One of the most common complaints of car buyers is the amount of time it takes to wrap up a vehicle purchase. Depending on whom you ask, the time spent completing a deal at the average dealership is between 3.6 hours (J.D. Power 2017 U.S. Sales Satisfaction Index) and an eternity (the average shopper).
Most of the time that a buyer spends at a dealership isn't dedicated to picking out a vehicle or negotiating a price. The serious time drain results from the lags between the buying stages and in the completion of the paperwork. The latter can involve more than 40 documents and will often require multiple people to process.
But with a little preparation and a plan, you can shave at least two hours or more from your dealership visit.
MAKE A TEST-DRIVE APPOINTMENT
If you know the exact car you want to buy or test-drive, call and request that the dealership have it ready for you when you arrive. Here's why the appointment is a must: A dealership may not have space to house all of its new-car inventory on site. Vehicles are often stored at an overflow lot, which can be miles away and may take a dealership staff half an hour to retrieve. Call ahead and spare yourself the wait.
HAVE THE RIGHT PAPERWORK
To complete a car deal, you'll need your driver's license and a copy of your current auto insurance card. If you're doing your financing through the dealership, you may also need to show a current utility bill or recent pay stub. Don't forget to bring a check or credit card for your down payment.
Also make sure you have any documents you might need to confirm your eligibility for available incentives, such as a military or recent college graduate discount. The requirements vary with the carmaker, but you can save time on the ground by calling in advance of purchase to find out exactly what's needed.
If you've got a trade-in, the dealership will want to see documents such as the pink slip, registration or payment statement.
Not having these documents means you'll have to try to get them by phone or even go back home in the middle of the transaction. That's guaranteed to add time to the process. And if you need information or documents from a traditional bank or insurance agency on a weekend, holiday or after hours, expect your deal to grind to a halt.
A dealership needs to appraise the value of the car you're trading in. A sales manager or used-car manager will inspect and evaluate your car. That can easily take 20 minutes. Rather than wait around, ask the dealership to do the appraisal while you're out on your test drive.
GET TO KNOW YOUR CAR BEFORE YOU SIGN THE CONTRACT
Once you and the salesperson have agreed on terms, the next step is to sign the purchase documents. This process usually happens in the finance and insurance office and is a common bottleneck, particularly on the weekend. A dealership might have 30 salespeople but only four finance managers.
Instead of waiting around for your turn with the finance manager, make the most of this slowdown by asking your salesperson to teach you how to use the features of your new car. This phase, often called the "delivery," typically happens after you've signed your purchase or lease agreement. Flipping the order won't inconvenience the dealership, and it will make better use of your time.
SKIP THE DEALERSHIP ALTOGETHER
Here's a secret for the shoppers who know the exact vehicle they want to purchase and who have already worked out the pricing details: A dealership may be willing to deliver the vehicle and the deal paperwork to you at your home or office.
It isn't a common practice, but a growing number of dealerships are willing to offer this service in the hopes it will sway the buyer to close a deal -- now. You'll have to be flexible about the day and time of delivery. Weekends are a nonstarter, for example.
Know that some dealerships just won't deliver cars to customers. But many will. It doesn't hurt to ask.
EDMUNDS SAYS: It's unlikely that buying a car will ever be as quick as picking up a few groceries. But it doesn't have to drag on all day either. It is possible to dramatically cut your time at the dealership or even eliminate it with simple strategies.