Car Buyer Labs

Car Buying Advice, Tips, and Reviews

A yellow 2022 Ford Ranger is shown from the side after leaving a Ford Pre-Order dealer.

Here’s How You Can Pre-Order Your Next New Car

These days, finding and buying a car isn’t as easy as browsing rows of options on the local dealer’s lot and picking out the one you want. Ongoing inventory shortages and pandemic-related supply chain issues have all but guaranteed there’s no guarantee you’re going to find it. The industry is evolving, though, and so can you, with a Ford Pre-Order dealer.

Pre-ordering is a process that allows you to select and order the vehicle you want directly from the factory with the options you prefer all the way down to exterior color. Pre-ordering isn’t new: highly selective buyers have chosen the pre-order route for years, but thanks to COVID and the recent chip shortage, pre-ordering is having its mainstream moment. The downside of pre-ordering is that you won’t get your car anytime soon; the good news is, once it arrives, it’ll be the exact car you want. The pre-order purchase path is only difficult the first time you take it, and even then, it’s only troublesome if you don’t have a transportation plan during the time it takes to build your new car. Here’s everything you need to know about pre-ordering a new vehicle.

Pre-Ordering Basics

Your first and most important task is to select a dealership that’s well-versed in the pre-order process. Additionally, if you’re buying a pickup truck or a vehicle with multiple powertrain and trim options, you’ll want to schedule an appointment with an experienced sales consultant who can help you navigate your options. Relying only on the manufacturer’s online build tool is not ideal.

Given the current retail climate, most sales personnel are now pre-order specialists, which makes all the difference because selecting a vehicle sight unseen is different from kicking the tires on one that’s right in front of you. It’s hard to justify adding extra-cost options like a more powerful engine without the benefit of a test drive. A seasoned sales consultant can help you sift through these and other unknowns.

We also recommend doing a little internet sleuthing before your appointment. Third-party review sites like Car and Driver and MotorTrend publish comprehensive vehicle reviews and even suggest trims that represent the best value. It’s another resource to help you round out your due diligence and walk into the dealer with the framework of what you’re seeking. Dream big, though, because as a pre-order customer, you get to pick exactly what you want.

Anyone can special order any new vehicle, but historically it’s been incredibly beneficial for buyers who want a new car, truck, or SUV in a less popular configuration. A great example of this is when buyers seek a manual transmission. Only a small percentage of American drivers prefer a car with a stick shift, so dealers don’t typically stock them. Now that dealers hardly stock any new inventory at all, every order is a special order.

A blue 2022 Ford Mustang GT is shown from the front driving through a parking garage.

Place Your Order the Right Way

It makes sense, then, that existing dealer inventory tends to favor what’s popular. It’s the golden rule of any good retailer – only carry products you’re confident will sell, and automotive dealers are no different. Vehicles in the most universally popular colors and those equipped with desirable features (and price tags) are typically what buyers would find on the dealer’s lot.

Pre-ordering means you’re completely free from the constraints of a limited selection. You also don’t have to wait and hope the one you want shows up sometime in the future. If you have your heart set on a Cyber Orange 2022 Bronco Sport Big Bend with riveted fender flares, an engine block heater, and a center console locking vault, good luck finding it in dealer inventory. Instead, place a pre-order and let Ford build it for you.

How can you get the process started? Visiting the manufacturer’s website and using the build tool is a great first step, but an even better idea is to block out a few hours and sit with a sales consultant. As product experts, their input is worth hearing because they may have insight on considerations like resale value and the pros/cons of various trims and equipment add-ons. Building a car is complex, so getting a hand from someone who does it for a living is helpful.

Don’t forget the more conventional purchase considerations, like fuel economy, available passenger and cargo capacities, towing capacity, etc. These factors become almost more important because you’ll have to compare specifications on paper vs experiencing the vehicle in person. It’s one thing to sit in the back seat and experience the legroom for yourself, but in many cases, you won’t be able to, so lean on your sales consultant for guidance.

Next Steps for Your Pre-Ordered Vehicle

Before your dealer presses send on the order button, make sure you have a clear understanding of the timeline, so you’re not stuck without transportation. Factories are struggling with supply chain issues and delays of up to 16 weeks or more are possible. Not only that, but some manufacturers limit special order windows. For example, special ordering a vehicle near the end of the model year probably isn’t possible.

It’s not uncommon for dealers to request a deposit when your order is placed, but chances are it’s going to be refundable if you change your mind. Demand for new vehicles is fierce, and inventory is in short supply. Your dealer likely has a long list of less picky buyers waiting to purchase, so if you don’t end up wanting your pre-ordered vehicle, they won’t have an issue selling it to someone else.

Once your vehicle arrives – remember, it can take several weeks – you’ll be notified. You can then sit with the dealer’s finance team to determine the best lease or loan program for your income level and credit score. Many dealers let you fill out loan application paperwork electronically to save time, so all you have to do when you arrive is sign a few forms. The fun part comes after when you slide behind the wheel of your new car and head home.

There’s nothing quite like driving home in a car you built from the ground up. It’s gratifying to know that no other buyer has ever test-driven it – it was made especially for you. It’s unsurprising that most buyers get so hooked on special ordering that they refuse to buy a car any other way. Also, with a certified dealer in your corner, you have a spot to return to for maintenance and service.

A yellow 2022 Ford Bronco Sport is shown off-roading in the desert.

Special Order Cars Are the New Normal

For the foreseeable future, if you want a new vehicle and you aren’t willing to settle for whatever limited inventory is on the dealer’s lot, be prepared to pre-order. Most buyers don’t start thinking about the new car they want until a few months before they’re ready to buy. You shouldn’t wait that long, experts now advise, because the pre-order process takes a while.

Timing is the variable over which buyers have no control. Even dealers struggle to accurately estimate the arrival of a special order vehicle because supply chain conditions are so fluid. As a pre-order customer, your best bet is to allow plenty of time for your new vehicle to arrive. If you’re trading in your old vehicle, this shouldn’t be an issue. Your best bet – follow your dealer’s advice, and the process will run much more smoothly.