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.