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How Long Does it Take to Buy a Car?

By Autolist Staff | October 7, 2019

How long does it take to buy a car? The average time spent in a dealership making a new car purchase was 3.6 hours in 2017. Why does it take so long? The answer is due to the number of steps in buying a car. Looking at the vehicle, test-driving it, sitting down to haggle for a good deal, securing a car loan and acceptable monthly payment, and then finally filling out all the paperwork and taking delivery. In truth, the car buying process can take as long as six hours in some cases. That is especially true if you don't have the right paperwork with you or if financing takes longer than expected. A trade-in can hold things up too. Here's a rundown of what takes so long when buying a car.

What Affects The Purchase Time?

Three main factors affect purchase time at a car dealership. One is whether you have financing through a bank when you go in, or whether you need to go through the dealership. The latter is going to take longer. If you're buying a new vehicle with cash, this will shave time off your experience. If you have a vehicle to trade in, then you can expect to spend more time at the dealership on average.

Why Does The Process Take So Long?

Two main reasons why buying a car can take a long time:

  1. Many car buyers don't come into the dealership adequately prepared for the car buying process. They don't know their credit report or credit score, and they may not have proper paperwork like proof of auto insurance or the title for their trade-in.

  2. Dealers still tend to rely on a strategy of wearing buyers down to get the price of the car more in their favor.

Why Does It Take Longer With A Trade-In?

Having a trade-in could extend your car buying time by days, not just hours. For example, if the dealer doesn't give you a fair price, you may have to leave and try your luck with Carmax or even sell your car privately. If this affects your immediate ability to buy, then it could mean putting the purchase off for days. However, assuming that you don't leave the dealership, you'll spend extra time there while the dealer looks over your car and negotiates a price.

How To Speed Things Up

If you want to make your car buying process go faster, there are a few things you can do. First, get your financing or come in with cash. Second, figure out which additional items you're interested in buying at the dealership before going in. One area where things slow down is when the car salesman tries to convince you to purchase several additional items with your car, like an extended warranty. If you already know precisely what you want and don't want, you can speed through this part. The third tip is to shop around at other dealerships and negotiate your deal in advance over the phone or online.

What Should You Bring Into The Dealership?

As previously mentioned, unprepared buyers are one of the top reasons for lengthy car buying times.

Before you head into the dealership, take a look at this checklist of items you will need:

  • Payment or down payment (this might be a cashier's check, personal check or credit card)

  • Driver's license

  • Trade-in vehicle title

  • Current registration for trade-in

  • Proof of car insurance

  • Trade-in loan account number if applicable

  • Rebate eligibility documents if applicable

What About Special Orders?

If you want a specific car that you can't locate on any dealer lot, you might opt to have a new one shipped from the factory or let the dealer find your car through trading with other dealerships. If you do this, you can expect to wait up to 12 weeks for an American-made vehicle and several months for one that must be imported. If you are relying on the dealership to find you a specific old car, the time might vary, and in some cases, they may not be able to find it for you at all.

Does It Take Longer Or Shorter To Buy A Used Car?

The process of buying a used car at a dealership is a little bit different than buying a new car. Firstly, you'll typically have to order an inspection for a used car. The dealership may give you some idea from their service department what's wrong with it, but you'll probably want to get an opinion from your mechanic as well. The second aspect is that used cars are generally cheaper than new cars, so it's usually also easier to buy them with cash or get an auto loan. However, searching for the right used car can be a time-consuming process. You might find something that looks great at first, but then you get in to look at it and find out that it has serious issues. In other words, buying a used car can be short and sweet, or it can take much longer than purchasing a new vehicle.

What Happens When You're A Cash Buyer?

In essence, you're a cash buyer whenever you aren't financing through the dealership. That means that even if you have your own outside financing, you're a cash buyer for all intents and purposes. That allows you to skip sitting down with the finance manager, which can save you a lot of time. However, it's essential to realize that the dealer may have money-saving incentives available if you use their financing. So you can skip this sit-down at your own risk. Dealerships generally prefer that you use their financing as they typically make a profit off the interest rates.

Test Drive Times

The typical test drive should only take about 30 minutes or so while you drive the car locally and put it through its paces. Some dealerships allow longer test drives, such as allowing you to take the vehicle home for 24 hours or longer. These can be legitimate ploys to let you bond with the car, or they can be ploys to get you to pay more. In the latter case, the dealer might tell you that they're waiting on financing, but then come back and say that they can't get it unless you agree to a higher price. That is the main reason you should never drive the car off the lot based on financing. The 24 hour or longer test-drive is technically also a ploy to get you to pay more but in a more subtle way. Once the buyer becomes emotionally attached to the car, they are less likely to be tough on the price.