When you order a new car, it can take anything from a few weeks, several months or even as long as a year before it gets delivered to the dealership. The amount of time you have to wait depends on whether the car you want to buy has already been built or if you have to put in a factory order, also known as special ordering.

Manufacturers often build a certain amount of each model in their new car range in popular colours with popular options that they think have the best chance of selling - these are called stock cars. Some of these cars will be allocated to dealer stocklists and the rest will be stored at the port until an order is received.

When you visit the dealer and give them the exact specification of the car you want to buy, they can use an industry search tool (unavailable to car shoppers) to see if one has already been built. If there's a stock car at the port, the salesperson can start the delivery process which should only take a couple of weeks.

Alternatively, another dealer might have the car in their stocklist. In order to get the car, the salesperson will have to propose a dealer trade.

As the name suggests, one dealer will ask another dealer to exchange cars - dealerships often maintain relationships with other dealers of the same brand, allowing them to complete dealer trades amicably. The wait time for a dealer trade is relatively short because the salesperson only needs to organise for the vehicle to be transported from one dealership to another.

However, if the car you want hasn't been built, you will need to submit a factory order.

Factory Order Car Buying Process

The process of buying a factory order car starts with completing a form at the dealership which outlines the specification of the car you want to be built, including the exact engine, colour, trim level and options you want fitted. The dealer will pass this information on to the factory to build the car - you can't order directly from the factory, you have to go through a dealer.

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At this point, the dealer won't be able to give you a specific delivery date for your car because there are a number of different factors that affect the delivery process, such as the car's specification, the location of the factory and the time of year. Instead, you will be given a lead time which refers to how long the dealership is expecting the process to take; however, this is subject to change.

In general terms, the factory order car buying process is:

  1. Submit order form
  2. Build allocation
  3. Production and quality check
  4. Transit to port of exit
  5. Pre-delivery inspection and paperwork
  6. Delivery

To give you a better idea of how the process works, and where you can expect delays, we're going to look at each step in detail.

Build Allocation

Each dealer is allocated a certain amount of factory builds - usually on a quarterly basis. When you submit your order form, you're guaranteeing a production slot for your car; however, this slot depends on a few things:

  • When in the dealer's order cycle the order is placed - the dealer may have used up its build allocations, so you will need to wait until the next quarter
  • The extras that have been requested - some options take longer to fit than others
  • How many orders there are before you - your production slot will be diarised as part of a run a different vehicles made on the same production line

The way that the factory runs also has an impact on the lead time for your car. For example, most manufacturers shut down their factories for a couple of weeks in the summer holidays - this can cause a backlog of orders.

Production & Quality Check

The actual building of a car from start to finish only takes around 48 hours and most of this time is needed to ensure the paintwork is dry.

Once the car has been built it will be subjected to a quality inspection to check that everything is working correctly and it's ready to be taken to its port of exit.

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Transit To Port Of Exit

As you would expect, where your car is built will greatly affect the delivery time. A car built in Europe will normally take around four weeks from build to delivery (if everything goes to plan).

Cars built from further afield in Asia and America will take much longer. For example, the Volkswagen Beetle is built in Mexico - just shipping it to the UK could take as long as three weeks.

In addition, your car may get stuck at the port - all cars are stored in a specific order and if your car is behind hundreds or thousands of others it's impossible to access it and move it to the front of the queue. This often happens during March and September which are peak times in the motor industry because that's when the new number plates are released.

Pre-Delivery Inspection & Paperwork

Once your car has been shipped to the UK it will need to go through a pre-delivery inspection - delivery can only be booked after this has been done.

Similarly, your delivery can't take place until your finance agreement has been signed correctly, submitted to the finance company, processed, checked and verified. If you're a cash customer, you won't be affected by this.

Once all the paperwork is in order, your car will be released to a distribution company. You will be offered the first available delivery date which depends on volume and driver availability.

Delivery

The distribution company will transport your car from the docks to the dealership. Once you've reached this stage, the dealer should be able to give you a firm delivery date; however, the time frame from completed pre-delivery inspection paperwork to actual delivery can vary from three days up to two weeks.

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