While I’m on the subject of cars, just about every car manufacturer has an option where you can build a car online. You can’t buy it online, but you write up the specs and it gives you the MSRP and basically puts you in touch with the dealer who will then quote you a price. Have any of you actually bought a new car this way? If so, how does it work? Do you have to pay them up front or do they basically order the car and then you buy it when it arrives?

Seems like they’d want some sort of deposit or something. Ideally, I’d almost prefer it if they just had you pay for the car and then you pick it up when it arrives. But every conceivable way of handing the transaction seems fraught with peril. If you put down a deposit or buy the car at the outset, they have all the leverage when it arrives because they have your money. Not that you wouldn’t have any recourse if they suddenly remembered that there were some special fees that they didn’t mention earlier, but it would it would probably be worth your while to pay a non-trivial sum just to get the dang car you’ve been waiting for. On the other hand, even if there is no deposit and they just order the car for you to purchase later, there’s nothing to stop them from suddenly raising the price or wanting to renegotiate once the car is there. You’d been salivating over this car for 6-8 weeks, after all. What are you going to do, start all over?

So… anybody know how that works? What sorts of protections you have that the price you agreed on is the price that you pay and the car you ordered is the car that you get?

Category: Market, Road

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8 Responses to Build A Car Online

  1. Kirk says:

    I tried doing that on Ford’s website, only to find out that their site underestimates the payments on a vehicle — so much so that I think their website (and probably others, to be fair) are just marketing gimmicks designed to get you into the showroom. Something that costs $170/month on their website really costs twice that.

    From what I’ve read, car ads in the paper work in the same way. The ad will show you “X” car at “X” price, but will almost always have a “stock# XXXX” next to the picture. This is so when you go into that dealer, the salesman can say, “Oh yeah, we sold that one, particular car. But let me show you…”)

    However, there’s a lot of info on the net about how to get a good deal. Good luck!

  2. Linus says:

    My time in fleet/internet car sales made me think that it’s really the best way to buy a car. Because most internet buyers have done their research and are buying mostly on price, the salespeople that handle internet sales are usually much less pushy – they sell a lot of cars, but with small sales margins.

    However, don’t think that just because you “built” your car online that you won’t start over to some extent with the internet salesperson. He/she is still under a lot of pressure to sell you a car that’s already on the lot at the dealership, so don’t be surprised when they try to get you interested in a different car. If you stand firm, they may be able to find what you’re looking for at another dealership in the area and arrange a dealer trade. And if they truly can’t find what you want, they can order it.

    I guess I never did up an order for a specific car, but I’m pretty sure the way it works is you agree on price first (they’ll have you sign something but I’m not sure it’s actually binding), they order it, and you pay when it arrives. I don’t think there was ever any renegotiation when the vehicle arrived at the dealership I worked at (unless the customer decides to add an option or something), but it may be a possibility at shady dealerships. If you’re concerned about it, make them sign an agreement with the details on the car and the agreed-upon price.

    There are always things to be wary of, but overall, I highly recommend buying a car “over the internet.”

  3. Peter says:

    Using the Internet may help you avoid excessive price-gouging at the dealership, but that doesn’t mean you’re completely free of the dealer’s grasp. In many cases they’ll lowball your trade-in to make up for the lower margin they’re making on the sale. Rest assured that they’ll always find some terrible problem with your trade-in that will greatly reduce its value.

    Of course you can sell your older car yourself and make a cash down payment, but in addition to the timing issues selling a car on your own is a frustrating process. The following conversation is a composite of my experiences in selling cars on my own and fairly represents what you are likely to encounter:

    [telephone rings]
    Me: Hello.
    [long silence]
    Me: Is there anyone there?
    Caller: Yo, man.
    Me: Can I help you?
    Caller (after long silence): I’m callin’ ’bout da car.
    Me: Well, what would you like to know about it?
    Caller (after another long silence): Yo, man, how much it cost?
    Me: It says right in the ad, $5,000 firm.
    Caller: Oh. I ain’t got no money.

  4. trumwill says:


    I think that the payment calculations reflect only the crazy-good credit scores (the kinds of scores where actually paying your bills on time and having no debt are insufficient). From what I understand, most of the time they will try to oversell the MSRP on the site, but you can bargain your way down from there with the right information. The TrueCar.com stats suggest that most cars are sold under MSRP.

    I’ve been reading a lot of the stuff on the Internet about how to handle a lot of that. Not sure how well all that stuff will work in real life, but it has certainly put me in a better place than I would be if I hadn’t read it.

  5. trumwill says:


    I don’t care if the car is on the lot, transferred from another dealer, or from the Internet. My main concern is that looking over the local offerings, the cars in lots come either bare or loaded up. I don’t want to pay for features that are unimportant to me, but I do want some things that don’t come on the bare models (roof rack and towing kit come to mind). I know that they can install this stuff on afterwards, and maybe that’s the route that we’ll have to go, but I expect that would cost more than one assembled the way I want it in the first place.

    Thanks for your input on the merits of buying online and what to expect when I go there with print-out-in-hand (if we go that route).

  6. trumwill says:


    They wouldn’t have to look very hard to find something that reduces Crayola’s value. The scratch on the side, the missing gas-hinge, the broken sideview mirror, the other partially-broken sideview mirror, the crackly-back-right speaker, the weak AC, and the (obvious) transmission problems will give them all the excuse they need.

    If I get the money for a couple tanks of gas for Crayola (my 2D Escort) I’ll be okay with that. The KBB places its trade-in value at $529. So that’s kind of a non-factor. The only selling point is that it’s not common to be able to get a sub-$1000 car with a CD/MP3/Aux player already installed.

    I was planning to see if I could convince Clancy to let me just give it to Clint (who lost the car in the separation), but I never told Clint about it and he went out and bought a much better running car for $900. Crayola’s last repair bill was more than that…

  7. David Alexander says:

    Crayola’s last repair bill was more than that…

    To think, I just spent $1400 to repair a car that’s barely worth $2000. OTOH, I needed to pass inspection, and it’s far cheaper than buying another car, whether used or new…

  8. David Alexander says:

    As a side note, I tend to play around with the buy online options just to remind myself of how expensive a new car will be if I decide to buy one at some point. As others have noted, the lease options look cheap, but once you add the stuff that you want in a new car (fog lights, sunroof, and sport packages) the cars are no longer cheap, the payments spike upward to unacceptable amount, and the idea of spending 60% of my paycheck on a car is no longer appealing. Plus, it’s annoying to see how a well-appointed small car is larded up price wise compared to a mid-size with nearly the same features…

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