Can I Return a Car I Just Bought?

Alcoa, Tennessee, USA - April 10, 2011: The used car lot of a Honda dealer is dominated by late model used Hondas with a banner proclaiming them to be certified, that is to have a full Honda warranty.
WendellandCarolyn / Getty Images

Buyer’s remorse doesn’t always happen immediately, but if it does, you can usually return new purchases for a full refund — at least when you’re buying consumer goods like clothes, gadgets or toys. When it comes to large purchases such as cars, however, things get complicated.

Automobile return and refund rules are “notoriously strict,” according to an report published earlier this year. Car contracts aren’t very lenient about letting you return a vehicle you already drove off the lot, and many auto dealerships are not anxious to accept returns and provide refunds. It often comes down to the individual dealership — and most are unlikely to let you return it, experts say.

One thing you can’t depend on is a “cooling off period” that lets you return your car for a full refund after a certain number of days, This is something many consumers mistakenly think applies to auto purchases. As Edmunds noted, there is a federal cooling-off rule, but it’s mainly there to protect consumers from high-pressure door-to-door sales tactics.

“It explicitly doesn’t apply to automobiles,” Edmunds said. “In other words, if you signed the sales contract, you own the car. And the law is on the side of the seller.”

That doesn’t mean you’re always stuck with a car you immediately regret buying. If you bought a used car, for example, you’ll have a much better chance of returning it.

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As Credit Karma reported, used vehicle dealers such as CarMax and online marketplaces such as Carvana and Vroom have policies that let customers return cars they’ve bought, under certain conditions. You’ll want to make sure that the dealer explicitly allows returns. If so, you’ll usually be able to return the car if you follow the terms of the policy. Just keep in mind that any such policy will have a time limit, such as three to seven days.

Even if you’re buying a new car, you should still ask the dealer whether they accept returns before you complete the purchase. This way you’ll at least know for sure. If the dealer says they will accept returns under certain conditions, make sure you get that in writing before signing on the dotted line.

Some states also have “lemon laws” that aim to protect consumers from vehicles that either don’t work the way they should or are unsafe. If you buy one of these vehicles and the dealer can’t fix the problem, you might be entitled to a refund or a replacement car that’s similar in value. Check the regulations in your state to see if it has lemon laws on the books.

If you can’t return a car you’ve just bought, then it’s time to think about other alternatives. These typically include either trying to sell it or trade it in. Be prepared to take a financial hit, though. As Credit Karma pointed out, cars begin to depreciate as soon as you drive them off the lot, so don’t expect to recoup the full price you paid.

Make Your Money Work for You

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