Why You Should Never Buy Your Car Off the Dealership Lot

Most people buy cars the way they buy groceries: you see what's on the shelves, and you assume that's all you have to choose from. When it comes to something as important as your ride, that's absolutely the wrong way to do it. A car may be many things, but it's not a bag of groceries, and you should almost never just cruise into a dealership and buy one off the lot.

If anything, a new car is more like a fine suit: you should always get a custom fitting. Custom ordering your car will result in a vehicle that fits your style and needs perfectly. Plus, it's usually cheaper.

"Made to measure" is way better than "off the shelf." Period.

The cars you find on the dealership lot have been ordered by a dealer who picked a handful of options that most widely appeal to the average Joe Shmo. Even the absurdly high-end Rolls-Royce, a company that offers a seemingly infinite number of customizable options, keeps cars on the lot in color schemes it expects to be most popular.

But for the money you're spending, why settle for what's been sitting around? For most makes, you can custom order your car, bypass the lot entirely, and end up with something you have a deeper personal connection with. The way it works is pretty simple: the dealer is already planning on buying a given car, right? There's a spot in the production line allocated just for them. If you tell your dealer exactly what you want to buy in advance, he or she will work with you and option the car exactly to your specs.

Minis have a wide range of customization options
Jeff Jablanksy

It's not just for luxury cars, either

Take the entire MINI product lineup, for example. Each model is customizable down to the most minuscule details, from the color and texture of side-view mirror caps (seriously), to the contrasting interior hue. According to MINI, there are millions, if not billions, of permutations to spec out the 2017 MINI Cooper (and Cooper S) Convertible. You want your six-speed manual Cooper Convertible in Lapisluxury Blue over Malt Brown Chesterfield leather with a tasteful chrome accent package? That'll cost you a hair over $30,000 -- or about as much as a loaded Honda Accord will run you from the dealer's lot... assuming you can differentiate it from the crowd.

Start by going to the car manufacturer's website and click on that little "Build It Now" button. Figure out which options make sense for you, then go to the dealership and check those options out firsthand -- you probably won't find a car with all of them, but you can try the seats of one and the stereo in another. When you've made up your mind, skip the salesmen entirely and sit down with (or even email) the sales manager with your order and how much you're willing to pay.

Custom ordering is also cheaper, if you're smart about it

Let's say you want the New Hotness Coupe 27B, and the ones on the lot have navigation and the high-end stereo, but no moonroof.  And you really, really want that moonroof, way more than you want the fancy-ass stereo. When you place your order for exactly what you want and nothing more, you'd be surprised how much just a little restraint can wind up saving you -- it's often several thousand dollars.

Not buying off the lot also helps you to seize back some of the power in the whole buying process; just because you custom order a car doesn't mean you have to pay attention to that "suggested price" on the window sticker. The art of bargaining and deal-making is a bit old school, but consumers have more resources than ever at their disposal -- from TrueCar price guarantees, to sites that expose invoice prices and subsequent dealer markup. Even if you're not an experienced negotiator, showing up with your well-researched offer price will give you the upper hand. It lets them know you're serious and helps cut through the inevitable bullshit some dealers like to throw at you if they think you're unprepared.

European Delivery is a great way to get a free trip with your new car
Courtesy of BMW

Plus you can get a free European vacation out of it

Still not convinced? What if your custom order also included a trip to the car’s land of origin? Typically, "overseas delivery" programs allow you to travel to the factory for a key-handover ceremony (see above, at BMW Welt in Munich), stay over for a night, and then drive off with several weeks' car insurance -- at a price that's lower than the MSRP, and all on the automaker's dime.

This package applies to almost every vehicle in the lineup, so you don't have to order a six-figure luxury car to take part. Some companies, like Mercedes-Benz, offer a travel voucher toward a flight. BMW offers pickup of its cars in Europe, or at its Performance Center in Spartanburg, SC, where you can also get high-performance driver training as part of the deal. Volvo even provides round-trip flights. Think about it -- how much more would you appreciate your Volvo if you flew to Sweden to pick it up, and then had several weeks in Europe to enjoy it in its natural habitat? Then, you can track it while it crosses the ocean. You'll even see what ship it's on.

Your car is a pretty transparent statement of who you are. It shouldn't just be a commodity at the store than anybody else can go pick up. Skip the lot and do it right.

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Jeff Jablansky is a contributor to Thrillist Cars, and likes it when things fit him -- not the other way around. Follow him to a good fit: @unclewithcars.