Most experts say buying a car is the second-largest purchase a consumer makes in their lifetime, yet many buyers believe the process should only take a few minutes. Although buying a car today is easier and faster than ever before, it’s still a time-consuming process that requires a great deal of research before going into a dealer and patience while sitting at the dealership as well.
So, if you’re like most consumers and wondering, “How long does it take to buy a car?”—you’re in the right place.
Let’s get into it.
How long does it take to buy a car?
Buying a car can take anywhere from one day to several weeks or even months.
For example, if you’ve already been pre-approved for financing and you’re looking to buy a specific used car, you could go to a dealer and walk out with a car the same day. But if you’re looking to order a vehicle from a manufacturer and you need to wait for it to be built, this could take longer. The same goes for folks using a car broker to find a very particular or rare vehicle.
Let’s dive into the variables that can change how long it takes to buy a car.
Research: One day to several weeks
If you’re the kind of person who keeps tabs on the automotive industry, research won’t take very long. But, if you’re like most consumers, researching what car to buy can take a matter of days or weeks. There are thousands of models out there and whittling down the market can be an overwhelming experience.
Keep in mind if you’re looking for something specific or rare, research is often the first step in a very long buying process.
Shopping: One to a few months
Now that you know what you want, you need to find it.
There are dozens and dozens of different car shopping websites out there. Most of them do a great job of narrowing down search criteria based on year, make, model and features. If you know what you’re looking for and it’s commonly available, this process should be snappy.
However, if you’re looking for a particular color, option package or engine, or a rare model from an exotic or luxury brand, the shopping process could be much longer. In extreme cases, there may be only a handful of vehicles that meet your criteria. You could wait months for one to be available.
Financing: One to five days
Some 85% of people finance new cars, while 55% of shoppers finance used vehicles.
While it is much easier to get financing pre-approved before shopping for a vehicle today than ever before, this process can still take time. If you’re in a position to shop for a good interest rate, it may take time to approach several banks and credit unions to secure the best financing.
Those who are rebuilding their credit will find that securing financing is both more time-consuming and expensive. Getting financing with poor credit often means providing additional information, such as income documentation, or references that can drag out the approval process.
Paperwork/miscellaneous: One to five days
Whether you’re buying or selling a car, the process is full of paperwork that takes time to be processed and submitted.
If you finance a car, the lender holds the title. If you buy the car outright with cash, you hold the title. In either case, your state’s department of motor vehicles will need to process the title, and this can be time-consuming.
How long does it take to buy a car at a dealership? Two to five hours
Arriving at the dealership to purchase a vehicle can be exciting. But it can also be time-consuming. This is especially true for those who are looking to negotiate the price of a vehicle down or get the best interest rates for their purchase.
Expect the negotiating and financing process to take up to three hours, depending on your credit situation and desired outcome. Oftentimes, the dealer will need to shop your credit to various lenders to secure the most aggressive approvals or get an approval at all. This can take several hours. Price negotiations can also be time-consuming, especially if you’re not willing to bend.
Once the deal is approved, you’ll move on to the financing and paperwork process, which usually takes around 30 minutes to complete. From there, it’s just a matter of waiting for your car to be detailed and get temporary plates and the final rundown from dealership staff. Depending on how busy the dealer is, this can take anywhere from 30 minutes to three or more hours.
Be sure to have your insurance ready to go because you’ll need that to drive off the lot. Many insurance providers offer easy-to-use apps that allow you to get coverage for a new vehicle on your smartphone.
How long does it take to buy a used car? One day to several weeks
Purchasing a new car is a straightforward experience because the vehicle rolls off the assembly line and onto the showroom floor. Buying a used car is different, mostly because every used car is unique and they require more effort to find and inspect.
You may find a used vehicle online and travel to see it, only to discover the car has undisclosed problems. Experiencing this situation is no fun and could add substantial time to the used car buying process.
Many buyers also choose to send their vehicle to a certified mechanic for inspection. This is always a good idea, but it also adds more time to the transaction.
Is it faster to buy a car with cash?
Buying a car with cash will shorten the amount of time it takes to buy a car because the financing process is essentially eliminated.
Buying with cash will also change the narrative with your salesperson because the topic of payment is eliminated from the negotiation process. You’ll still need to sign the paperwork and insure the new car. Regardless of whether you pay cash or finance, due diligence is still required during the inspection and shopping process. This is especially true if you’re buying a used car with cash.
Frequently Asked Questions
Why does the process of buying a car take so long?
Buying a car is an extensive process that involves research, driving to view/test-drive vehicles and spending time at the dealership to complete loan and registration paperwork. No matter which way you cut it, this process is exhaustive and time-consuming.
How long does it take to build credit to buy a car?
In order to buy a car, you'll need to establish a credit history and generate a FICO score. According to Experian, it takes anywhere from two to six months to establish enough credit to generate a FICO score. Getting a credit card, becoming an authorized user on someone's account or paying on an installment loan are all ways to speed up the process.
When is the best time to buy a new car?
It depends, but here are a few general times you may have the best luck - The end of the month sales push - Mondays because they are the slowest sales days - Three-Day weekends that draw large crowds - During the month of May which is typically a low sales month - October through December since these are typically slower months - New Year's Eve or Christmas Eve, again, due to being slower sales days - Sales events where incentives, rebates or financing deals are included - End of a model year or when a car has been redesigned or discontinued