How to Get the Car, Truck, or SUV You Want During the Chip Shortage

Tips for when you know exactly what vehicle you want but can’t find it.

Sebastian Blanco | 
Dec 17, 2021 | 5 min read

A chip overlay imposed over a row of cars in a dealershipShutterstock

If you’re shopping for a new or used vehicle, you probably already know how hard it is right now to find the exact car, truck, or SUV that you want. The problem lies in the stressed automotive supply chain, which is causing component shortages—specifically parts that need semiconductor chips—and production stoppages at vehicle factories worldwide. This trend directly affects new vehicles, but it has also had a ripple effect among used cars. As new car buyers have turned to the used car market for more options, used vehicle prices have soared. That means anyone who wants or needs to replace their vehicle today might feel like their search is going nowhere.

But just because something is difficult doesn't mean it's impossible. We've put together a list of ways to find that new or used vehicle you're looking for during this seemingly endless pandemic. We want to help readers who are ready to work to get their specific model or trim. But it's also important to set the appropriate tone from the outset: things are tough right now. Still, if you're willing to hunt around a bit—and to accept that you may need to be flexible with your exact requirements—these tips can help you find your dream car. Or at least a close approximation.

Patience Pays

Buying the exact car you want might not be possible, or maybe it's just not possible right now. The various production pauses at auto plants are just that, pauses. That means automakers will still build the vehicles that customers want once they can get the parts they need. So, if you're patient and can hold on to your current vehicle for a while longer, placing an order with a dealer for a new car could be just the ticket. Enter the discussion with the understanding that dealers can't make a specific car appear overnight. You also might have to open your wallet a bit since dealers are unlikely to offer any discounts on high-demand models.

If you need to bridge the gap until your new car arrives, you might consider extending your current lease or looking into a short-term lease. You’ll pay a premium for a lease that’s less than the standard two or three years, but it’s a better option than trying to juggle two car payments once the vehicle you want arrives and you only need one car.

Talk to a Dealer About What's on the Way

Instead of buying a car off the lot or placing a custom order, ask your local dealership about vehicles scheduled to be delivered soon. Dealers call this pre-selling, which is just what it sounds like. While the exact trim or package you want might not be available, you also could get lucky. Automakers are more transparent with their dealers today about what vehicles they are producing and shipping than in the past, which means dealers also have more visibility about what vehicles they can sell soon. Use this to your advantage and you can secure a vehicle with a deposit before any other buyers know it exists.
These days, car buyers are not limited to the vehicles listed in their local circular. It's easier than ever to adjust the search radius on car shopping sites to hundreds of miles or more, which we recommend if you're able to travel to pick up a new set of wheels. If you’re unable to see a vehicle in person before buying, consider having a car-savvy friend take a test drive and a trustworthy shop perform a pre-purchase inspection. If things look good, you can arrange to have the vehicle shipped across the country for less than $1,000.

For more peace of mind, consider shopping with an online used car service, such as Carvana or Vroom, which will deliver the car (there may be a fee) and allow you to return it within a set time period if the vehicle doesn’t meet your expectations. Just know that there is a driver shortage in the trucking industry, one that started well before the pandemic, so any purchase that relies on delivery could bring with it a new set of delays, but it's certainly worth investigating if you've just got to have that bright orange truck with the tow package and the premium stereo that can’t be found anywhere in the same time zone as you.

Head to the Auction

Everyday shoppers can't just roll into a used vehicle auction and start bidding, but some used car brokers can do exactly that on your behalf. The broker you hire should have access to the wholesale auctions where dealers liquidate and restock their used car inventory. There's no guarantee that a broker will be able to secure exactly the car you want, but at the very least, they can search through listings that the general public cannot, which gives you a leg up on everyone who waits for vehicles to show up on a dealer’s lot. Used car brokers typically work for a flat fee of a few hundred dollars to a little more than $1,000.

Make Social Media Work for You

While high used car prices can be a hurdle for purchasers, they also encourage people to sell their vehicles. Not everyone wants to sell to a dealer, which is why off-the-radar sources, such as social media groups and model-specific online forums, are worth investigating. Many makes and models have passionate fans, and they might be willing to welcome a new fan if you can find someone ready to capitalize on the occasional-use car sitting in their garage today.

Written by humans.
Edited by humans.

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Sebastian Blanco

Sebastian Blanco has been writing about electric vehicles, hybrids, and hydrogen cars since 2006. His first green-car media event was the launch of the first Tesla Roadster in 2006, an event where he almost elbowed Arnold Schwarzenegger in the groin. Since then, he has been tracking the shift away from gasoline-powered vehicles and discovering the new technology's importance not just for the auto industry, but for the world as a whole.