Anyone that remembers their last car buying experience can attest to the fact that it takes significantly longer than expected. It’s not unusual to spend upwards of five hours between the test drive, price negotiations, and stacks of paperwork with the salesperson and Finance & Insurance. Pro tip - take the coffee you're offered and maybe bring some snacks. Modern tech hasn't really cut down on the time it takes to get through it all.
What else can be done on your part to keep the process moving along? Aside from doing extensive research and getting pre-approved for a car loan, the best thing you can do is ensure that you have all the necessary documents in tow so you don’t have to go back home or fish for the required information. You don't want to spend more time in there than you have to... unless you're a masochist, that is.
1. Your Driver's License
Luckily, you have the first item in your wallet already (well, at least you should). You’ll need your license to test drive cars and also to use as proof of identity for your payment. As long as you don’t get so caught up in the excitement of car shopping that you forget your wallet at home, you’ll have this one covered. Your address on the license should also be current. Oh, and make sure it's not expired before you even think about leaving the house.
2. Your Payment Method
Did you get pre-approved for a car loan? You'll want to bring documentation from your lender so you can purchase the car. If you're getting financing at the dealership, you'll still have the upfront expense of the down payment. You can cover the down payment with either a check or a credit card in most cases, so don't forget to bring those even if you have a pre-approved loan. You might qualify for a better rate and/or better terms at the dealership.
3. Proof of Auto Insurance
You won't be allowed to drive off the dealer's lot without proof of auto insurance. Some dealers will require you to have the car you're purchasing covered under insurance while others will simply accept proof that you have current car insurance.
4. Trade-in Vehicle's Title
The car you're trading in should really be one you own versus one you still owe money on. You should know what your title looks like (image above: Your Mechanic) and have it in your possession in a safe place. If you choose to trade in your current vehicle at the dealership where you buy your new one, you need to make sure you have the title for the car you’re currently driving. If there's a co-owner listed or if the title is in someone else's name, they will need to sign off on the transaction beforehand.
5. Vehicle Registration for Trade-in
Your car's registration is another no-brainer. You should keep your vehicle registration in your wallet along with your license. While many people keep their registration in their glove compartment, this is not advised since it makes you vulnerable to identity theft if someone breaks into your car. Before the dealer can take your trade-in, they'll need to make sure the registration is up to date.
6. Proof of Income for Auto Loan
This item doesn't apply to all car buyers, but if you didn't get pre-approved for your car loan and don't have great credit, proof of income in the form of pay stubs, bank statements or your W-2 may be required to get financing at the dealership. This may also apply if you recently moved to the state where you're buying a car.
7. Rebate and Incentive Documents
Manufacturers occasionally offer special deals for military members, students, and disabled individuals. If you're eligible for one of these incentives, make sure you bring along the proper documentation to save some money on your new car.