Monday, April 29, 2013

Car Shopping Part 3

This week I just wanted to finish off the car buying tale. If you followed the previous two posts you'll know we ended up with a custom build and got the dealer down to a reasonable price. If you do order a custom build, you'll end up with something that - if you're a car nerd - is fascinating. It's the factory build sheet.
The build sheet is the extremely verbose version of what you chose on the website or at the dealer when configuring your car. So for example you might have chosen a winter package that had heated seats. On the build sheet, that will be broken down into assembly codes for all the components that go into that package - the seats, controls, wiring loom - everything. Right at the bottom of the sheet - in some cases - will be a huge barcode. This has no relevance to you as a buyer, but it's the code that identifies your car to the factory.
Once the time comes for your vehicle to enter production, the factory has a copy of the build sheet attached to the engine, suspension parts, chassis (if there is a chassis) and all the other components. At each station on the production line, the barcode gets scanned and the assembly worker knows exactly what has to go into the car in front of them at their station. The robots know if bodywork needs to be cut differently, or doors needs to be changed (3 door vs 5 door etc) and the paint shop knows to prepare a set of body panels in your chosen colour. Eventually all the different parts of the car come together in final assembly and if everything worked, all the barcodes match up and they end up with a single, finished car, containing everything that was on the original build sheet.
From that point forwards, it goes through engine testing, soak testing and QA, then gets shipped (in my case, literally) to your dealer. For stuff that comes across the Atlantic to the US, there are dealer prep facilities in the ports that check the vehicles over before they get loaded on to road transporters. Cosmetic flaws get touched up, loose items get fixed or replaced and the car is given a once-over to make sure the sea-crossing didn't do any lasting damage. (Even if your car is strapped down inside a container, in a 20ft ocean swell it's going to get knocked about).
The coolest thing about this whole process is that some manufacturers allow you to track the progress of your build online. Some marques, like BMW and Audi, even have customer options where you can pay to get hands-on with the assembly of your own car, so if you fancy joining the production line for a day to tighten some bolts and add some internal parts - that's an option too. Expensive, and only for the true car nerd with a lot of money to burn, but an option nevertheless.
For us, we're just waiting for the car now. There will be a followup post when it arrives.