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.
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.
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.
“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.
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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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.