People Are Waiting Weeks for New Cars. Here's How to Make Sure You Don't Miss Out

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  • Inventory shortages mean most new cars have wait lists, some months long.
  • Staying flexible on make and model may help you get a new vehicle faster.
  • If you can, consider waiting a year or two for the market to settle before getting a new car.

Patience is the key to getting a new car in today's market.

Before the pandemic, buying a new car was simple. You could visit any car lot in town and check out row upon row of shiny new cars in every color and model, all ready to roll off the lot.

These days -- not so much.

Between chip shortages, continued supply line disruptions, and increasing demand, new cars have become hard to find. New car lots across the country have slim pickings -- if any at all. Hybrid and electric models, in particular, have become rare sights in many areas.

Wait lists can be months long

It used to be that you could head to the car lot and drive away with a new car in a matter of hours. The sad fact is, those days are gone (at least for a while).

Where car salesfolk once competed with each other for customers, they now compete for cars. And when dealers do get their hands on inventory, it's often sold long before the vehicles hit the lot.

Indeed, inventory shortages mean you'll likely need to join a waitlist to get your hands on a new car. And that wait could be weeks -- or even months.

The make, model, and engine type will all impact how long you need to wait. Base-model and mid-level gas-engine cars are typically the easiest to find, but the most popular models still move quickly.

If you want bells and whistles, or a hybrid or all-electric engine, be prepared for a long wait. There have been many stories of people waiting six months or more to get their hands on a new BMW or Tesla. But even wanting a Toyota Prius could mean waiting four to eight weeks for inventory to arrive.

Stay flexible or plan ahead -- way ahead

In the current car-buying climate, you have two options: be flexible or be patient. (And, in some cases, you're going to need to be both.)

If you're flexible about what kind of new car you want, you may be able to skip the wait list, or at least enjoy a shorter wait. Many dealers do still have a little inventory, typically of less-popular models that aren't in as high demand.

Even if you're flexible enough to take what's already on the lot, however, don't expect an experience like you'd have gotten several years ago. Dealer markups have gotten quite high in many areas, and there isn't much incentive on their end to haggle. This extends to auto financing, too. With interest rates high and inventory low, don't expect to find any great financing deals.

If you're not open to taking whatever is available, prepare for the wait list. But it's not as simple as just putting your name on the reservation sheet. Most dealers will require that you put down at least a couple grand as a down payment to reserve a vehicle.

Things get even more complicated if you're planning on trading in your current vehicle. (You probably don't want to hand it over until your new vehicle arrives.) If your purchase plan involves getting a certain price for your trade-in, make sure you get the dealer's offer in writing -- and with a clause that makes it valid no matter how long you need to wait on your new car to arrive.

Consider repairing instead of replacing

Between the wait lists, the markups, and the high interest rates, now is about the worst time to buy a new car. For many folks, the best thing to do right now is to hold off on the new car purchase entirely.

If at all possible, consider keeping your current vehicle for at least another year or two. Many experts expect the new car market to stabilize within the next couple years as supply chains and chip shortages work themselves out. Once supply catches up with demand, buying a new car will be easier and, ideally, a little more affordable.

This is an easy option if you're only considering a new car just for the sake of upgrading your current car. Maybe you want that new car smell, or some bells and whistles. Maybe you want to trade the gas engine for a more fuel efficient hybrid. Whatever the case, think twice before buying in the current market.

If you're looking at buying a new car because your current one needs work, you have a harder decision to make. Depending on the cost of repairs, it may be tempting to just put the money into something new rather than dealing with an expensive repair on an older car.

This can be especially tempting considering that the used car market is hopping and you can likely get a good price for a late model used car these days. But chances are good you aren't going to get enough for your used car to make up for the inflated car prices, high interest rates, and just plain hassle that buying a new car right now will entail.

Plus, consider this: The used car market tends to lag several years behind the new car market. So, while new car inventory is expected to even out in a year or two, late-model used cars will probably still fetch a pretty penny for another year or so after that.

Whatever you decide, be sure to do your research. Call ahead to the dealer to check on inventory before you even leave the house (dealer websites aren't always updated regularly). You should also get familiar with the MSRP of the cars you're interested in so you can identify dealer markups right away. It's a lot more difficult to purchase a car these days, but if you can be patient and flexible, you will have more success.

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