What to Expect When You Buy a Car From a Dealership

Facts about buying a car at the dealership

Car dealer shows woman tablet in car at dealershipShutterstock

Originally published on October 31, 2017

Article QuickTakes:

Walking into a gleaming dealership and running your hands along the hood of a shiny new ride can be a pretty awesome experience. But hitting a dealership isn’t just about test drives and deciding if you like the leather or the leatherette. It’s where the business of car buying goes down, and the better you’re prepared, the smoother the process may be—and the faster you may be able to drive off in your new set of wheels.


Before you step foot inside the dealership, it’s important to do your research. Read online reviews of the dealership and find a dealer with a good reputation and positive reviews. Keep an eye out for any potential red flags like poor customer reviews and watch for similar complaints to get a good idea of whether or not the issue seems to be repeated.

You should also research the make and model you're interested in purchasing before you visit the dealer. This will help you understand the different features available, the price range, and other information that will help you to make the best decision for your circumstance.


When buying a car, consider bringing the following items with you to help save time spent at the dealership.

  • Driver’s license
  • Title and registration for your trade-in
  • Account number for your trade-in (if there’s an outstanding loan)
  • Proof of insurance
  • Proof of income
  • Proof of residency, such as a recent utility bill
  • Verification of employment, such as a recent pay stub

Call or contact the specific dealership to better understand what you’ll need for your individual scenario, or find a more detailed run-down of what you should bring with you.

Once you’ve done your research and gathered your paperwork, it’s time to head to the dealership and connect with a salesperson.


It’s time to head to the dealership and connect with a salesperson. This is your chance to ask questions and test drive a car—and since you and your vehicle may have a long relationship, make sure you feel comfortable behind the wheel.

You should feel empowered to negotiate on price. There are many online sources available, so be sure to do your research before your dealership visit.

Once you find the car you want and you settle on the terms, you’ll meet with the finance and insurance (F&I) manager to sign the sales contract and other paperwork, including, but not limited to:

  • Loan documents if you need financing
  • Title registration
  • Documentation for any optional products, such as an extended warranty (if purchasing)

You may be able to also negotiate the cost of those optional add-on products, as well as your financing terms. Whether you drive your new car off the lot that day or you need to come back and pick it up later, the time of delivery is your last chance to inspect the car for damage and make sure everything’s as expected. If all is good, the car is now yours, although some dealerships may allow you to return the vehicle within a certain timeframe (usually 48-72 hours) and void the deal if you’re not satisfied. That’s not always an option, though, so be sure to ask the dealer/salesperson about the dealership policies for returning a purchased vehicle.

This site is for educational purposes only. The third parties listed are not affiliated with Capital One and are solely responsible for their opinions, products and services. Capital One does not provide, endorse or guarantee any third-party product, service, information or recommendation listed above. The information presented in this article is believed to be accurate at the time of publication, but is subject to change. The images shown are for illustration purposes only and may not be an exact representation of the product. The material provided on this site is not intended to provide legal, investment, or financial advice or to indicate the availability or suitability of any Capital One product or service to your unique circumstances. For specific advice about your unique circumstances, you may wish to consult a qualified professional.
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Capital One
Banking should leave you with the same great feeling you get when you drive casually on a weekend afternoon. And that’s how I feel when writing helpful tips and reviews – passionate about cars and passionate about financing and everything in between when buying a new ride.