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What to Bring With You When You Buy a New Car

Having These Documents Will Make Car Buying Go Faster

Buying a new car can be a slow process since it includes arranging financing and registering the car, paying for it and signing sales contracts. It took new-car buyers on average 3.6 hours to complete a purchase in 2017, according to the J.D. Power U.S. Sales Satisfaction Index.

Some of that time goes to negotiating and filling out paperwork. It also accounts for the time that dealer staff spends explain the audio, entertainment, safety and navigation systems in a new vehicle.

What can really bring a slow process to a grinding halt is failing to have the right paperwork. Here's what you must have in hand to save you aggravation and hours of waiting when you're buying a new vehicle:

Gathering all the documents you need to buy a new car can put you in the fast lane at the dealership.

Gathering all the documents you need to buy a new car can put you in the fast lane at the dealership.

Must-Have Paperwork Checklist

Your payment: Payment can be a check from a bank or credit union for a preapproved loan. When the dealership is handling the financing, the down payment, it can be in the form of a cashier's check, a personal check or even a credit card payment. 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 vehicle 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 car 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 DMV. 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 car 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 email 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 your trade-in's loan: If you are trading in a used 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.

Rebate eligibility documents: If you want to take advantage of a special manufacturer rebate, such as a military or recent college graduate rebate, be sure to bring along supporting documents.

See Edmunds pricing data

Has Your Car's Value Changed?

Used car values are constantly changing. Edmunds lets you track your vehicle's value over time so you can decide when to sell or trade in.

Price history graph example

Frequently Asked Document Questions

Q: Do dealerships register cars for you?
A: Yes. Most dealerships, new or used, should be able to process a vehicle's registration at the time of purchase. The dealership will charge fees for this, and those are included in the total sale or "out the door" price. Next, you'll either get your license plate or a temporary registration tag, depending on the state. Make sure you have either of these before driving home.

If you're buying a car from another state, however, the dealer may not be equipped to handle that state's registration. In this case, we recommend obtaining a temporary "drive away" permit from the out-of-state seller and heading to your local department of motor vehicles to pay any fees or sales taxes and get the vehicle registered.

Q: Do car dealers accept personal checks?
A: Yes, dealerships will willingly accept personal checks for both down payment or for the purchase in total. However, dealerships have been known to reject temporary checks, and they will often refuse to take a check from a person who is not party to the car deal itself. In most cases, though, getting a cashier's check or money order for a car deal isn't necessary.

Q: Will I need to provide pay stubs when I buy a car?
A: Shoppers who are approved for standard financing usually won't need to provide pay stubs. If you're new to the state or country, or if you have limited or bad credit, you may need to submit a few copies of recent pay stubs with your deal if the bank requires proof of employment and income.

Q: Can I put the entire car purchase on my credit card?
A: Unless you're buying a very inexpensive car — under $3,000, for example — the answer is probably no. It doesn't benefit the dealership to take full payment via credit card: The credit card company's transaction fees could erase any profit the dealership could make on the sale. Plus, there's the concern about buyers changing their minds on the purchase and canceling it by contacting the credit card company and alleging fraud or disputing the purchase in some other way. Dealerships also refuse to allow big-dollar charges because they are concerned about being victims of credit card fraud themselves.

You can, however, make a down payment with your credit card. Most dealerships will limit you to about $3,000. The absolute maximum we've seen is $5,000.