They came to my house, that was the whole point. My last 2 dealership experiences (2020 and 2022) have been nearly as easy, one of those was almost fully online and the vehicle was delivered to my house.
    If Carvana survives, I could see them moving away from having any retail space at all and moving toward larger centralized warehouses.

    I would love to see you guys in a Carvana tower for your headquarters. It would be fitting and fun to fill the tower with the staff’s beloved collection of automotive misfits. You would certainly utilize all the wrenching space for yourselves, so I wouldn’t count on members doing much there…also make David do all his work in the back lot…it just wouldn’t be the same if David had a sanitary place to wrench….besides, you DO NOT want whatever vermin DT’s latest project is housing to move into your new HQ.

  7. Irrational, implausible, outrageous, logic-defying thinking seems to be a bonafide occupational requirement for contributors to this blog.
    You can’t make this stuff up.
    Wait … I stand corrected!

  8. Oh come on,the answer is obvious.Giant clay pigeon thrower!
    Graft a throwing device onto the exit and fill it VW beetles.The military gets to practice gunnery on moving targets and the world benefits by reducing the ugly car population.Win/win!

    1. EPTDY- I think it’s important to disassociate the Carvana model from the difficulties they are having in the market. Other online deliver-to-your-door places exist as well, but Carvana has been hit by a series of unfortunate events and choices (rising interest rates, higher car prices, overexpansion, service issues) that have created a perfect storm. The business model seems to be something that will continue; however, I think few will try the ‘car tower’ thing again since the return on the $5 mil plus investment per location doesn’t seem worth it.

  9. I would be content with a pre-war service station with a couple of bays, repurposed back to wrenching space. If I had Jay Leno money and Elon Musk sized ego a car collection in a big glass storage facility would be pretty cool.

    I will add I have never seen one in action. I used to have a tandem garage, and moving one car to get to another was kind of a pain (and the epitome of first world problems).

    So is it all just one big vending machine, or do you have to move a car or two sometimes to get to what you want?

    1. The problem is that a lot of these were placed in prime commercial, and purchased or leased at or near market pinnacle, and neither Carvana, their debtors-in-possession, or the bankruptcy court is likely to take an offer of a few pennies on the dollar just because somebody’s going to keep the tower intact. They’re expensive in other words.

      i.e. the Carvana tower near me sits in extremely prime territory. Not only is it down the street from Carmax, it’s down the street from the Marshall Goldman. It’s not as big as you’d think either, and they don’t even own the land it’s on. They have about 17 years remaining on the lease agreement. Total square footage is 8408 sqft on 4.09 acres.

      How do I know this? I’ve been looking again and Carvana actually tried to sell it 2 years ago. They were unsuccessful.
      Tax assessment is a whopping $3.7M and the estimated asking price was over $5M.

      1. rootwyrm- that sounds about right. I read an article that said Carvana invests about $500,000 into a community to start selling without a ‘dealership’, and around $5,000,000 to start one with the giant elevator unit. My feeling is that the tower is just marketing and the difference of $4.5 mil could be spent on other efforts.

        1. Definitely the case; they are big on bribery – I mean legalized brib-I mean dark mon-I mean political donations. Yes. Those. There was at least some “we don’t want an ugly elevator” from residents (even though it’s prime commercial and industrial zoned so what’s the problem,) yet it got built. (To be clear: not picking sides here or alleging anything actually illegal. There was a self storage next door, a large office complex, and a large hospital already there first. And a huge manufacturing complex across the street.)

          The tower is definitely just marketing BS of course. The actual ‘facility’ itself is a joke. Of that 8,408 square feet I mentioned? Most of it’s in the tower or just wasted. There’s a tunnel with a turntable for taking photos of cars, the 4 “launch” bays which have , an open paperwork area, and a couple offices. Literally nowhere at all you could possibly work on a car beyond washing it. Ceilings are far too low. (Which is just as well, nobody should trust DriveTime to work on a car much less honor their warranties.) The building doesn’t even have proper HVAC. (ProTip: if you have roof photos, you can clearly see that it’s some ridiculous unit that couldn’t possibly do more than a few hundred square feet.)

          Also, I have to correct myself. It did sell – to a foreign investor (who is leasing it back to Carvana) for $6.74M.

          1. rootwyrm- I did notice that issue with height. You could lift the cars but not to the height that I would want. But it’s better than no lifts at all. Plus there appear to be drop ceiling tiles/lights in there which if ripped out could buy a few more feet.

            I mean, I was presenting the whole idea as kind a joke anyway but the more people are talking here it sounds more feasible by the minute. Membership/space rental I’m roughly coming up with less than $1.5 mil a year gross income, but I could be underestimating membership. I need to remember, it’s like a gym – there is no room for every member to work out at once but they know that will never happen (and a big percentage will never show up).

            1. It might look that way, but, it’s not. And insufficient lifting is far worse than none at all; hunchbacking is no good. I speak from experience. (I got stuck with the shorty lift that couldn’t fly the big Rams. These ceilings you can’t even fly XJs.) But there’s mechanical and electrical up there, guaranteed. So we’d have to, you know, actually fix it right.

              I mean, that is the nice thing about it. It was designed as a big open area. Raising the ceiling to 12-14 feet really shouldn’t be a big deal. Honestly I’d be more concerned about only having 4 bays of space. There’s no room for supporting equipment so probably would end up 3 usable and one of those would likely need to be alignment.
              The other problem is the lack of proper engineering. Just like their ‘repairs’ it’s been slapped together. Most facilities don’t have proper HVAC so it’ll be sweltering in summer, frostbite in winter. And they strike me as very cheaply built, too.

              Honestly, I think it’s half feasible though. I really do. I’m sure the tower is basically free-standing. So even a complete knockdown of the attached building should be doable. It’s a very small buyer’s market too. Aside from the land underneath (which they usually don’t own in the first place,) the only possible buyers are car dealers. If you’ve already got a 20 acre Ford lot with 10 service bays, why would you want a 36 car tower with none? And what’s Carmax gonna do with it? Carvana deliberately built near them.

              So the more I think about it, the more feasible it becomes, and more likely the auction will be downright ‘cheap.’ Think value of lease plus improvements at a steep discount for want of buyers. So probably way closer to tax valuations than full market price for non-prime locations. Plus you can probably negotiate a property tax reduction, abatement, or even work out a deal for permanent waiver.
              Honestly biggest problem I see is that 36 cars at premium storage rates is only ~7.5k/month gross, over a 17 year lease only gives 1.4M before memberships.

              Or maybe the smarter play is non-prime brownfield near a race venue or similar, buy the tower mechanicals at an extreme discount from someone who’s going to do teardown (that way you can build 2×36 for ~175k/yr gross,) and maybe attach to an existing shell?

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