We’re a now driven society—between streaming video, overnight shipping and instant downloading, once we’ve decided we want something we expect it to arrive more or less instantaneously. Why then, would anyone want to order a car and wait several weeks for it to arrive when they could simply choose an in-stock vehicle at their nearest dealership and drive it home the same day? (Or call Cartelligent and skip the dealership?)

There are a few different answers to this question depending on what kind of vehicle you want and how readily available it is at the time.

Each dealer has a limited number of vehicles on their lot and their first choice is to sell you one of these. If they have the one you want, great. If not, you can decide on a “close-enough” car on the lot, try to get the dealer to trade for the vehicle you want or order the vehicle exactly the way you want it.

What is a special order?

A special order, or factory order, occurs when a client orders a specific vehicle with the color and options they want. Typically, the client will configure the vehicle online with the exact features desired and then place the order either directly with the dealership or through a third-party like Cartelligent that helps clients navigate the process. You cannot special order a car directly from most major car manufacturers.

What are the benefits of a special order?

There are a number of cases where special ordering can be a great strategy.

  • You don’t want to pay for features you won’t use
  • You want the vehicle configured a specific way
  • You want a vehicle that has little to no inventory available

We’ll expand on each of these in turn:

You don’t want to pay for features you won’t use: When your dream car has limited inventory, it can be appealing to take an in-stock model that has similar features. For example, the only Ibis White Audi S7 you’ve found can be very tempting even though it’s equipped with the $5,900 Bang & Olufson Advanced Sound System (and you only listen to NPR.) Ordering the car takes a few weeks more but saves paying for expensive features you won’t benefit from.

You want the vehicle configured a specific wayWhile many vehicles can only come in a handful of available packages, others can be configured in literally thousands of ways.

Take the example of the BMW X5 vs the Honda Pilot:
2021 BMW X5 2021 Honda Pilot
Can be configured over 100,000 different ways Can only be configured ten different ways
Average inventory of 10/dealer* Average inventory of 30/dealer*
Approximately 500 vehicles in state of California* Approximately 3,000 vehicles in state of California*

*These numbers reflect normal inventory not reduced 2021 inventory levels

With only four standard colors and five available package (plus 2WD/4WD), the odds are pretty good you’ll be able to find the Pilot SE in Modern Steel Metallic with 2WD in stock at a dealership fairly close to you. Meanwhile the X5 xDrive35d in Space Gray Metallic with the M Sport line and the Luxury Seating Package will be much more difficult to locate exactly the way you want it.

In this case, special ordering the BMW can be a fantastic option that allows you to get exactly the color and features you want.

You want a vehicle that has little to no inventory available: Sometimes a newer model like the Porsche Macan or a popular vehicle like the Land Rover Range Rover will be extremely difficult to locate at any dealership. In this case, your best options are to special order the car you want or find another model that you like just as much.

How much can special ordering a car save?

At a bare minimum, ordering a vehicle saves dealers the insurance, lot fees and other costs involved with having a car sit in inventory. This can make them more motivated to negotiate on price since the vehicle costs them less than an in stock unit. Additionally, as discussed above, ordering avoids paying extra for unwanted features which can add up to even greater savings.

How long does a special order usually take?

Special ordering takes longer than buying a vehicle off the lot—typically around 5 to 8 weeks for cars built in the US and around 90 days for vehicles built in Europe. Most European SUVs are built in the US and you can expect a shorter wait than you would for a sedan of the same brand. Most mainstream Japanese brands do not offer special ordering.

How do I decide what I want?

Many manufacturers’ websites are designed to make the ordering process simple. They offer interactive features that allow you to compare and contrast colors and options so that you can visualize the vehicle and determine exactly what you want.

Can I still negotiate on the price of the vehicle?

Yes, but this should be done before the order is placed. Once you’ve ordered the vehicle, it will be much more difficult to get the dealership to be flexible on price. However, if the vehicle has low inventory and extremely high-demand, the dealership will not be willing to negotiate much on price as they only have a set number of units they can order.

Can I take advantage of current incentives?

This depends on the brand of the vehicle. Some European brands like BMW, Audi, MINI and Volvo will allow you to lock in rates when you order the vehicle and will let you to switch to a lower rate if one is offered when the vehicle arrives. Most Asian and American brands will expect you to wait to take advantage of any rates and incentives available at the time of delivery.

How much money does it cost to place the order?

Some dealers may request a deposit (Cartelligent clients very rarely pay this). This deposit is typically refundable if the client decides not to purchase the car when it arrives.

What happens if I change my mind?

Nothing—you can change your mind at any time until you pick up the vehicle and sign the final paperwork. If you have put down a fully refundable deposit, this should be returned to you.

What if I need a new car immediately?

If you need a new car immediately, special ordering is probably not your best option. If the car you want is not available, you will need to compromise on color and options, or look at cars that have similar features that will meet your needs.

Can I lease a car that is special ordered?

Yes. We often recommend special orders to our clients who are currently in leases since they know precisely when they will need a new car and can take advantage of that time frame to order the car exactly how they want it.

How do I place a special order?

Unless you go through a third party like Cartelligent, you will need to go into a dealer to order and negotiate the price of your special order. Be prepared to stand your ground and don’t be swayed by the car on the lot that’s the wrong color and has the wrong options. Dealerships are as much a part of the now society as we are; their preference will be to sell you an in-stock car rather than wait a few weeks for the commission on an ordered car. Let them know that you’re there to place an order and you expect them to help you do so.

If you have the flexibility on your timing or can start the process in advance of when you need your new car, special ordering can be a fantastic way to get your new vehicle configured exactly how you want it. Whether you’re considering a special order or a vehicle that’s readily available, Cartelligent can help you get a great deal on exactly what you want. Call our team of car-buying experts at 888-427-4270 or get started today.