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.
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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.

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Automobile return and refund rules are “notoriously strict,” according to an Edmunds.com 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.”

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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.

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.

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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.

Make Your Money Work for You

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.

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About the Author

Vance Cariaga is a London-based writer, editor and journalist who previously held staff positions at Investor’s Business Daily, The Charlotte Business Journal and The Charlotte Observer. His work also appeared in Charlotte Magazine, Street & Smith’s Sports Business Journal and Business North Carolina magazine. He holds a B.A. in English from Appalachian State University and studied journalism at the University of South Carolina. His reporting earned awards from the North Carolina Press Association, the Green Eyeshade Awards and AlterNet. In addition to journalism, he has worked in banking, accounting and restaurant management. A native of North Carolina who also writes fiction, Vance’s short story, “Saint Christopher,” placed second in the 2019 Writer’s Digest Short Short Story Competition. Two of his short stories appear in With One Eye on the Cows, an anthology published by Ad Hoc Fiction in 2019. His debut novel, Voodoo Hideaway, was published in 2021 by Atmosphere Press.
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