Today is the day, and you're ready to go. It's time to get your new car.

You've read our article about what you need to bring to the dealership. You've called ahead and set up an appointment with a salesperson with whom you feel comfortable. You've even picked out a car from the dealer's online inventory and worked out the price of your new car. All that's left is to is deal with your trade-in, test-drive the new car to ensure it's right for you, and do the final purchase paperwork.

But you've heard that deals can still take hours to finish, even when the negotiations are done over the phone or online. How can you avoid getting trapped in a marathon deal? Here are a few tips that will keep your time in the dealership to a minimum. In fact, if you use all these tips, you'll save two hours or more.

Have Your Paperwork Ready

It's easy enough to blame the dealership for an extra-long sales process. However, car buyers themselves are often the main ingredient in a slow-paced deal. The reason is simple: Buyers arrive at the dealership unprepared. The first tip for a speedy sales process is to go to the dealership with the right paperwork in hand. Make sure your documents are current.

You'll need to bring:

  • Your driver's license
  • An auto insurance card
  • A down payment (in the form of a personal check, cashier's check, or credit-card payment)
  • Your preapproved loan from a lender, if you are not using dealership financing
  • Your trade-in's pink slip or payoff information
  • Supporting documents you'll need if you want to take advantage of a special manufacturer rebate, military or recent college graduate rebate

Make sure your documents are current. If they aren't up-to-date or, worse yet, you forget to bring the right paperwork altogether, expect lengthy delays while you and the dealership personnel work out how to get the needed documents. This can be a time-consuming exercise, especially if you're trying to make a deal after hours, over a weekend or during a holiday.

Estimated time savings: 30 minutes

Test-Drive During Your Appraisal

One of the easiest ways to shed downtime is by having your trade-in appraised early during your dealership visit.

After arriving at the dealership and meeting your salesperson, it's time to get down to business. Tell your salesperson you'd like to have the trade-in appraisal process started as soon as possible because you're planning to make this a quick and easy deal. This will do more than get the appraisal going; it will also set the tone for the rest of your visit.

The dealership usually does its appraisal after the test drive is over, while the car buyer waits in the showroom. But it doesn't have to be that way. The appraisal can happen at any time in the deal, and the biggest time-saver is to have two things happen at once: You take a test drive while the dealership does its trade-in evaluation.

A trade-in appraisal for a vehicle is generally a two-step affair. First, the salesperson collects the trade-in's basic information on an appraisal form and hands it over, along with the trade-in's keys, to the used-car manager or sales manager. The used-car manager or sales manager also checks out the vehicle and begins to determine the value. That determination is the part that takes longest.

Your salesperson usually doesn't need to be around while the management team works out the trade-in value. After the salesperson gives the trade-in information to the manager who will determine the trade-in offer, the two of you are free to spend some time in your potential new car. Ideally, the dealership management team will have a trade-in offer ready for you by the time you get back from your initial demonstration and test-drive.

Estimated time savings: 30 minutes

Make F&I Wait Time Work for You

You've done all the hard work, and the deal is almost complete. You've selected the right car, agreed on the deal terms, and filled out the initial paperwork. Now it's time to wait for your turn to go to the finance department (known as F&I) to sign final purchase documents. This is usually the longest stretch of downtime in the sales process. Here are a couple suggestions to make the most of it:

Consider extended warranties or other products: Tell the salesperson about any after-sale items you're interested in, and ask for the prices while waiting for your turn in the finance and insurance office. Simply asking, "I'd like to know how much a seven-year, 100,000-mile warranty costs" or "How much is gap insurance?" will usually do the trick. A sales manager will likely know the prices for these products, and can tell you not only what they cost but also how much they will increase your monthly payment if you're planning on rolling them into your car loan.  While you're waiting to fill out purchase or lease documents in the finance and insurance office, you can decide if you want the products or not rather than waiting to do it in the finance office. You might even have time to do online comparison shopping so that you can do some price haggling for the products you want.

Estimated time savings: 15 minutes

Learn your new car's features: Ask your salesperson if he or she can bring over a car that's identical to the one you're buying and show you how to use its features. Getting your lesson while waiting for your turn in the finance office is more than a great way to fill the downtime; it also shaves the instruction time from the end of the deal.

Estimated time savings: 30 minutes

Give the Dealer a Deadline

Here's an approach that could seriously cut down on your time in the dealership: Give the salesperson a deadline to get you out of the finance and insurance office. An hour is reasonable on a sleepy weekday. However, 90 minutes might be more appropriate if the showroom looks busy or if you're buying your new car on a weekend. If the deal can't be completed in that time, say that you'll be leaving and request to have the vehicle and paperwork delivered to you.

Here is why this works: As a rule, a dealership will want you to do business within its walls. The chances that you will buy that extended warranty or aftermarket product drop considerably once you leave the dealership. In addition, any contract mistakes or paperwork problems are far easier to fix on the dealership premises rather than at another location such as your home or office. If a dealership is given the option, most will prefer to have the deal done on their own premises. Telling the dealership that if the deal takes too long you'll be heading home is a great motivator to move the process along.

A deadline encourages your salesperson to push the management team to move as fast as possible to get the deal done. A salesperson who has already made a deal does not want it to turn into a home delivery, especially on a busy weekend. A salesperson will likely do all he or she can to keep the process moving.

Estimated time savings: 30 minutes