Has this happened to you? An automaker's website left you dreaming of a red sedan with a tan leather interior and a great cold-weather package. But when you called around to schedule a test drive, there weren't any such cars in stock.

It's definitely happened to us, and it's one of the harshest realities of the car-buying process: the disappointment you feel when you realize the car of your dreams cannot be found on any dealer's lot.

Edmunds visitors save an average of $2879 off their new car. How much can you save?

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.

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 optioned model or particular package doesn't sell, you're less likely to see it on the lot. The same goes with colors. You're more likely to find such popular colors as black, silver and white in stock. Vehicles in less popular colors, such brown or green, might be far and few between.

Why Order From the Factory?

Ordering a car from the factory is ideal for people who aren't willing to compromise on color or options and can't find the car they want nearby. Maybe you are a fan of Ford's Grabber Blue. Or perhaps you intend to use your car for a business and you need it in a specific color to match your company's logo. And 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.

Not every automaker will let you order your vehicle when you want to, however. Honda and Acura 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 shortly before it's time to place the quarterly order.

Sometimes, if a car is a highly anticipated redesigned model, the dealership may not have a say in what cars 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.

How Long Does It Take?

Delivery time varies, based on where the car is made and how many people ordered vehicles ahead of you. A vehicle manufactured in Europe could take roughly three months to arrive in the U.S., while a domestically built vehicle should take about eight weeks.

In our I-want-it-now world, it can be difficult to imagine waiting eight to 12 weeks once you're ready to buy a new car. But consider this: Your car is likely the second most expensive purchase you'll ever make, and if you're like most people, you'll keep it for at least five years. In this situation, doesn't it sound like a good idea to order your car from the automaker? Sure, you'll have to wait, but you'll get the exact make, model, color and options you want.

An alternate 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.

Successful Custom Ordering

Follow these simple guidelines if you decide to order your next new car from the automaker:

  • 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 a few years from now.

    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.

  • 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 happily keep you updated on your order's progress. 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.

  • Negotiate as if the car were on the lot: Just because you're ordering a vehicle doesn't mean that you have lost your ability to negotiate. 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. Also, 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 you're ordering. Make sure this deposit is refundable in case you change your mind or find the car somewhere else. Also note: If the vehicle is an unpopular configuration (a certain trim or unusual color) and you change your mind, some dealers may elect to hold the deposit until the car is sold since they now have a hard-to-sell vehicle in stock.

  • 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.

What If You Just Can't Wait?

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.