What if a Car Dealer Doesn’t Have the Color You Want?


You’ve done your research and you’ve now decided which brand, model and trim level of car, truck or SUV you want, but the dealer doesn’t have the color you want. You’ve really set your heart on a particular color, so what do you do if the dealership doesn’t have the color you want?

As a general rule, you have four straight options if the car dealer doesn’t have exactly what you want in stock. The dealer can place a special order with the manufacturer for you, they can swap what you want in from another dealership that does have one, you can do a deal on something slightly different that they do have in stock, or you can simply go somewhere else.

Does color matter when you’re buying a car?

There are several reasons why color matters when you’re buying a car. You’re probably going to be living with your new car for quite a while so it makes sense that you like how it looks, the color you choose can have a considerable effect on the eventual resale value, and different colors work better in different climates and environments.

To find out more about why the color of your car matters check out my other articles on the subject here and here.  

Can the dealership change the color of your car?

If you have enough money and you are prepared to pay the price you can get the dealership to change the color of any car they have in stock for any color you want. It’s not unusual for rich celebrities and sports stars to have their brand new cars repainted in all sorts of outlandish colors. However, the cost of a full respray would be prohibitively expensive if it was a regular vehicle that just wasn’t in stock in the particular stock color you prefer.

Although it would cost far more than it would be worth to change the color of a mass-produced car, there are some things you could change if the dealership doesn’t have exactly what you want in stock.

I know I’ve swapped the side and rear windows of a brand new luxury SUV for a customer who wanted dark factory privacy glass when there wasn’t a vehicle in the color he wanted with that glass anywhere in the country.

The dealer can swap things like glass, alloy wheels and some other items from one new vehicle to another as long as they change the documentation of both vehicles to reflect the changed specifications.

Special factory order

How willing a dealer is to offer you the option of a special order from the manufacturer if they don’t have exactly what you want in their inventory will vary from one dealership to another I’m afraid. While some dealers will be only too happy to order you exactly what you want to ensure a happy customer, others are only really interested in moving what they already have in stock. Don’t worry though because there are opportunities to be had that can benefit you greatly if the dealer isn’t keen to place a special order for you.

The biggest problem with placing a special order is time. Depending on the manufacturer and the model of car chosen, a factory order can take three months or even longer from ordering to delivery.

This timeframe can be reduced if the dealer has an order slot available that hasn’t been committed to building at the factory yet. Up to a certain point, dealers can sometimes alter an existing order to the specification you want. As the order gets closer to the deadline for allowing changes, what you can actually change may become more limited.

For example, you may be able to change an existing order that was placed by the dealer with a turbo-four engine to a V-6 if that’s an option that’s available as long as the order was laced quite recently. As the build date gets closer, specification changes as big as an engine might be off the menu, but a color change could be allowed right up until very close to the vehicle going into production.

By the way, if you’d like to know about some of the very best products, services and companies I’ve found for buying, selling, and helping with vehicle ownership then please check out my recommended products and services page right here. As well as telling you where to go to get the very lowest prices on new and used vehicles, I also cover finance, insurance, parts, detailing and other stuff too.

Letting the dealer transfer a car in from another dealership

If the dealer doesn’t have the exact vehicle you want in the color and specification you want but there is one in the dealer network somewhere else, most of the time it will be possible for your dealer to get that vehicle for you from the other dealer by exchanging it for something from their stock that the other dealership might want or need.

Please keep in mind that different franchises operate different systems for ordering and supplying new cars, and doing what are called “dealer transfers” can be easier with some brands than it is with others.

Some manufacturers operate a pool system where all the new cars are there at the factory for any dealer to take for a sold order. Others operate a system where every dealership gets an allocated number of vehicles of each model and they specify them exactly how they want. These are the ones that dealers can change to a customer’s exact specification to meet a sold order, but these “slots” are also available for one dealer to offer to another for something they might want in return.

If this all sounds like horse-trading to you then you wouldn’t be far off the mark. A lot of this relies on goodwill, friendships, rivalries and networking, and it’s not guaranteed by any means that just because the vehicle you want is in the system somewhere the dealer you’re working with can get it for you.

