Can You Return a Car: Truthful Guide
I am a serial entrepreneur and a consumer advocate. When I’m not helping car buyers, I love working on ventures that have a positive impact.
Soon after buying a car, you may realize the purchase isn’t right, it’s too expensive, or something is wrong with the vehicle.
So the important question becomes, can you return a car?
In some rare cases, you may be able to return the car, but it’s quite rare. Here’s what you need to know about how to return a car.
Table of Contents
- Can I Return a Car I Just Bought?
- Reasons for Returning a Car
- Alternatives to Returning Your Car
- How to Avoid Returning a Car
- Best Car Deals by Category
- Frequently Asked Questions
Can I Return a Car I Just Bought?
There is no federal law requiring dealerships to offer a right to cancel a transaction. Some state laws may help, but most often there is nothing in place to help you return a car. Dealerships may have their own return policies within a certain period after purchase, but they aren’t legally obligated to.
Unless your reasons align with the dealership return policy, you won’t be able to return a car just because you changed your mind.
Some states do give buyers the right to cancel used cars, but it’s up to the dealer in other states.
Always ask about the return policy and have it documented in writing before going through with a car purchase.
There’s one major exception that will allow you to return a car for a full refund. Lemon Laws exist in every state, but a “lemon” may be defined differently. In general, the customer must prove that the vehicle has very significant undisclosed issues.
For example, California’s Lemon Law states that the buyer must find the defect within 18 months of delivery or 18,000 miles. Their Lemon Law covers new, used, and leased cars that are under the manufacturer’s warranty. The consumer must report the problem to the manufacturer and will be able to replace or return the car. However, the manufacturer can deduct the depreciated value.
Reasons for Returning a Car
There are several reasons why people want to return a newly purchased car. Here are some of the most common:
You thought you loved it or wanted to try something new, but this vehicle just isn’t cutting it. It will be highly unlikely that you can return the car for this reason. While the FTC has a “Cooling-Off Rule” where buyers can cancel a transaction made within 3 days, the rule doesn't apply to cars.
After buying a car, you may realize that you got ripped off. If this is the case, meet with the dealership manager. To research a fair price, check for vehicles of the same make, model, condition, and mileage. Include documentation that will back up your claim. Stay calm when presenting your claim, and keep in mind that you did sign a contract.
You may also contact your state attorney general’s office to discuss options, file a complaint (with the state consumer protection agency, FTC, or Better Business Burea), hire an attorney to sue, or leave a review detailing your experience.
Unaffordable Monthly Payments
Some people realize that the monthly payments will be too high after purchasing the car. Whether your job situation changed or the budgeting isn’t as expected, it will be tough to return the car under this circumstance. However, the dealership may be open to letting you bring the car back for something more affordable. It’s worth talking with the salesperson and dealership before trying one of the options below.
One big reason for wanting a return is severe mechanical issues. Document the mechanic problems and note all repair orders. If you feel the car is beyond repair, just a lemon, then look into your local lemon laws.
Alternatives to Returning Your Car
Most of the time, you won’t be able to return a car you bought. Here are a few alternative options:
Sell the Car
If the car is too expensive or just not the right fit for you, selling it may be a good way to recoup some of your money. Sell it privately or trade it in for a less expensive value. This option is easiest if you paid cash for your purchase. If you financed, you must first pay off the remaining loan balance, and if you sell the car for less than you owe you’ll have to pay the difference.
Refinance Your Loan
If you can get a lower interest rate or lengthen the loan term, you will reduce your monthly payments. Keep in mind that you may pay more interest over the life of the loan if you extend the term.
Ask for Voluntary Repossession
The last resort if your monthly payments are too high is to ask for a voluntary repossession. While this will eliminate your monthly payments, the repossession will be reported to credit bureaus, damaging your credit. This should only be a last resort option if you are unable to sell or refinance your car.
How to Avoid Returning a Car
Returning a car is not easy, and many times it’s impossible. While the alternatives are better than nothing, they will still cost you time and effort. Oftentimes, you won’t get back the full amount you paid.
Your best bet is to avoid needing to return a car.
Here are some helpful tips.
Know the Car’s Value
To ensure you are getting a fair deal, you need to know the vehicle’s value. Before going to a dealership, research the vehicle’s value online. Be sure to consider mileage and condition as well. This will give you a good idea of what you should expect to pay for different cars.
Determine Your Budget
To avoid getting swooned by a vehicle of your dreams, set your budget. Be realistic about what you can afford for a down payment and monthly recurring payments. Apply for loan preapprovals so you’ll have a sense of the interest rate you can expect. Estimate what you can afford in monthly payments and set a tight budget.
Prevent Buyer’s Remorse
Research, research, research. To prevent buyer’s remorse, you need to know what you are looking for and why. Evaluate:
- Use. The primary use of your vehicle. Work, family, travel, commuting, etc.
- Frequency. How often you drive.
- Drivers. Who will be using the car.
- Passengers. How many passengers you regularly have.
- Features. Which features are most important for you.
Reddit has many great resources for car-buying tips and strategies to prevent buyer’s remorse. Here are some subreddits to check out:
- /r/carbuyingadvice/. General car buying advice.
- /r/askcarsales/. Ask questions to car sales professionals and finance managers.
- /r/whatcarshouldIbuy/. Car advise for those who do not know much about cars. Filled with information on how to choose the right car.
Never skip the test drive. Get behind the wheel to see how it drives, feels, and sounds. Be thorough and try the vehicle in different driving situations.
Take your time with car buying. If something doesn’t feel quite right, wait. If you are in desperate need of a vehicle, see if you can borrow one while you car shop.
This should be your final step before purchase, so only do it for vehicles you are highly considering. Paying a few hundred dollars for one of these can save you thousands of dollars. A presale inspection from a third-party mechanic will find any current issues and upcoming repairs. Even if you want to proceed with the purchase after the inspection, you will be better equipped to get a fair deal based on what you know.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can I return a new car I just bought?
Most often, you cannot return a car you just purchased. The FTC “Cooling Off” period does not apply to cars. Some dealerships may offer a return policy, but otherwise, the only way to return is if your vehicle meets your state’s requirements of Lemon Law.
Can I return a car I just got financed?
Most dealerships do not have return policies on vehicles, so it is unlikely you will be able to return a car you just got financed.
How long do I have until I can return a car?
The time period for a car return depends on the dealer’s return policy (if they have one). There is no federal law guaranteeing buyers a right to return a car due to buyer’s remorse.
How do I return a car I can't afford?
Some dealerships may be willing to let you return the car in exchange for a more affordable one, but they are not required to do this. Start by speaking with the salesperson and manager. However, if the dealer will not help, you can instead sell the car, try to refinance it, or ask for repossession as a last resort.
Does returning a car affect my credit score?
Returning your car will not hurt your credit score, but surrendering it will. Try to avoid repossession if at all possible. See if the dealer will allow you to exchange for a more affordable vehicle, try to sell the vehicle, or consider refinancing if it’s too expensive.
Will I get my down payment back if I return a car?
The return of a down payment is dependent on the dealership’s policy. Most often, you cannot get your down payment back.
Is there a "cooling off" period for car purchases?
The FTC has a “Cooling Off” period that allows buyers to cancel a transaction for 3 days. However, the cooling-off period does not apply to cars. Therefore, there is no legal requirement for a dealership to accept car returns.