how long does it take to buy a car?

How Long Does It Take To Buy A Car

How Long Is the Car Buying Process?

If you believe the studies and you are buying from the dealership, you can expect it to take 3-6 hours to buy a car from the time you walk in to the moment you actually drive away. 

If you believe the person ranting in an online video or leaving a negative review on a Car Shopping Service, buying a car might take you all weekend.

But I’m going to ask you to throw “Most” of that out.

When you’re done, make sure you read our guide on what to bring when buying a car so that your time at the dealership isn’t any longer than it needs to be!

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

Why Buying a Car Takes So Long

Why Buying a Car Takes So Long

Quite simply, It takes so long to buy a car 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.

Tip: The key to saving time at the dealership isn’t what you do there, it’s what you get taken care of before you go.



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?

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,

don’t actually have to be rolling in with a bag full of bills.  

Bottom Line:

If you are not financing through the dealership- You are a cash buyer

The obvious benefit this has in the time you spend on the dealer’s lot is that a cash buyer can be in and out of a dealership in as little as an hour or two, obviously giving or taking a bit on Trades/Price Negotiation. 

Simply put, if you don’t have to go into the finance office, you have eliminated a BULK of your time spent at the car dealership.  “Wait, What?!?!”  If you are not financing through the dealership, you are not mandated to sit with the finance manager.  They will most likely not admit to that, but why would they?

Tip:  If you are not financing with the dealership you can elect to pass on sitting with the finance manager for the purpose of hearing about add-on products- It is not required. 



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.

After I buy a car, how long does it take to get the title?

Typically it takes about 10-14 days to get a copy of the title after purchasing a car from a dealership, with two exceptions:

  • Financed: If you financed the car, you will not get the title because the lender will have a lien on the vehicle.
  • Electronic Title: If your state issues E-Titles, you will get a notice that you were issued an E-Title, which means the title exists digitally in the system.

How long does it take to get license plates from the dealer

These days you can usually expect to get your plates within two weeks or 7-10 business days from the date you purchased your car. 

There are many occasions where you can actually get your plates the same day, thanks to companies that have established protocols with state DMVs.  

These wait times used to vary because you had to factor in when a dealer may submit their work to the DMV or how long the mailing process took between the DMV satellite office and their main office in the capital, but with all of the E-Filing systems now it’s becoming less and less of a hassle to get that metal tag on your car sooner rather than later.


  • Can I test drive a car overnight or for several days?

    Some dealerships may allow extended test drives, but this varies. Always ask the dealership about their test drive policies.

  • What is the advantage of completing the car-buying process from home?

    Completing the process from home as much as possible can reduce stress and save time. It allows you to research and prepare at your own pace.

  • What is a Yoyo scam?

    A yoyo scam occurs when a dealership allows a buyer to take a car home before financing is finalized, then later tells the buyer they need to agree to a higher price or return the car.

  • Can I negotiate the price of a car if I’m financing?

    Yes, you can negotiate the price of a car even if you’re financing. In fact, dealerships may be more willing to negotiate because they can earn more from financing deals.

  • How can I speed up the car-buying process?

    Being well-prepared can speed up the car-buying process. This includes knowing your budget, pre-approving financing, and researching the car’s value.

  • Can I buy a car online?

    Yes, many dealerships now offer online buying options. You can often complete the entire car buying process online, including financing and trade-ins.

  • Can I Buy A Car Same Day?

    Yes, in almost 99% of the potential situations, you will be able to buy a car from the dealership on the same day. The biggest issues for going to be if the car you want is in stock and your financing.

Conclusion: Time spent in the car dealership

Not many of us want to spend more time in the dealership than we have to, but thankfully there are steps that most of us can take to significantly cut down on our visits. 

It will take some work in and of itself to do the proper research and be a more well-prepared car buyer but,

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 is a former licensed car dealer located in the State of Florida.  He has many years of experience buying, selling, and working on cars mechanically and started Autohitch to help buyers and Sellers navigate the complex lands of Car Buying.