How Long Does It Take to Order a Car? | News

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Ordering a car | Cars.com graphic by Paul Dolan

The lingering inventory shortage has derailed the traditional new-car buying process. Prior to pandemic-induced production delays, a microchip shortage and subsequent supply chain disruptions, buying a car was a relatively simple process: A shopper could walk into a dealership, test-drive nearly any model and drive home in the new vehicle the same day. But times have changed in just two years. Today, new-car inventory is at rock-bottom levels, causing some shoppers to skip the dealer lot for an alternative: ordering from the factory.

Related: Can I Order a Car From the Factory?

A comparison of Cars.com dealer inventory now versus two years ago highlights the magnitude of the drought: New-car inventory has dropped 70% from approximately 3.4 million vehicles to around 1,015,000 from April 2019 to April 2022. Many vehicles are sold even before they arrive on the dealer lot, and the ones that aren’t don’t stay on the lot for long. According to a J.D. Power sales forecast, 56% of vehicles are sold within 10 days of arriving at a dealership and the average vehicle stays on the lot 18 days — down from 49 days a year prior.

These inventory challenges mean the odds of finding the exact car you want in stock are stacked against you and, should you find it, you’ll need to act fast. With vehicles flying off lots, the days of shopping around for the best price at multiple dealerships are over — at least for the foreseeable future.

Custom ordering a car can be a solution when the luxury of time is on your side. Shoppers planning to buy a new vehicle should start the process as soon as possible with the expectation that the order can take anywhere from a few weeks to several months (or longer) depending on the model and features.

How to Order a Car

The process of ordering a car from the factory starts on a brand’s website, where you can configure a vehicle to your liking and order through a dealer after you reach an agreed-upon price. You can still expect to pay all the usual dealer fees and, in many cases, a deposit (typically $500-$1,000) will be required. It’s a good idea to confirm if that deposit will be applied toward the vehicle purchase and if it’s refundable.

While the vehicle is usually delivered to a dealership, some automakers have taken the entire process online, allowing shoppers to select home delivery. From there, you wait — how long will depend on the circumstances outlined below.

How Long Does It Take to Order a Car?

After placing the order and obtaining a signed order sheet with the vehicle details and an order number to track progress, you can expect some ambiguity. Even though the order sheet should contain an estimated delivery date, it will be written in sand, not stone: Vehicle production currently hinges on unpredictable factors like factory disruptions, parts availability, microchip shortages and other supply chain obstructions — all of which can shift the arrival date.

The specific model you choose, its configuration and even its tech features can play a role in how long you’ll have to wait to take delivery. According to Curt McAllister, Toyota’s Midwest public relations manager, some vehicles are more available than others, but on average, shoppers can expect to wait two months or longer.

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2022 Toyota Tundra | Cars.com photo by Christian Lantry

“High demand for Toyota products along with supply shortages has impacted each model differently,” McAllister wrote in an email to Cars.com. “Wait times are longer than what consumers have traditionally experienced, so many consumers are reaching out to their local dealers to inquire about what vehicles are available. Once a vehicle is allocated to a dealer, it may take eight weeks or longer to arrive.” When asked which models and configurations might take longer, McAllister highlighted the redesigned 2022 Tundra pickup truck and the 2022 Sienna minivan with the standard hybrid powertrain.

Similar wait times can be seen with Lexus, Toyota’s luxury brand, according to McAllister. Specific build orders can take up to three months, and updated or redesigned models are more likely to take longer; examples include the NX, NXh and the LX. On the other hand, delivery of core models like the RX and ES may only take one to two weeks. “The all-new 2022 LX is the model with the highest demand, which is not surprising. [That] would be the model a guest would have to wait for the [longest] if they were to place an order today,” wrote McAllister.

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2022 Lexus LX 600 | Cars.com photo by Christian Lantry

Three months sounds like a prolonged wait time for a vehicle order, but some shoppers end up waiting much longer. Anecdotal accounts from Cars.com’s Editorial team reveal extended wait times among family and friends who ordered vehicles during the inventory shortage.

