Can You Reserve a Car from a Dealership?

With vehicles in short supply, it often pays to plan ahead.

Ford Bronco driving down a highwayFord

Reservations aren’t only for restaurants and hotels anymore. Those who want a specific model can often reserve, special order, or hold it in advance of purchase. Let’s take a look at each option:

  • Reservation: An automaker may allow customers to put their names down for a vehicle well before the manufacturer begins building it. This both drums up excitement and gauges interest in the model.
  • Special Order: Once a vehicle enters production, manufacturers often permit shoppers to place custom orders, should they wish to specify every detail about their car from the trim level to the color to the features.
  • Hold: A potential buyer can ask a dealership to hold a car on the lot (or scheduled to be on the lot) while they make up their mind or arrange logistics to see, drive, or ship it.

Do You Have to Put Down a Deposit to Reserve a Car?

Whichever option you choose, you’ll likely have to pay a deposit of $100 or more. For vehicle reservations, this amount tends to be refundable, though a processing fee may apply. A dealership will almost certainly require a deposit on a special order, especially if the car’s color or features may make it difficult to sell if the customer backs out. And it’ll want a firm commitment from the prospective buyer before holding a car, given how limited inventory is at the moment.

Make sure to get documentation of your deposit. The fine print should tell you whether the fee goes toward the final purchase price, and it will explain how to request a refund, if applicable. Additionally, deposit documentation for a vehicle hold should note the car’s vehicle identification number, which you’ll want to compare when you take delivery to ensure you have the right car.

How Long Will You Have to Wait?

You may want to hold on to your existing car or arrange for regular transportation if you plan to reserve or order a vehicle. More and more, automakers are accepting reservations the moment they unveil a new model, which may not enter production for months or years (if at all). Ford, for instance, began taking reservations for the Bronco in July 2020, but various production delays due to the chip shortage have consistently kept the automaker from delivering the vehicles on time. Similarly, EV startups such as Rivian and Lucid have struggled to meet their production forecasts.

When the time comes to convert pre-orders into orders, the automaker (or its dealers) will contact reservation holders to nail down the specifics.

Special orders can also take a long time these days, especially if the vehicle is assembled outside North America. For instance, Porsche recommends buyers place their orders at least 12 weeks before they wish to receive delivery and notes that custom orders are subject to material availability (read: may take even longer). Also, in certain cases, automakers prohibit buyers from quickly flipping their purchases in an attempt to earn a profit. Ford did this with its GT supercar, including a two-year no-resale clause in the purchase agreement, and it intends to do something similar with early-model F-150 Lightnings.

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Andrew Ganz
Andrew Ganz has had cars in his blood ever since he gnawed the paint off of a diecast model as a toddler. After growing up in Dallas, Texas, he earned a journalism degree, worked in public relations for two manufacturers, and served as an editor for a luxury-lifestyle print publication and several well-known automotive websites. In his free time, Andrew loves exploring the Rocky Mountains' best back roads—when he’s not browsing ads for his next car purchase.