The new-car delivery process at a dealership can be agonizingly slow, since it often includes arranging financing, registering the car and signing sales contracts. New-car buyers on average spent half a work day (4.3 hours) in dealerships in 2011, according to the most recent J.D. Power and Associates U.S. Sales Satisfaction Index.

Some of that time can be chalked up to the complexity of new cars and the time it takes a salesperson to explain the audio, entertainment and navigation systems in your new vehicle. But delays also can arise when a buyer loses, forgets or has let expire the required transfer documents. So having your ducks in a row before you go to the dealership can save you aggravation and hours of waiting.

The Dealership Delivery Process

It might seem a little strange, but even though you are at the dealership, the car still needs to be "delivered" to you. Delivery, in car-lot lingo, means everything that happens after you've agreed to buy the car but before you drive it away. The Dealership Flow Chart shows you the whole purchase process. This checklist prepares you for just the delivery.

How long should the new-car delivery process take? If you are prepared and the dealership is reasonably efficient, a realistic amount of time is an hour to an hour and a half. On weekends, it can take longer. The number of weekend buyers creates a bottleneck at the door to the finance and insurance office, which is where you sign the sales contract. While each deal is different, preparation, foresight and communication will improve every experience.

There is a great way to avoid waiting around at a dealership for delivery, and we wish more people took advantage of it. It's simply this: Once you've agreed to buy a car, ask the dealer to bring the car to you at your home or office. This way, you eliminate the waiting and also the sales pitch for additional products and services that takes place in the finance and insurance office. When the salesperson brings the car and contracts to you, you have the advantage of concluding the deal on your home court.

The Checklist

If you decide to do a traditional delivery, here's what to bring with you to the dealership to speed you on your way:

  • Payment: This can be a bank or credit union check for a preapproved loan, or it can be a cashier's check, a personal check, or even a credit card payment for a down payment when the financing is done at the dealership. To find out what forms of payment the dealership will accept, call ahead of time and ask to speak with a finance manager. A tip: We strongly recommend that car buyers get preapproved financing even if they intend to finance at the dealership.
  • Your driver's license: You have to drive the car off the lot, so the dealer needs to know that you are a legally registered driver. The driver's license also serves as identification for your check or other form of payment.
  • Title for your trade-in vehicle: If you are trading in a vehicle, you will need proof that you own it. The title, sometimes called the "pink slip," shows that you are the owner. Locate that document and see how the car is "titled" (meaning, who legally owns it). If there is a co-signer or a lien against the title, get the required signature ahead of time. Be careful at this stage. Any mistakes in how the title is signed might make it unacceptable to the dealer or lead to it being rejected by the state's motor vehicle registry. Again, if you are unclear on what to do, call the dealership's finance manager ahead of time and get some help. You also can check your state's motor vehicle registry website to see where to sign the title.
  • Current vehicle registration for trade-in: If you are trading in a vehicle, you will need a copy of your current registration. Locate this important document, verify that the registration is current and also check that the sticker is on the license plate.
  • Proof of insurance: To drive a new car off the lot you need to prove that you have insurance on that car. You can call ahead and set up the new insurance policy if you know which car you are buying. Or you can call from the dealership and give your insurance company the new car's vehicle identification number (VIN). Your insurer will fax or e-mail an insurance card to the dealership. In some cases, however, all the dealer requires is for you to show that you have a current auto insurance policy. To protect yourself, it's best to plan ahead and set up the insurance for the new car.
  • Account number for trade-in loan: If you are trading in a car for which there is an unpaid loan, you will need to bring the loan's account number, which is on one of your payment stubs. Better yet, call the lender yourself, explain that you are trading in the car and ask how to facilitate the transaction. If you are car shopping on the weekend, ask if a representative is available to handle the transfer.

Here are two more tips that don't involve paperwork but will make your time at the dealership less of a chore:

  • Remove your personal belongings: A car that's neat and clean might not necessarily get you a higher trade-in value, but it will save you time at the dealership if you empty it out at home.
  • Bring snacks and water or soft drinks: If the delivery process takes longer than expected, you might need refreshment. You definitely don't want to be hungry and spacey while reading and signing important documents.