Have It Your Way: Custom Ordering Your New Car
One of the harshest realities of the car-buying process is the disappointment you feel when you realize that the car you had your heart set on can't be found on any dealer's lot. The automaker's Web site had filled your mind with the promise that you could get the silver sedan with the red leather and Cold Weather package. One of our editors, who was interested in purchasing a Volkswagen Golf TDI, ran into a similar situation.
According to E.J. Euler, Internet salesperson for Volkswagen Santa Monica, this happens because the options on the vehicles on the dealer's lot are based on what they think has the best chance of selling. If their research shows that a highly optioned model or particular order doesn't sell, you're less likely to see it on the lot.
Firstwagon, a frequent commenter on our blogs and a former car salesman, said that the most common version of car models on dealer lots are not always based on consumer demand. "Our sales manager spent a great deal of time and effort ordering cars that would maximize profit and then rely on the sales staff to 'sell what's on hand'. Since most people want their new car right away (part of the thrill of buying a new car), they will more often than not take what you have rather than wait for what they want."
It doesn't have to be like this. If you have the patience, you can order a vehicle from a dealer and get it exactly how you want it.
Who Is Ordering Best for?
"Ordering a car is perfect for people who aren't willing to compromise on their color or options," said Steve Smith, sales manager for Santa Monica Ford/Lincoln/Mercury. "[But] most of the time, we can find the car you need" by doing what is called a "dealer trade." So there may not be a need to order. A dealer's computerized inventory search tool is an accurate and powerful way to locate a car. However, you should first try using the Edmunds.com New Car Inventory to find the car you want.
Alternatively if, for example, your car will be used for a business, and you need it in a specific color to match your company's logo, ordering is also a great choice. Lastly, if you maintain a fleet of vehicles for construction, a delivery service or a taxi company, you'll probably want to order your cars in bulk and in similar configurations.
How Long Does It Take?
The amount of time it takes to order a car and get it delivered to you varies based on where the car is made and how many people ordered vehicles ahead of you. One of our editors ordered a Volkswagen recently and since the car is being manufactured in Germany, the dealer said it would take up to three months. If you are purchasing a domestic vehicle, Smith says the average is closer to eight weeks.
In the "I want it now!" world we live in, it's difficult for many consumers to conceive of waiting 8-12 weeks once they're ready to buy a new car. But consider this: Your car is likely the second most expensive purchase you'll ever make, and most people keep a car at least four years. In this situation, doesn't custom-ordering your new car — even if it means waiting for the exact make, model, color and options you want — sound like a good idea?
Car Ordering Checklist:
Consider these simple guidelines if you decide to custom-order your next new car:
- Decide what you really want: The whole point of custom-ordering a new car is to revel in a sense of personalization. As such, you need to figure out not only what your next vehicle will be but how you want it equipped. If you're shopping for a Honda or Acura, the option choices are very limited. If you're talking Ford F-150 or Porsche 911, there is a laundry list of options and trim levels to consider.
- Confirm what you can afford: While it may be tempting to just check off every item on the options list, don't do it. This will cost you more now and, when you go to sell the car, you probably won't recover the extra cost. If you care more about getting the vehicle you want than you do about future resale value, that's fine, as long as you realize your specific tastes might not be shared by the car-buying public when it's time to sell. Once you've equipped your vehicle, use our affordability calculator to see if it is within your means.
- Understand your options: Your decisions on how to order a car may be driven by wants, needs or budgetary constraints (or likely all three). Regardless of the driving forces, you'll want to browse your chosen vehicle's brochure or play with the online configurator to confirm which trim levels and options can be grouped together. There's nothing worse than thinking you've got your car's options all figured out, only to call the dealer and hear, "Oh, I'm sorry, but you can't get the plaid seats with the carbon-fiber cupholders."
- Don't get too carried away with the options: Sure, you can order the car you want, but with an unusual mix of features and options, you run the risk of creating a "Frankenstein Car". This may have an adverse effect on the resale value. Less popular options on a vehicle don't necessarily add to the resale value, and in most cases, actually decrease it. When people are looking to buy your car used, they are more interested in saving money than paying for your chrome wheels or Technology package.
- Plan ahead: If you plan carefully, you could have your custom-ordered vehicle arriving just as your old car is picked up by the leasing company or sold to its new owner. Few of us purchase a car on a whim or are forced to replace our current vehicle in a matter of days or weeks. Don't let the two-month wait be your excuse. A little planning makes this aspect of custom-ordering your new car a nonissue.
- Find the right dealer: When you custom-order a vehicle, your relationship with the dealer becomes critically important. This is the organization you'll be talking to throughout the process, which means they'll take your initial order and, if they are a good dealer, happily keep you updated on your car's progress as you wait for it to be built. Just as you would if you were simply buying a car off a lot, make sure a given dealership deserves your hard-earned money before you custom-order a car through it.
- Negotiate as if the car were on the lot: Just because you're ordering a vehicle doesn't mean that your ability to negotiate goes out the window. Check our TMV® price, then call other dealers to see what they quote you. Keep in mind: If the vehicle is in high demand, you may sometimes end up paying sticker price.
- Make sure the deposit is refundable: Most dealers will require a deposit when ordering a vehicle. Make sure this deposit is refundable in case you change your mind or find the car somewhere else. Some dealers may elect to hold the deposit until the car has been sold, so this policy may vary.
- Get it in writing: Once you've talked numbers and decided on the options you want, be sure to get the details in writing. Make sure this document has the correct information and the price you agreed upon.
The editor we mentioned earlier ended up obtaining his Golf TDI sooner than he expected. A few weeks after he placed his order, he received a phone call from the salesperson. The deal had fallen through for another customer who had ordered the exact same vehicle with all the options he wanted. Since he was next in line, he was able to purchase the vehicle for himself.
If you are patient with the process, ordering your next vehicle can be a rewarding experience. Just make sure you understand the options and negotiate as if the vehicle were on the lot. Then you can take comfort in knowing that this car was built for you from the ground up.