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how long does it take to buy a car?

How Long Does It Take To Buy A Car

How Long Does Buying a Car Take?

If you believe the studies and you are buying from the dealership, you can expect it to take as little as one day (Approximately 3-6 hours) to buy a car from the time you walk into the moment you actually drive away. 

However, if you are not well prepared, having done the proper research, the car-buying process could take multiple days or even weeks.

But, as a former dealer, I’m going to ask you to throw “Most” of that out.

Because when it comes to buying a car, averages are usually more distracting than they are helpful.  Here are just a few examples of what could extend or shorten your car buying time by hours or days:

  • You are financing your car purchase at the dealership vs. your own bank
  • You are buying your car with cash
  • You have a vehicle to trade in or sell

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Why Getting a Car Takes So Long

Why Buying a Car Takes So Long

Quite simply, It takes so long to buy a car at a dealership because:

  1. Buyers are still not adequately prepared for every aspect of the car-buying process.
  2. Dealers continue to rely on traditional sales strategies that call for the wearing down of the consumer so that you end up giving in to be done with the process.

The public may give car dealers a bad rap when it comes to a long buying process, but the unprepared buyer doesn’t always help matters, and neither does the buyer who intentionally misleads the dealership because they think they can outsmart someone who does this every day of the week.

The Dealerships Process Continues to Extend The Car Shopping Process

Many consumers don’t know but realize quickly that the dealership’s process, among many other things, is designed to drag everything out and wear the customer down. 

The idea is to get you to the point where you say whatever it is that you think might speed things up, which is- “Yea, Sure.” 

So, if you want to guarantee a long car buying process, then you will go in either completely unprepared OR looking for a fight.  

However, if you want to trim some of the fat and speed things up substantially, you could, for example:

  • Secure your own outside financing
  • Line up which additional add-on products (Warranties, Insurance, etc.) you are interested in before heading to the dealership.
  • Shop several local dealerships for their best offers and pre-negotiate your deal.

How to Make Buying a Car at the Dealership Faster

How to Make Buying a Car at the Dealership Faster

As I have probably stated plenty of times, buying a car at the dealership takes too long, but with the right preparation you can definitely expedite your experience. Here are some steps to make your time at the dealership smoother and faster:

  • Do Your Homework: Before stepping into the dealership, research the car models you’re interested in, their prices, and any available promotions or discounts. This will give you a clearer picture of what you want and prevent unnecessary time spent browsing.
  • Secure Financing in Advance: If you’re planning to finance your car, get pre-approved for a loan from your bank or credit union. This not only gives you a budget but also reduces the time spent on dealership financing.
  • Know Your Trade-In Value: If you’re trading in your old car, know its value beforehand. Use online tools or get an appraisal to have a ballpark figure in mind, which can speed up negotiations.
  • Schedule an Appointment: Instead of walking in, schedule an appointment with the dealership. This ensures that a salesperson is available to assist you immediately.
  • Prepare Necessary Documents: Bring all required documents, such as your driver’s license, proof of insurance, and any pre-approved loan documents. Check out this checklist for a comprehensive list of what to bring.
  • Stay Decisive: While it’s essential to ask questions and ensure you’re making the right choice, try to stay decisive. Knowing what you want in advance can significantly reduce back-and-forth discussions.
  • Limit Add-On Discussions: Decide beforehand if you’re interested in additional warranties or services. If you’re not, communicate this upfront to avoid extended discussions about add-ons.

How Long It Takes To Buy A Vehicle If You Have No Trade-In?

Trading in a car at the Car Dealership can take as much time as buying a car, and that’s because the dealer is essentially buying the car from you, and they want to haggle too! 

So, to be safe, if you are trading in your car, you can potentially double the amount of time you are going to spend in the dealership,

unless, of course, you plan on accepting any offer they throw at you.

TIP:  If you have a vehicle to trade and the dealership doesn’t give you what you feel is a fair offer, it may be necessary to leave and try your luck at Carmax or another Car Buying Service.  This type of hiccup can extend your vehicle purchase time by hours or even days.

How long does it take to buy a new car?

The best estimate, which is only based on averages, is that if you have zero of the steps completed when arriving at the dealership, you can expect to spend around 5-6 hours buying a new car.  If you line up some of the steps, such as securing financing, pre-negotiating your price, and understanding your trade-in, you can probably knock that down to around 2 hours.

How long does it take to sign papers for a car?

