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Buying a New Car: Can You Special-Order a Car?

If you’re interested in buying a new car, you might discover that your perfect vehicle isn’t necessarily available on your local dealer’s lot. There are so many options, color choices and accessories available today that it might be difficult or impossible to find the exact car that you want. So can you special-order a car built exactly as you want it? Yes, you can, and here’s how you do it.

Reasons for a Special Order

There are several reasons why you might want to special-order a new car. The most obvious, and the most common, is that a dealer simply doesn’t have exactly what you want on the lot. This is largely because dealers can only stock a certain number of vehicles, which means they can’t always stock every combination of options, colors and accessories. So if you have a specific desire, you might not be able to get it. Of course, we strongly recommend checking a few dealers before placing an order. Even if your local dealer doesn’t have the car you want, a nearby dealer may.

Another reason why you might need to special-order a car is if you’re interested in a specific option or color that dealers don’t offer on stock units. It’s much more likely that you’ll need to order a bright yellow car, for example, than a silver or black one. Same goes for certain options that only a small percentage of drivers will want, such as unique interior trim or high-dollar upgrades to a car’s sound system or performance capabilities.

Lastly, it’s likely that you’ll have to order a car if you’ve chosen a brand-new vehicle that’s in very high demand. Some brand-new luxury cars aren’t immediately available on dealer lots, for example, meaning that the only way you can get one is if you place a special order.

How Long Will It Take to Special-Order?

If you’re thinking about buying a new car and you’re interested in special-ordering, you’re probably curious how long it will take. The answer, unfortunately, is as you might expect: It depends.

For some cars, it’s a quick process. BMW, for example, has previously advertised a 1-week turnaround time for a new X3 or X5, provided that you pick up the crossover at the automaker’s factory in South Carolina. Add another week or two for shipping to the rest of the country.

Other European manufacturers take considerably longer, in part due to the time it takes to ship a car from Europe. Generally, we’d estimate several weeks and possibly up to two months from the time a car is ordered until it goes into production. From there, it’ll take another week or two to build the car, another week or two to transport it to a port, and depending on your location in the U.S., five or six weeks until it’s delivered to your dealer. That means it could take up to three months before you’ve seen the car that you’ve ordered.

Of course, that’s a worst-case scenario, and cars built in the U.S. won’t suffer from the same sort of transit times as vehicles built overseas. But the simple truth is that some automakers just aren’t set up for drivers to place special orders on vehicles. While all of them can do it, it nearly always adds some complexity and some time to the process.

Can You Negotiate?

The simple answer here is: Yes, you can. But as with many things in life, it’s important to remember that timing is everything. In this case, the timing we’re referring to is when you should negotiate, and we strongly suggest doing so before placing your order.

The reason we say this is that once your car has arrived, a dealer almost certainly has your business. But if you negotiate before the order is placed, the dealer knows you could still go to any other dealership and place the same order. Negotiate before the order is placed and you’re likely to get some money off, but a quick word of caution: If the vehicle you’re ordering is in such high demand that there aren’t any units in stock, don’t expect to pay much below sticker price.

Special-ordering a car is an unusual process, and you’ll find that some manufacturers are more receptive to it than others. But if you want a car that you just can’t find on a dealer lot, don’t be afraid to order it yourself. The only drawback is that you won’t be able to drive it off the lot the day you place the order.

Doug Demuro
Doug DeMuro writes articles and makes videos, mainly about cars. Doug was born in Denver, Colorado, and received an economics degree from Emory University in Atlanta. After graduation, Doug spent three years working for Porsche Cars North America. Eventually, he quit his job to become a writer, largely because it meant that he no longer had to wear pants. Doug’s work has been featured in a... Read More about Doug Demuro

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  1. My friend wants to buy a New Hyundai Palisade for her son but all the dealers want MSRP. Is there anywhere she can order from factory at a better price?

  2. My friend wants to buy a New Hyundai Palisade for her son but all the dealers want MSRP. Is there anywhere she can order from factory at a better price?

  3. Question for you in regards to this article…I am trying to order from the factory a GMC Yukon Denali in a custom color (a GMC color, but not a Yukon color) and every dealer I have spoken with tells me I cannot custom order a car in any color other than what they have listed. Why is this?

    • The short answer is “assembly line.” In order to do what you want, the factory would have to re-tool the paint shop to spray just one car, then re-tool it to go back to the Yukon colors. Considering how many trucks they make each day, it would be essentially impossible to manage the process for painting a single vehicle a color other than the colors that are already pre-prepared for the Yukon line. The hours of lost time would mean lower Yukon output and would then mean lost profits and other dealerships not getting “normal” Yukons on time.

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