How Long Does It Take To Buy a Car?

How Long Does It Take To Buy a Car?

Buying a car is a big decision, and the best car sales occur when both parties have done a lot of research and have prepared beforehand. But sometimes you need to buy a car quickly, whether it’s because your current car is in the shop or because you need a car to commute to a new job next week.

In these situations and more, you may need to know how long it takes to buy a car and how long you can expect before you have your own set of wheels. This article will break down timeframes for buying a vehicle and explore how long it takes, on average, to buy a car starting from your initial decision to purchase to signing on the dotted line.

Research and Budgeting

Every car deal begins with a lot of research and budget planning. Whenever you buy a car worth several thousand dollars or more, you need to make sure you’re buying the ideal vehicle for your needs. Whether you plan to buy a car online or visit a dealership in person, you should do plenty of research by:

  • Choosing the type of car you want to purchase. For example, do you want a basic sedan? Or maybe a truck will be a better choice. Alternatively, maybe you want to buy an SUV for your family and its off-roading capabilities. Or maybe you want a luxury car. The type of car you purchase can massively impact its asking price, available features, and even availability in your area
  • Determining whether you want a new or used car. Newer cars have fewer problems, but they are always more expensive
  • Look around at various dealerships or car-selling websites to see what types of cars are available to purchase near you. Local availability will oftentimes determine what cars you can reasonably buy without having to take a trip across the state or country

At the same time, come up with a budget limit so you don’t spend too much money when buying your vehicle. Coming up with a budget limit is also wise since it helps you narrow down your car purchase options. When there are thousands of vehicles to buy, you have to whittle down your choices somehow!

In total, the time for research and budgeting can range from a few days to a few weeks. If you already have a good idea of how much money you have to spend on a car, it may only take a few hours.

Shopping for a Car Online

Shopping for a car online usually takes a little longer than shopping for a car in person. That’s because you have to:

  • Check different listings sites like Craigslist or Facebook Marketplace
  • Do in-depth research about available cars
  • Contact the vehicle seller
  • Communicate with the seller regularly to speak about potential problems, set up a meet date, etc.

If you shop for a car online, expect this phase of the process to take at least a few days from start to finish. If you’re very lucky, you’ll find an appropriate car and a good seller quickly. But if you’re looking for a specific car with certain features or at a certain price point, expect to spend longer finding the perfect seller online. 

Shopping for a Car in-Person

Shopping for a car in person is usually quicker. It may only take a few hours or a day or two depending on how many dealerships you visit.

When you arrive at a car dealership, you can browse the available inventory, check out the different cars, and speak to salespeople. These individuals can give you more information about cars that look right for your needs or help set you up for a test drive.

It’s a good idea to check several dealerships in your area if you are looking for a specific vehicle type. Write down the prices, mileage, and features of the vehicles you discover, then compare each of them. Once you find the best one, you can go back to the dealership that has the car and go through with the purchase.

Test Drives/Inspections

Regardless of whether you buy a car online or by visiting a dealership in person, you should always take it on a test drive. Test drives usually take 15 minutes to a half-hour depending on whether you hop on the freeway.

Inspections, meanwhile, are important parts of the process when buying a used vehicle of any age. Don’t just take the seller’s word for the vehicle’s condition and potential maintenance problems. Either get a certified mechanic’s report to confirm the quality of the vehicle or take the car to a mechanic shop yourself.

This will take another few hours out of your day, but it’s well worth it. A certified mechanic can point out any issues with the used vehicle and protect you from potentially purchasing a lemon.

Signing the Paperwork

Next comes signing the paperwork, which only takes a few minutes to an hour or so. If you visit a dealership, for example, a salesperson will sit down with you and guide you through the paperwork process. This will only take a matter of minutes. Then they’ll confirm everything, get your keys, and send you on your way.

If you buy a car from a private seller, you’ll need to get the paperwork from the DMV. This will take a few hours to a few days. Then you’ll need to sign all the appropriate paperwork with the seller, which should take a few minutes in total.

Buying a New vs. Used Car Timeframe

As you can see, your car buying timeline could vary depending on whether you buy a new or used car. If you buy a new car from a dealership, the entire process will take a few hours from start to finish if you are flexible and are just looking for a good vehicle.

In contrast, the more specific you get, the more time you’ll need to spend researching vehicles, prices, and finding the right dealership for your needs. If you buy a used car, expect to spend several days to a few weeks at minimum researching, checking out different vehicles, and getting all of the appropriate paperwork together.

Regardless, buying a car shouldn’t take longer than a month at the absolute maximum unless you are looking for a specific vehicle (i.e. a specific make and model year), have a very limited budget, or have some other restricting factor.


Buying a car from start to finish will take anywhere from a day to several days or even up to a month! It all depends on your budget, your unique needs, and how careful you want to be when researching your new set of wheels.

Fortunately, renting a car is much faster and easier with Advantage Rent-a-Car. Each of our cars is thoroughly inspected before entering our fleet, and we offer convenient rentals from locations like airports and other major metro renting agencies. Rent quality vehicles quickly and easily with Advantage Rent-a-Car!

Would You Buy a Car Without Giving It a Test Drive? |
How to Inspect a Used Car | Consumer Reports
What paperwork is needed to sell a car | Chase

Recommended Articles