How Long Does It Take To Buy A Car?

in Car Buying Tips
Black and white BMW in a garage

Photo by Popescu Andrei Alexandru on Unsplash

Car buying is a unique industry where the process across the country is extremely similar but still frustratingly different at the same time. Multiple factors can vary the overall length of buying experience like the actual make and model, your place of residence and the location of where you’re buying the car can all factor into the buying timeline.

If you’re looking into your next vehicle and wondering “how long should it take to buy a car?” there may not be one answer for every scenario, but we can at least narrow it down.

Aside from vehicle preference and actual location, other things like your personal preference and purchasing style and even the availability and time of year can all slightly change your timeline.

One the most common reasons the process slows down comes from car buyers showing up to the dealership ill-prepared. Realistically, deciding on a car will take anywhere from a few hours to a few days of study.

The biggest factor for the length of purchase will be based on the amount of research you want to do before finalizing the deal. Research can be completed in a couple days or as long as a week depending on how extensive you want to be to know the ins and outs.

How Long Should It Take to Buy a Car from a Dealership?

This is typically the fastest end-to-end buying process. The information on the car is readily available and can handle a majority of the paperwork ahead of time. If you haven’t confirmed with the dealership and started the process ahead of time (like knowing which car you’re buying) will certainly slow the process down a few hours or even days.

It’s important for car buyers to have sufficient state-required paperwork, the purchasing method, and the vehicle if trading one in. If you pre-select a vehicle and it isn’t in stock at the dealership it can usually be shipped within 5-7 business days.

Purchasing a used vehicle can take a bit longer than purchasing a new vehicle, but still a quick process if going through a dealership. When shopping for a used car, it may be a bit more difficult to find just what you want, and you might have to settle on some things based on limited availability or it isn’t affordable, which can extend your research time.

It may take a few additional days to have your mechanic look and do your own history report but can be completed within 2-4 days.

The paperwork to finish the deal doesn’t take more than a few hours assuming you have all the necessary paperwork and the vehicle is already at the location. If you’re selling or trading in a car this will likely take a few additional hours for the dealership to assess your vehicle and make you a bid.

Ultimately once you have your vehicle selected and you complete your test drive and research, the actual paperwork to formally buy the car is typically completed within a few hours.


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How to Speed Up the Process

Gathering documents is extremely important to making your buying process as easy as possible. These are the general items you can prepare ahead of time to help move the process along:

Proof of insurance - some states require this for a purchase, but many dealerships require it on an individual level.

License - unless going through a private seller that is just trying to get rid of the car, almost all new or used car dealerships will require you to present your driver’s license before purchasing.

Vehicle title & Registration - only required for a sell or trade in.

Credit score - this is especially helpful if you plan on financing, and the dealership will likely still run their own form of credit pull if you provide this yourself, but will at least help get the ball rolling.

Bank statements & pay stubs - this isn’t as common as it used to be, but there are still a good number of dealerships that might ask for either bank statements, regular work pay stubs, or both. It lowers the financial risk taken by the dealership to ensure you will be able to make your regular payments.

Determining your financing option is also one of the more time consuming aspects of buying a car. This is a good thing to go over with the dealership when you do your initial visit and test drive to get some basic numbers to save time when you finalize your purchase.

Going through a private bank or financier can take a few additional days and the dealership is usually fairly quick since they’ll have their own department. If you’re ready to buy in cash, the dealership will be motivated to give you a deal and you could even have your keys within an hour or so.


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How Long Should It Take to Buy a Car from a Private Seller?

Going through a private dealer has its own benefits and challenges. Generally speaking you can save more money, but you have to rely on someone else to manage most of the process for you. You’ll need multiple forms of paperwork in order to buy your used car that will mainly be the responsibility of the seller, and may even include some additional smog and environmental tests depending on your location and the seller’s.

Across the board you’ll need to have a transfer of ownership document, original or replacement title, and potentially odometer and smog test records depending on the year of the model and state of registration. Once you have an agreement for price on your vehicle, you’ll need to do the actual test drive, vehicle history, and maintenance tests before you complete this typically can take up to another week.

This can fluctuate based on your schedule and the availability of the person you’re buying from, and ultimately their cooperation to fulfill their end of the bargain, so this is of course a rough estimate.


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While there are a few different factors that can play into the overall length of time it takes to get the keys, the general answer to the question “how long should it take to buy a car” ranges from one day to up to two weeks.

It’s good to give yourself a two week window no matter which route you decide to go with to account for research, maintenance, shipping, and final paperwork. Once you’ve got your vehicle and sale price the rest will start to follow quickly.

FAQs: How Long It Takes To Buy A Car

Q: What factors influence the time it takes to buy a car?

A: Several factors can affect the duration of the car-buying process, including vehicle preference, location, personal purchasing style, availability, and time of year. Being prepared at the dealership can also speed up the process.

Q: How long does it typically take to decide on a car?

A: The decision-making time can vary from a few hours to a few days, depending on how much research a buyer wants to conduct. Thorough research on the desired vehicle can take several days to a week.

Q: What is the average time to buy a car from a dealership?

A: Buying from a dealership is usually the quickest option. The process can be pretty fast if you have pre-selected a vehicle and completed most of the paperwork in advance. However, if the chosen vehicle isn’t in stock, it may need to be shipped, which can take 5-7 business days.

Q: How can I speed up the car-buying process?

A: To expedite the process, gather necessary documents in advance, such as proof of insurance, your driver’s license, vehicle title, and registration (if trading in), credit score information, and recent pay stubs or bank statements. Determining your financing options beforehand can also save time.

Get a Curated List of the Best Used Cars Near You

The CoPilot car shopping app is the easiest way to buy a car. Tell us what you’re looking for and we’ll search the inventories of every dealership in your area to make you a personalized list of the best car listings in your area.

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The best part? CoPilot is built using the same technology that dealerships use to buy and sell their inventories, so we have more info on each vehicle than competitors. CoPilot doesn’t work with dealerships, so there are no sponsored posts or other shady practices — just the most info on the best cars. Check out our About Us page to see how CoPilot works.