If you’re purchasing your first car or it’s been a while since your last purchase, navigating the process might feel unfamiliar. Balancing between not rushing and not dragging it out is key. Luckily, there are steps you can take to streamline the buying process.

So, how long does it take to buy a car? The timeline varies based on your approach and goals. Extensive market research and negotiation with dealers can work in your favor but might extend the process to several weeks as you hunt for the best deal.

Conversely, if you’ve already chosen a vehicle and are eager to proceed, the process can be swift—potentially completing your purchase in just a few hours.

In general, consider the steps involved in your vehicle search and buying process to estimate how long it might take. We outline these steps below, along with tips to expedite the process and avoid common delays.

Here’s a general guide outlining the steps in the car-buying process. Keep in mind, the entire process can vary from person to person:

The initial step in your car-buying journey often involves browsing the internet to find the right vehicle. During this phase, you’ll likely spend time searching for specific features and styles that appeal to you, as well as vehicles that fit within your budget. You might also weigh the pros and cons of new versus used options to decide which best suits your needs before visiting a dealership. If you already have a clear idea of the type of car you want, this phase may be brief. Otherwise, expect to spend a few days exploring until you have a good sense of what you’re seeking.

Once you’ve identified the type of car you’re interested in, the next step is to visit various dealerships in your area to explore their inventory. During these visits, you can engage with salespeople to see if they have the specific vehicle you want or if they can suggest similar options within your budget. Testing out vehicles of interest and ensuring they have the features you desire is also crucial. This phase of the car-buying process can vary from a few days to several weeks, depending on dealership availability and whether you’re comparing quotes or negotiating across different dealers.

Alternatively, another option for car shopping is to explore online platforms. This approach eliminates the need to physically visit multiple dealerships, which some may find daunting. While you may not complete the entire car-buying process online, it allows you to thoroughly research and compare different models, features, and prices. Online browsing provides convenience for those with limited time or who prefer a more streamlined shopping experience.

Once you’ve chosen the vehicle you want to purchase, the next step involves discussing financing options. You can choose to finance through the dealership where you’re buying the car, work with a third-party auto lender, or opt for financing through your own financial institution by applying online. During this stage, the chosen lender will gather your information, conduct a credit check, and provide you with a loan offer. Once these steps are completed, signing the necessary paperwork can usually be done quickly and straightforwardly.

Once you’ve completed the purchase of your vehicle, you may be able to drive it off the lot on the same day, provided that your financing paperwork clears and you have proof of insurance. If you’ve been pre-approved for an auto loan, you might still need to wait for formal approval before taking possession of your new vehicle. To ensure a seamless process and potentially take your car home the same day, consider applying for financing online ahead of time. Once you’ve identified the car you’re purchasing and where you’ll buy it from, applying online and bringing the approval to the dealership can expedite the final steps.

Delays in the car buying process can stem from several common reasons:

  • Financial issues: Delays often occur due to financial challenges such as poor credit or complications on your credit report. These issues can hinder securing financing, requiring you to explore alternative lenders or adjust your vehicle choice within your budget.
  • Extended browsing: Buyers without a clear preference for a specific type of vehicle may spend more time browsing. This is particularly common among those who haven’t conducted prior research. While some enjoy the hands-on approach of browsing in person, speeding up the process can be achieved by researching vehicles online beforehand.
  • Obtaining quotes and negotiations: Seeking the best deal possible often involves obtaining quotes from multiple dealers and negotiating terms. While this approach can lead to savings, it also extends the overall buying timeline as you compare offers and negotiate prices.

To expedite your dealership visit and avoid delays, make sure to have the following items prepared:

  • Your driver’s license
  • Proof of car insurance
  • Your chosen payment method and any necessary loan documents
  • If applicable, bring your old vehicle’s plates and title