If you're looking to buy a car, you probably have a lot of questions about the process. Although we've tried to answer many of them in other articles, today we're helping you tackle a different topic: How long will the car-buying process take? Is it something you can do on your lunch break, or should you set aside a whole day for a car-buying adventure? If you've never done it before, this can be important information to help you plan things out.

Define "Buy a Car"

The car-buying process isn't an easy one, but buying a car can often take on two different meanings. There's the entire process of car shopping from start to finish -- test driving, checking around for a good interest rate, researching vehicles, and finding someone to buy your old vehicle. Then there's the actual process of buying a car, which means going to the dealership and signing the papers. We'll tackle the two individually.

Going Shopping

If you're wondering how long you should spend shopping for a car, then you should know that it'll certainly take more than a day. To correctly shop for a car, you'll want to check different banks for a good interest rate, visit many dealers to test-drive several cars, and once you've settled on the car you want, negotiate with at least two dealers for the best possible deal on your new car and your trade-in.

As a result, we think that the car-shopping process isn't necessarily something you can get done right away. You'll probably need at least one day, and possibly several, just to adequately test-drive all the cars on your shopping list -- not to mention all the time you'll need to spend researching and shopping around for good finance rates. While the length of this process varies, don't plan on getting it done quickly.

Buying a Car

The actual process of buying a car is much easier once you've figured out the particulars. Assuming that you've already negotiated your deal and you have your old car's title ready to go (if you're trading in your old car), we think the process will take about 2 hours if your financing is also already set up. Yes, it's a long time, but the dealer has a lot of paperwork to fill out; much of it is legal documentation required by your state.

If you're walking into the dealer with none of those things done, we think the process could take more like 6 from start to finish. Getting financed (or calling your bank to get approval) will take time; negotiating the price will take time; getting an appraisal on your trade-in will take time; and filling out the paperwork will take time.

In other words, don't expect to complete this process on your lunch break. Even if you pay with cash and you aren't trading in anything, the process rarely lasts less than an hour, and it can be a draining one with lots of waiting and legal documents. Instead, be sure to set aside some time, or if you're in a hurry, try to complete as much as you can over the phone or through email. When it's finally over, don't forget to enjoy your new car!

author photo

Doug DeMuro has a wide range of automotive industry experience, from work at a Ferrari dealership to a manager for Porsche North America. A lifelong car enthusiast, Doug's eclectic vehicle purchases include a Porsche 911 Turbo, an E63 AMG wagon, an old Range Rover and a Mercedes Benz G-wagen.

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