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How long does it take to buy a car?

Fact-checked with HomeInsurance.com

Buying a car and getting an auto loan are financial decisions that you shouldn’t take lightly. The average price of a new vehicle in the U.S. exceeds $30,000, and even a used car costs about $20,000. If you’re ready for a new ride, you may be wondering how long it takes to buy a car, and how to navigate the car buying process.

First, it’s critical to do your homework. Take plenty of time to research which car you want to buy and how much you can afford. You’ll need to physically evaluate potential vehicles by visiting dealerships or by having a car delivered to your home. Lastly, you need to apply for financing or make arrangements to transfer a cash payment.

So, how long does it take to buy a car from idea to delivery? Doing your car research could last a few days or months, depending on how certain you are about the make and model you want to purchase. And the purchase might take a few hours or a few days to secure financing, test vehicles and finalize the paperwork. 

What are the steps to buy a car?

Here are eight steps most buyers should take when buying a new or used car.

1. Begin your car search.

Start the hunt for your car by doing online searches. You might visit automotive websites, such as Autotrader, CarGurus, Edmunds and KBB. You can also learn about various makes and models on automaker websites.

Narrow down your search by figuring out which vehicles appeal to you and have the practical features you need depending on how you plan to use a car. For instance, do you need a family-friendly SUV, a heavy-duty truck for towing, or a small sports car that’s easy to park? Try to create a list of several cars that you’d consider owning.

2. Consider a car’s reliability.

No one wants to buy a car that isn’t dependable and breaks down. There are various sites that review vehicle reliability, such as Consumer Reports, Edmunds, J.D. Power and Kelley Blue Book. These rankings can make sure you’ll get from Point A to Point B without continually running into mechanical problems.

You might read online reviews posted by car owners and ask relatives, friends and coworkers for vehicle recommendations.

3. Check out car safety records.

Two organizations that offer trusted vehicle safety reviews are the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Their ratings can help you determine the safest cars based on how well they protect a driver or passenger in a crash or help avoid a collision in the first place.

4. Review your budget.

If you don’t have a budget, this is an excellent time to create one and decide how much you can or want to pay for a car. Decide whether you should get a higher-priced new car or a less expensive used or pre-owned model.

Some people prefer to save up and pay cash for a vehicle. Others like to finance as much of a car’s cost as possible. If you plan on getting an auto loan, figure out how much down payment you can afford. The amount you pay upfront affects what your monthly loan payments will be.

Don’t forget to factor in additional expenses, such as tax, auto insurance, fuel, power, parking and maintenance.

5. Check your credit.

Unless you’re planning to pay cash for your car, you’ll need to secure an auto loan for some portion of the purchase price. Before you apply for an auto loan, take the time to review your credit reports. It’s essential to correct any errors on your credit file that might be dragging down your credit scores.

The higher your credit rating, the more favorable your auto loan terms will be. So, skipping this step could cost you. Waiting until you have better credit to take out a loan can save you money over the long run.

6. Shop for a car loan.

Shopping with multiple lenders will help you get the lowest interest rate and monthly payments. Your bank or credit union may be an excellent place to get an auto loan since you’re already a customer. You can also find lenders at Bankrate.com or by doing an online search.

7. Test out some cars.

Once you narrow down the vehicle you want and settle on financing, you’re ready to test and inspect some cars. Consider shopping at several dealerships so you can judge prices, customer service and other factors.

Test drive the cars you like and make sure you understand their features. Some dealers allow you to take a vehicle home for 24 hours to make up your mind. Or they may deliver a car to your home for consideration.

8. Negotiate your car’s price.

When you’ve made a vehicle choice, you’ll work with a sales representative to negotiate the price. It will depend on a variety of factors, such as whether you special-order a particular color, purchase a warranty or have a vehicle to trade-in.

You might be able to finance a car through a dealership; however, be sure to shop around to make sure it’s the best interest rate and term for your situation. Depending on the services you need, it could take a couple of hours to finalize your paperwork to buy a car.

The car buying process might be shorter if you buy a car through an online dealer, such as Carvana, Vroom or the traditional dealer website.

What documents do I need to buy a car?

When you get a car loan and finalize paperwork to buy a car, you need these documents:

  • Driver’s license.
  • Proof of car insurance
  • Down payment (which typically can be made by credit card, debit card, check or electronic transfer). 
  • Title and registration for any trade-in vehicle.

The takeaway

How long it takes to buy a car could range from a day to several weeks or longer depending on these factors:

  • How much research you need to do before choosing a suitable vehicle. 
  • The time you need to establish a budget and secure financing. 
  • How quickly you select a vehicle and negotiate its price.

It’s wise to take your time and be sure you buy a car that you’ll enjoy driving, has plenty of safety features and is affordable. Shopping auto loans with several lenders will make sure you get the best financing deal possible.

Be sure to notify your car insurance company before or right after you buy a car to update your policy. Your auto insurance rate may increase or decrease depending on the type of car you buy, the types and amounts of coverage you choose, your deductibles and how you plan to use your new vehicle.

Laura Adams

Laura is a frequent media source and has been featured on most major news outlets including ABC, Bloomberg, CBS, FOX, NBC, NPR, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, USA Today, U.S. News, Consumer Reports, Entrepreneur, Forbes, Fortune, Kiplinger’s, Marketplace, Money, MSN, and many other broadcast, print, and online outlets. Laura’s mission is to empower consumers to live richer lives through her writing, podcasting, spokesperson, and advocacy work. Millions of readers and listeners benefit from her practical financial advice. Laura earned an MBA from the University of Florida. She and her husband reside in Vero Beach, Florida. Connect with her and learn more at LauraDAdams.com.

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