Buying & Leasing a Car

Order a Custom-Built New Car From the Factory

Buying a car the European way puts you in the driver's seat when it comes to features and option packages.

Looking for another way to lower the price of your next car? Order a custom-built car from the factory, using a dealer as a conduit for the sale and delivery. Many Europeans purchase cars this way. But it's less common in the U.S., where dealerships tend to stock their lots with vehicles crammed with "popular" option packages, some of which tack on costly extras that you may not want or need.

A case study: Subaru's popular Outback wagon. Subarus on average sell after just 19 days on the lot, the quickest turnaround in the business. Outbacks move even more quickly, in just 14 days. That makes it tough to find a version with specific option packages, especially Subaru’s high-tech Eyesight system—a package that includes adaptive cruise control, lane-departure warning and precollision braking—available on Premium models starting at about $28,500.

Checking inventories recently at five Maryland and Virginia dealers, we spotted only two Outback Premium models equipped with Eyesight. More common is to find the system on top-of-the-line Limited editions, which are decked out with leather seating, a moonroof, a navigation system and other frills, pushing the sticker price above $35,000. "Outbacks in general are incredibly scarce," says Michael McHale, a Subaru spokesman. "Eyesight vehicles are popular, so they move quickest."

Ordering a custom-built car puts you in the driver's seat when it comes to features and option packages. For high-volume vehicles, delivery should take only a few weeks. And with a bit of cajoling, dealers are likely to match the discounts available on their cars in stock.

Note that when you place a custom order, manufacturer incentives such as cash rebates or zero-percent financing may not be available to you because those discounts kick in when a car is delivered to the customer, not when the order is placed. If the manufacturer trims or slashes incentives before you receive the car, the final transaction price could be higher. The good news: Most manufacturer incentives don’t fluctuate much from month to month.

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