By RONALD MONTOYA
Finding a new car has been difficult in today’s market, plagued by chip shortages and supply chain issues. Many dealership lots look bare, and the few cars they carry may not have the options you need or cost more than expected. Fortunately, the experts at Edmunds have a solution for you.
A factory built-to-order vehicle guarantees you get the exact combination of car, color and options you want and is a little-known way to save time in finding a vehicle that suits your needs. This special order vehicle, as it is sometimes called, is usually arranged at the dealership, but for some brands, an online order is the only way to purchase one. It is also a way to circumvent so-called market adjustments, which have become much more common these days. While you won’t necessarily get a discount with a custom order, it can be a way to get a better deal.
“I was surprised at how easy it was,” said Dillon Griffith, a native of Fresno, Calif., who ordered a Subaru Outback in 2021 after being disappointed with the lack of Outbacks on the ground. “I sat down with the seller and he walked me through the ordering guide,” he added.
So what’s the problem ? You will need patience for the process, as it can take six to eight weeks for a domestically built vehicle, around three months for a foreign built vehicle, and even longer if you want an electric vehicle from low-volume companies like Tesla, Lucid, or Rivian. In Griffith’s case, he was told about three to four months and his Subaru arrived towards the end of that period.
Here are some things you need to know about ordering a vehicle from the factory and tips on how to streamline the process.
ORDER FROM A DEALER
The dealership will be your point of contact throughout the process, from taking your initial order to setting up delivery. As such, choose your dealership and salesperson as you would if you were buying a car a lot. Read reviews and talk to friends who have purchased there to ensure you have a smooth experience.
However, not all car manufacturers will allow you to order your vehicle whenever you want. Honda and Toyota dealerships, for example, order their vehicles on a quarterly basis. The only way to place an order for a specific vehicle is to speak to the Fleet Manager who will need to make the request before it is time to place the quarterly order. Custom ordering a highly anticipated all-new vehicle can also be difficult due to limited supply.
ORDER DIRECTLY FROM THE MANUFACTURER
This is still quite rare as a number of states prohibit a manufacturer from selling directly to customers without a franchised dealer. Tesla, Rivian, and Lucid are a few brands currently adopting this method.
With these brands, the process is quite simple. All you have to do is visit the automaker’s website, find and configure the vehicle you like, then place your order. You will have to pay a reservation or order fee and then wait for the delivery of the vehicle.
HELPFUL ORDERING TIPS
Decide what you really want: Some vehicles will have a few options to choose from, while others may have a long list of options, packages, and trim levels to consider. Use the manufacturer’s configuration tools to explore what’s available.
Don’t get too carried away with the options: Checking off each item on the options list will cost you more now, and when you sell the car, you probably won’t recoup the extra cost.
Make sure the deposit is refundable: Most dealerships will require a deposit when you order, usually between $100 and $1,000. Note that if the vehicle has an unpopular configuration and you change your mind, some dealerships may choose to hold the deposit until the car is sold since they now have a hard-to-sell vehicle in stock. With Tesla, for example, a reservation is refundable, but the order fee is not.
Set a price and get it in writing: You can negotiate as if the vehicle was in the field, but these days you’ll likely pay the manufacturer’s suggested retail price. The dealership where Griffith bought his vehicle was asking $2,000 more than the MSRP at the time of delivery, but because the seller did not notify him in advance, Griffith was able to avoid the markup. That day, he also noticed an Outback like his on the lot with a $4,000 markup.
EDMUNDS SAYS: If you can plan ahead and be patient with the process, ordering your next vehicle from the factory can give you more options and potentially a better price than buying from the dealership.
This story was provided to The Associated Press by automotive website Edmunds. Ronald Montoya is Consumer Advice Editor at Edmunds. Follow Ron on Twitter.