When it comes to the time commitment of signing papers for a car, there’s no one-size-fits-all answer. You could be there for hours, or you can be relatively “In and out.” Here are a few of the biggest factors affecting how long your process will be:

  • Dealership Protocols: Each dealership has its own unique set of procedures and paperwork. This can significantly impact the time it takes to wrap up the car-buying process.
  • Financing Arrangements: If you’re setting up financing for the car, this can add considerable time to the paperwork process. This involves additional documents and approvals, which can extend the duration.
  • Buyer Readiness: Your level of preparedness can also play a crucial role. Coming to the dealership with all the necessary documents and information can expedite the process.

Given these variables, it’s reasonable to anticipate that the paperwork process could span a few hours. However, this is a ballpark figure, and the actual time could be shorter or longer. For a more precise estimate, reaching out to the specific dealership or seller from whom you plan to purchase the car is recommended. They can provide a more accurate timeline based on their specific processes and requirements.

How long does it take to get a new car from the factory?

How long does it take to get a new car from the factory?

If you have narrowed your car search for something you simply can’t find on any lot, you can special order a vehicle directly from the manufacturer.

This process can take anywhere from 8 to 12 weeks in the United States and about several months for a foreign-made vehicle. 

If time is a problem, you should know that dealerships can search and trade with other dealerships within their brand and can find vehicles in places you can’t with websites like Autotrader or Cargurus.  

How To Track Your New Car Delivery

To track a new car, contact your car shipping company and inquire about your vehicle’s delivery status. In cases where the driver has activated GPS tracking, you can easily locate your vehicle. Even if vehicle tracking is not available, the broker can typically provide an estimated delivery date.

How Long Does It Take To Buy A Used Car?

Used cars are somewhat of a different process (Obvious statement, I know), but you can probably expect to spend anywhere from only an hour to the full 6 hours or more buying a used car.  Why?

  • Inspecting or Ordering an inspection on the car you intend to purchase can extend the time it takes to buy a used car vs. a new car because new cars require no (Thorough)  inspection.
  • Used cars are typically cheaper and, therefore, easier to finance or buy outright with cash.  (Not for everyone, but these are averages we are talking about)
  • The search for a used car can be complex.  You may think you found something great online, then upon the visit, find out there are issues with the vehicle.  (New Cars don’t usually have mechanical or physical damage)

How long does it take to buy a car with cash?

Cash buyers can expect the fastest possible car-buying experience because they’re skipping the entire finance process, which is also where the dealer tries to sneak in a ton of extra profit for himself.

3 Quick Tips For Cash Car Buyers

  • You are not special- A dealership that cares about your business will not treat you differently; however, you plan to pay for a car.  The truth is:  A buyer financing can earn the dealership more in profit!
  • Do not Hide Your Cash- The old advice was that you should simply focus on the price of the car and not how you might pay; however, that could keep you from potential incentives that could save you thousands.  Tell the dealership you were planning on using your own financing but that you could finance through the dealer if the offers are too good to pass up.
  • Financing doesn’t really mean Financing- If the dealership or the manufacturer are going to give you thousands of dollars to finance the car, then finance the car, and pay it off quickly with your cash.  (Free Money People)

How long does car dealership financing take?

Financing at the dealership, or actually being approved for a car loan from a dealer, can take anywhere from a few minutes to several weeks (Depending on your creditworthiness) 

In most cases, and I mean “MOST,” you should avoid any offers to take the vehicle before having financing in place and completed, especially if you have a trade-in.

You are opening yourself up to what is typically referred to as a Yo-Yo scam or the same outcome by complete accident.

Essentially,  you drive the vehicle home, then several days or weeks later, the dealership wants the car back either because you cannot be approved at all or because you need to agree to a higher cost/price for the car.

Again, this can happen by mistake, but it’s a mess either way, so if the dealership says they cannot secure financing right away, then you should explain that you will not be driving that car off the lot until they do.

Conclusion: Time spent in the car dealership

Not many of us want to spend more time in the dealership than we have to, but above all else DO NOT RUSH THE PROCESS! The dealer process is designed to wear you down so you’ll agree to anything just to be done with it. Don’t fall for the bait!

Your goal shouldn’t be to try and eliminate a majority of the time it takes to buy a car; it should be to reduce the overall stress associated with car buying by completing as much of the process from the comfort of your own home as possible.

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Steve Momot - Author

Steve Momot - Author

Steve, a seasoned expert in the automotive industry, formerly held a car dealer license in Florida. With extensive experience spanning across car trading and mechanical work, he founded Autohitch. His mission? To guide both buyers and sellers through the intricate maze of car purchasing, ensuring a seamless and informed experience. Outside of the automotive world, Steve has a passion for fishing and capturing the beauty of nature through photography.


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