A build-to-order vehicle from the factory ensures you get the exact car, color and option combination that you want. It’s a little-known method to save time tracking down a vehicle that fits your needs.
AP Photo/David Zalubowski
It has been difficult to find a new car in today’s market, which has been plagued by chip shortages and supply chain issues. Many dealership lots are looking bare, and the few cars they carry might not have the options you need or are more expensive than you planned on spending. Luckily, the experts at Edmunds have a workaround for you.
A build-to-order vehicle from the factory ensures you get the exact car, color and option combination that you want and is a little-known method to 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, an online order is the only way to purchase one. It is also a way to circumvent the so-called market adjustments, which have become far more common these days. While you may not necessarily get a discount with a custom order, this can be a way to get a better deal.
“I was surprised by how easy it was,” said Dillon Griffith, a Fresno, California, native who custom ordered a Subaru Outback in 2021 after becoming disappointed by the lack of on-the-lot Outbacks. “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, as it can take six to eight weeks for a domestic-built vehicle, roughly three months for a vehicle built overseas, and even longer than that if you want an electric vehicle from lower-volume companies like Tesla, Lucid or Rivian. In Griffith’s case, he was told about three to four months and his Subaru arrived near the end of that timeframe.
Here are a few things you need to know about ordering a vehicle from the factory and tips on how to streamline the process.
ORDERING FROM A DEALERSHIP
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 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 and Toyota 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 have to put in the 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.
ORDERING DIRECTLY FROM THE MANUFACTURER
This is still somewhat of a rarity as a number of states prohibit a manufacturer from selling directly to customers without a franchised dealership. Tesla, Rivian and Lucid are a few brands that currently adopt this method.
With these brands, the process is fairly straightforward. Just visit the automaker’s website, find and configure the vehicle you like, then place your order. You’ll have to pay a reservation or order fee, then wait for the vehicle to be delivered.
HELPFUL ORDERING TIPS
Decide what you really want: Some vehicles will have a few options to choose from, while others can have a laundry 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 every item on the options list will cost you more now, and when you sell the car, you’re not likely to recover the extra cost.
Make sure the deposit is refundable: Most dealerships will require a deposit when you’re ordering, usually in the range of $100 up to $1,000. 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 now have a hard-to-sell vehicle in stock. With Tesla, for example, a reservation is refundable, but an order fee is not.
Settle on a price and get it in writing: You can negotiate as if the vehicle was on the lot, but these days you’ll likely pay the manufacturer’s suggested retail price. The dealership where Griffith purchased his vehicle was asking $2,000 over MSRP at the time of delivery, but because the salesman didn’t notify him beforehand, 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 off the dealer lot.