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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?

The time it takes to buy a new or used vehicle can vary significantly depending largely on you and how prepared you are for the process. The second most important factor is if you’re buying from a dealer or private party.

Buying from a Dealer:

  • If you have financing pre-approved and know the exact car you want, the dealer process can take as little as 2-4 hours.
  • More commonly, plan to spend 4-6 hours at the dealership to test drive vehicles, negotiate, complete paperwork, and finalize financing.
  • Having a trade-in can add 1-2 hours for the appraisal process.

Buying from a Private Seller:

  • The actual purchase transaction may only take 1-2 hours to test drive, inspect the car, transfer title, and make payment.
  • However, the overall process is often longer (1-4 weeks) since you’ll need to line up financing, have the vehicle inspected, ensure the title is clear, etc.
StepTime NeededWhat You Do
1. Research Cars1-2 weeksExplore models, read reviews, and decide on the car that fits your needs.
2. Budget Planning1 weekDetermine your budget, explore financing options, and estimate insurance costs.
3. Financing Approval1-3 daysObtain pre-approval for a car loan and compare rates from different lenders.
4. Insurance Setup15 mins to 30 minsChoose an insurance policy and ensure coverage starts before taking the car.
5. Test Drive1-2 daysSchedule test drives at the dealership or with a private seller.
6. Negotiation1-3 daysDiscuss pricing, negotiate terms, and consider trade-in values if applicable.
7. Completing Purchase2-6 hours (Dealer)Sign paperwork, finalize financing, and complete registration at the dealership.
1-2 hours (Private)Complete title transfer, vehicle inspection, and make payment when buying from a private seller. Preparing may take 1-4 weeks.
How Long Does It Take To Buy A Car

Note: Buyers with a trade-in can expect an additional 30-60 minutes to the car buying timeline.

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 With No Trade-In?

The Trade In appraisal process usually adds about 30-60 minutes to the car buying timeline.

If you still owe money on the car, that can extend the time even further, potentially up to 2 hours if you’re not prepared with your payoff information.

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.  Even if you dont want to sell to any outside dealer you can use their offers to renegotiate with the dealership that has the car you want.

How Long Does it Take to Buy a New Car vs. a Used 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 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.

Ordering a new car from the factory can take 8 to 12 weeks in the United States and 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.

Here is a helpful article on tracking new cars: How to Track a Car in Transit

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 To Get Insurance When Buying a Car?

When you’re buying a new or used car, especially from a dealer, you’ll need to secure insurance before being able to drive off the lot. But not to worry, this is one of the fastest and easiest parts of the process.

Here’s a streamlined guide to securing car insurance when buying a car:

  • Timing is Key: Getting a new policy or updating an existing one can be quick, often taking just 15-30 minutes if you’re prepared.
  • What You Need: Have your vehicle’s details, driver information, and any existing policy numbers at hand.
  • The Process: Start by gathering all necessary documents. Compare quotes, especially if adding the car to an existing policy or considering a new insurer. Once you’ve chosen, secure the policy and obtain proof of insurance to finalize the car purchase.
  • Avoiding Coverage Lapses: Ensure there’s no gap between policies if switching insurers by not canceling your old policy too early.

How long does car dealership financing take?

Dealership financing can take anywhere from 30 minutes to several weeks (Depending on your creditworthiness). The better your credit, the faster the process!

This is because there might be something on your credit that could be fixed to dramatically improve your score, and most people want the opportunity to fix those issues and get a better rate or higher amount. 

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.

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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Picture of 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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