Can You Return a Car You Just Bought? featured image large thumb0
Return policy

If you’re buying a car, you may have heard that your purchase includes a return period. Essentially, many drivers believe that there’s a period of time after you’ve bought a car that you can return it for a full refund, as provided by law. So is it true? Do cars have a return period? We have the answer.

Can I return a car because I changed my mind?

In general, there are no laws or rules providing a return period when you purchase a vehicle. In fact, there generally aren’t any laws or rules guaranteeing a return period for anything. In most cases, it’s merely the policy of companies and retailers (like Walmart or Target) to allow refunds, rather than a legal obligation. Car companies and dealers generally don’t have this policy, which means drivers will almost always find themselves out of luck if they want to return a car like they might return a lamp or a sweater.

Sometimes the federal “cooling-off” rule gets tossed around when the discussion of whether you can return a car comes up, but that only applies to specific kinds of sales like ones made in your home by pushy door-to-door salesmen. The cooling-off rule does not apply to buyer’s remorse for cars sold at dealerships.

What if my car is a lemon?

There is, however, one major exception to what we’ve written above: the lemon law. Lemon laws allow a customer to return a seriously flawed vehicle and get a full refund from the automaker. Every state in the U.S. has a lemon law on its books and what qualifies as a “lemon” varies from state to state. The customer must prove that the vehicle has major issues, which means the car making a funny sound probably won’t be enough to qualify it as a lemon.

While the definition of major issues is different in just about every state, it usually involves the vehicle having a certain number of unscheduled repair visits in a certain time frame — such as the first 60 days of ownership — or suffering a persistent issue that the dealership can’t seem to accurately diagnose and correct. If you have a minor mechanical issue that the dealer can easily fix under warranty, that’s usually not enough to qualify for a return of the vehicle under your state’s lemon law.

If you think you might qualify for your car to be bought back under the lemon law, you’ll want to check your state laws to find out whether or not you qualify. In some cases, an attorney may even be necessary. Unfortunately for drivers who believe they’ve bought a defective used car, the lemon law almost always only applies to new vehicles. Pretty much the only way you can use the lemon law on a used car is if you bought it with an express written warranty.

What if I got ripped off?

If you truly believe that you’ve been ripped off by the dealership with an unfair deal or find out that you paid way too much for your car, it’s possible that the car might be able to be returned if you speak to the right people at the dealership. If a sales manager takes a look at a deal you made with a salesman and determines it was unfair, it might be worth it for the dealer to go through the costly process of unwinding your deal just to keep up its image as a fair dealership. Whatever you do, don’t storm into the dealership screaming at the staff. The more respectful and reasonable you are when making your case, the more likely you are to walk away with a solution that you’re happy with.

If you put your signature on a sales contract, it’s very hard to put all of the blame for a bad deal on the dealership or the salesman. It’s best for you, the consumer, to do your homework before making the purchase so you can be confident you’re making a fair deal. Some tools you can use in your research are Kelley Blue Book’s car valuation tools to determine a fair purchase price for the car you have your eye on and dealer ratings here on Autotrader to find a dealer near you with a good reputation.

How can I avoid buyer’s remorse?

Some good ways to avoid buyer’s remorse with a car purchase are to do plenty of research and to make sure you’re not rushing into buying your new car. Some people get car fever, fall in love with the first car they test drive and end up with too expensive of a car that doesn’t work for their budget. We talked earlier about the federal cooling-off period; consider giving yourself a cooling-off period between the test drive and pulling the trigger on a new car purchase. Don’t be afraid to tell the dealer you’d like to sleep on it before making a decision. We know waiting can be hard, but since a car is such a big purchase, you’ll be glad you gave yourself some extra time to think about it.

Other exceptions

There are a few other exceptions when we say that cars can’t be returned like a traditional good. For example, some dealers offer a return policy if you bring back the car within a certain number of days or miles. Some dealers — and certified pre-owned programs — boast an exchange program that allows you to bring back a vehicle and exchange it for another one if you’re unhappy after a certain time frame. And if you’re really not sure about your vehicle choice, you can always ask the dealer to write a return guarantee into the contract when you’re buying a car. Although most dealers will likely refuse to do it, some may accept the offer just to earn your business.

The bottom line: You can’t return a car just because you changed your mind about it or because the salesman was pushy unless it’s written into the sales contract that you can.