Doing a deal on something in stock

If the dealer doesn’t have exactly what you want in stock they might be happier to try and do a deal on something they do have in stock than to place an order for months ahead or to try and facilitate a dealer transfer. This is where the opportunity I mentioned earlier comes in.

I won’t use specific brands because I’m not familiar with how every single one operates, but let’s say you want a certain midsize SUV that’s available in S, SE and Luxury trim levels and you want an SE in Black. Unfortunately, the dealer only has it in Black in Luxury and S trims but they do have the SE in stock in Gray. This puts you in a strong position, especially if it’s becoming apparent the dealer doesn’t want to place an advance order or try to get one from another dealership.

It doesn’t matter whether you’re more bothered about the trim level or the color; if you know you are prepared to accept the SE in Gray or a Luxury trim level in Black you’re in the driving seat as far as the negotiations are concerned. You know how much the SE in Black would have cost if it had been in stock, so your mission (if you choose to accept it) is to try and get the best possible deal you can on one of the alternatives.

For me in these circumstances, the challenge would be to get the higher trim level in Black for as close to the price of the SE you wanted as possible.

Buy from a dealer who has got what you want

As long as you’ve been treated well by the dealer you intended to buy from I’d be reluctant to recommend going somewhere else unless there was no other option and you were absolutely adamant that you had to have the exact vehicle in the exact color you started out wanting to begin with.

One of the reasons I say this is don’t underestimate how small the world we live in can be sometimes. If you’ve been to one dealer already and they’ve tried everything they can to get you the specific model and color you want but they haven’t succeeded, don’t think for a moment that another dealer won’t put two and two together when you walk in inquiring about a vehicle another dealer has been calling them about recently.

If the second dealer has an inkling that you are the customer who the other dealer was trying to get a specific vehicle for and they have got it but refused to release it to them, don’t expect to get much of a deal on it. This is especially the case if there aren’t others easily available, which there probably won’t be if the first dealer hasn’t been able to get you one.

If the second dealer thinks they’ve got you over a barrel there’s very little you can do about it, and this is why I think the option of getting a really keen deal on a stock vehicle from the first dealer is a better option. Of course, if you want that SE in Black and nothing else will do and you’re prepared to pay full retail for it, then by all means go ahead.

What if nobody has exactly what you want?

The good thing about having a very specific idea of what you want and giving the impression you’re not prepared to deviate from your preferred specification is it puts you in a great position for negotiating in many different ways. This even works for you if what you want isn’t available anywhere and it can only be obtained through a factory order.

You don’t just have to concentrate on the sticker price of the vehicle itself. You can also drive a hard bargain on the finance, service plans, extended warranties, GAP insurance and even accessories. How good the final deal turns out to be depends on you and how good a job you’ve done of making the dealer believe you are absolutely set on getting exactly what you want in the color you want.

Know the current market

I went into a dealership not too long ago to buy a brand new motorcycle and I knew exactly what color I wanted it in. The dealer didn’t have the color I wanted and the only one they had in stock was a color I wouldn’t have had given, to be honest.

Even so, I thought I’d see how low they’d be prepared to go to get me to buy it. Unfortunately, there were no more units of that bike available at the manufacturer in any color and no more new bike orders were coming through to dealers for at least three months.

The dealer told me it was “take-it or leave-it” as they knew they’d be able to sell it to someone else without a problem, and as they had no others to offer me there was nothing they could do. A lot of people might have smelled a rat and thought the dealer was trying to pull a fast one on them at that point, but I already knew supply was almost exhausted so I knew they weren’t kidding.

A little knowledge can be a powerful thing, so make sure you have as much knowledge as you can possibly muster before you go to a dealership to buy your next new car. It could save you a fortune, even if you don’t end up with the color you’d really like. And if you want to know what the best price is that you can get any new car for, getting a free price quote from thecarconnection is the best way to give yourself that particularly valuable piece of knowledge.

Sean Cooper

Former retail auto industry professional for almost a decade and an automotive writer and journalist for the last 8 years

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