Cars.com Managing Editor Joe Bruzek said his wife ordered a 2022 Subaru Forester Limited with no optional equipment as a company car in October 2021. There was no estimated delivery date because it was ordered through a company fleet program, but the order status said “order placed” until a week before it arrived in mid-May — nearly seven months later.

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2022 Subaru Forester Wilderness | Cars.com photo by Joe Bruzek

Copy Editor Corinne Hanshaw’s roommate, Jon Vercoe, ordered a 2022 Honda CR-V Touring in March. The first estimated date for vehicle production was late May, but that timeframe soon shifted to June 8-12, then got pushed back once more to June 21-25 with a 45-day estimate for transit from the factory to the dealership. In early May, Vercoe was notified by Honda of a $400 price increase on any vehicle manufactured after May 1 — including his CR-V.

“The ordering experience was pretty straightforward,” said Vercoe. “I knew that there would be a car inventory shortage, and I have a reliable vehicle, so I was willing to wait. It was frustrating to have the lead time for the car pushed back several times, as well as the cost increase. [However], it did give me the opportunity to do more research on other vehicles in the same class and to compare features to make sure I was getting the car I wanted at the right price point.”

Some technology features can prolong a vehicle order. That’s according to Stellantis, parent company of Alfa Romeo, Chrysler, Dodge, Fiat, Jeep and Ram brands. “Vehicles with advanced software technology may take longer due to the current industry constraints, including the chip shortage,” wrote a Stellantis spokesperson in an email to Cars.com. The company didn’t comment on which specific features would cause a delay.

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2022 Ram 1500 Limited | Cars.com photo by Christian Lantry

In some cases, parts shortages have meant automakers have had to make some tough decisions between delaying production and making cars without certain features. For example, in mid-November, GM revealed the microchip shortage meant some of its most popular vehicles wouldn’t have heated seats.

How to Get Your Vehicle Faster

While there are no guarantees in the current environment, there are a few ways shoppers can minimize the waiting game. According to McAllister, being flexible on models and options is key; choosing a more available model increases the odds of taking delivery sooner. “The Highlander is extremely versatile and offers great standard safety features,” he said. “Availability has been better than many other Toyota models.”

Some automakers are tapping into new tools to make the ordering process faster and easier. Stellantis says it prioritizes orders sold through its new E-Shop process, which launched during the start of the pandemic. For example, Jeep shoppers can use the brand’s E-Shop page to configure the vehicle, apply for financing and request home delivery. Although the sale is still facilitated through a dealership, in some cases, the entire process can be done online.

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2022 Jeep Grand Cherokee | Cars.com photo by Christian Lantry

“The sooner a customer begins the buying process, the sooner they can expect to receive their vehicle,” wrote the spokesperson. “Custom order functionality has launched on our dealer websites which allows customers to submit a lead to their local dealer and begin the process of submitting an order either through our online E-Shop process or by visiting their local dealer directly. Priority scheduling is provided to sold orders, of which we continue to see a substantial increase.”

More From Cars.com:

Should You Order a Car or Buy Off the Lot?

If you have a flexible timeline, ordering a car gives you a better shot of getting the model and configuration you want compared to buying off a dealer lot. This is especially true for less common configurations since dealers tend to stock vehicles that are likely to sell the fastest in a specific region. For example, a dealership in Chicago will likely have more all-wheel-drive versions of an SUV than a dealer in California. To test-drive the car before ordering, check local dealer inventory and contact the dealer to see what’s in stock and available for a test drive.

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2023 Toyota Highlander | Manufacturer image

If waiting to buy a car through a factory order that can take months isn’t an option, buying off the lot means staying flexible on the model, configuration and features. Shopping for a more available model — choosing the Toyota Highlander over the Sienna, for example — and being ready to purchase as soon as you find the right car is the best strategy during the tenacious inventory shortage.

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Cars.com’s Editorial department is your source for automotive news and reviews. In line with Cars.com’s long-standing ethics policy, editors and reviewers don’t accept gifts or free trips from automakers. The Editorial department is independent of Cars.com’s advertising, sales and sponsored content departments.

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