Customizing a New Car With Options

Choosing the vehicle that's right for you doesn't mean your task is done. You also have to decide on which special features best meet your needs and preferences.

Flexible shoppers may be willing to accept a discounted price for a model that meets most of their requirements and is sitting on the lot. And dealers tend to order vehicles from the factory that have typical equipment in order to please a majority of customers. But picky shoppers demanding unique features may have a difficult time finding the perfect car.

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Most automakers limit available options. Even if a particular option is available, it may be grouped into a package that contains several other features — including some you may not want to pay for. Some accessories can be installed only if they accompany other items, raising the price further. And some features, such as antilock brakes or a larger engine, may even require you to buy a higher-priced trim level or model.

Generally, domestic manufacturers still offer more individual options than Asian and European brands, and trucks usually offer more equipment choices than cars. But DaimlerChrysler, Ford and General Motors have figured out something the imports have known for years: Limiting options reduces manufacturing complexity. Fewer variations lower production costs and improve quality.

Acura, Honda and Scion generally offer no factory-installed options. For most Honda vehicles, buyers only have the choice of a manual or automatic transmission and, in certain cases, the option of side-impact airbags. Scion offers side-impact and curtain-type airbag installs at the factory but nothing else. For additional costs, these dealers can install selected accessories.

Even though several Japanese brands build vehicles in the United States, their dealers generally prohibit buyers from placing factory orders. Domestic dealers still place them, albeit reluctantly; they'd prefer to sell you what they have in stock. If that fails, dealers will search a nationwide inventory network for the right car. If and when that search comes up empty, dealers will order a vehicle from the factory — but only after you put down a substantial deposit and agree to wait for weeks for its arrival. Don't expect a discount when you order a custom-built automobile.

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