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How to Buy a Factory-Ordered New Car

Out of stock? Order the car online

While it's easier to buy a new car today than during the recent era of pandemic-related chip shortages and supply chain crunch, many dealers are still struggling with limited inventory. And if you're looking for a car now, this means dealers may not have a car best suited to you. They may have vehicles with either too few or too many features, leaving you with a case of getting too little or spending too much.

But the experts at Edmunds have a work-around for you: ordering a car from the factory.

A build-to-order vehicle from the manufacturer ensures you get the exact car, color and option combination that you want, and it's a method that can save time tracking down a vehicle that fits your needs. This special-order vehicle, as it is sometimes called, is usually arranged at the dealership, but for some brands, ordering online is the only way to buy. It is also a way to circumvent "market adjustments," aka dealer markups, which have become all too common these days. While you may not necessarily get a discount with a custom order, you could very well get a better deal than if you bought off the lot.

"I was surprised by how easy it was," said Dillon Griffith, a Fresno, California, native who custom-ordered a Subaru Outback after becoming disappointed by the lack of Outbacks in dealer stock. "I sat down with the salesman and he walked me through the order guide," he added.

So what's the catch? You'll need patience for the process since it can take between six and eight weeks for a domestic-built vehicle, roughly three months for a vehicle built overseas, and even longer if you want an electric vehicle from a lower-volume manufacturer such as Lucid or Rivian. In Griffith's case, he was told about three to four months, and his Subaru was delivered near the end of that timeframe.

Here are some helpful car tips on how to order a car from the factory and streamline the process.

Porsches lend themselves well to custom orders since they have a ton of options.

Porsches lend themselves well to custom orders since they have a ton of options.

You might wonder why you can't find a car with the exact options and color combination you want. It's because the vehicles that are available on dealer lots come with popular options that dealerships think have the best chance of selling. If their research shows that a highly (or minimally) optioned model or particular package doesn't sell, you're less likely to see it on the lot. The same goes for colors. You're more likely to find such popular colors as black, silver and white in stock. Vehicles in less popular colors, such as yellow, brown or green, might be far and few between.

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Do I need to go through the dealer?

Unless you're ordering a vehicle from one of the few manufacturers that do not sell vehicles through a dealer, your local dealer will be the one who actually places the order with the factory. It will be your point of contact throughout the process, from taking your order to setting up delivery. As such, choose your dealership and salesperson just the way you would if you were buying a car off a lot. Read reviews and talk to friends who have bought there to ensure you're going to have a smooth experience.

Not every automaker will let you order your vehicle when you want to, however. Honda dealers, for example, order their vehicles on a quarterly basis. The only way you can place an order for a specific vehicle is to speak to the fleet manager, who will put in a request before it's time to place the quarterly order.

Custom ordering a highly anticipated all-new vehicle can also be difficult due to limited supply. Also, the dealership may not have a say in which versions of hot vehicles it receives. The manufacturers will look at the sales records for the previous model years and allocate the vehicles accordingly for the initial shipment. If the dealer near you underperformed on the sales of a particular vehicle, it likely won't be allocated as many of the newer models.

Can I order directly from the car manufacturer?

A factory-order car, direct from the automaker, is still something of a rarity. Many states prohibit a manufacturer from selling directly to customers without a franchised dealership. But new EV automakers such as Tesla, Rivian and Lucid are a few brands that currently offer direct ordering.

With these brands, the car buying process is fairly straightforward. Just visit the automaker's website, find and configure the vehicle you like, then place your order. The prices are no-haggle, so the price you see online is what you'll pay. Customers will also have to pay a reservation or order fee, which can vary by automaker, then wait for the vehicle to be delivered.

Successful custom ordering

Follow these simple guidelines if you want to pursue ordering a car from the factory.

  • Decide what you really want: The whole point of custom ordering a new car is to revel in a sense of personalization, so 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 an 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.

  • Don't get too carried away with the options: Think twice before checking off every item on the options list. Doing so will cost you more now, and when you sell the car, you probably won't recover the extra cost. If you care more about getting exactly the vehicle you want than you do about its future resale value, there's no problem. You just have to realize that your specific tastes might not be shared by the car-buying public when you go to sell.

    Less popular options on a vehicle don't necessarily add to the resale value, and in most cases, they actually decrease it. When people are looking for a used car, they are more interested in saving money than paying for your chrome wheels or technology package. Finally, once you've equipped your vehicle, use our affordability calculator to see if it is really within your means.

  • Plan ahead: If you plan carefully, your vehicle will arrive just as you sell your old car to a new owner or as you wrap up your lease. Few of us purchase a car on a whim or must replace our current vehicle in a matter of days or weeks. If you plan ahead, you don't have to worry about compromising on the car you want. This is also the time to look into what you need for financing. Try to prequalify for financing from your bank or credit union. In many cases, the automaker's finance arm can offer a better rate, so ask your salesperson about that too.

  • Find the right dealer: When you order a vehicle, your relationship with the dealer becomes critical. This is the organization you'll be talking to throughout the process, from taking your initial order to setting up delivery. If it is a good dealership, it will keep you updated on your order's progress without you needing to reach out. Choose your dealership just the way you would if you were buying a car off a lot. Read reviews and talk to friends who have bought there to ensure you're going to have a smooth experience. Make sure you have a salesperson who is knowledgeable about the process.

  • Make sure the deposit is refundable: Most dealerships will require a deposit when you're ordering, which could range from $100 up to $1,000 or more. Note that if the vehicle has an unpopular configuration and you change your mind, some dealers may elect to hold the deposit until the car is sold since they may have a hard time selling it. With Tesla, for example, a reservation is refundable, but an order fee is not.

  • Settle on a price and get it in writing: Check to see what others are paying, then call other dealers for price quotes. Keep in mind that if there are any incentives on the vehicle, they may not apply until the car is actually on the dealer lot. You can negotiate as if the vehicle was on the lot; however, these days you'll likely pay sticker price. The dealership where Outback owner Dillon Griffith purchased his vehicle asked him for $2,000 over MSRP at the time of delivery. Because the salesman hadn't notified him beforehand, Griffith avoided the markup. That day he also noticed an Outback like his on the lot — with a $4,000 markup.

What if you don't want to wait?

An alternative route to the factory order is to consider a dealer trade. Dealers have powerful search tools that can zero in on cars with specific options. The dealer may be able to locate a car even when your search comes up short. This approach has its pros and cons, so take a look at this article on dealer trades for more information.

If you simply can't wait to order your car, consider greatly expanding the geography of your search. In our experience as we shop for vehicles to put in our long-term fleet, there's often a match or a near-match for every color and option out there. You just need to be willing to shop outside your city limits. We've found cars we wanted in another county, a nearby state and even across the country. If this approach sounds intriguing, take a look at this guide before making a decision.

If you are patient with the process, ordering your next vehicle from the factory can be a rewarding experience. Just make sure you understand what's involved, order carefully with a trustworthy dealer, and negotiate as if the vehicle were on the lot. Then you can enjoy the purchase of a car that was built just for you.