Can You Return a Car You Just Bought?  Buyer’s Remorse Law and More

Problem: “The dealership ripped me off”

If the car salesperson you worked with didn’t keep promises or you suspect fraud, you might have a case. But don’t make wild, unfounded accusations. Instead, use any documentation you can find. If you think you paid way too much, reference the Edmunds Suggested Price as proof of the vehicle’s market value and an acceptable price. There are also times when people go overboard on the options they purchase in the F&I room before signing a contract. Things such as extended warranties or curbed wheel coverage can add thousands to the loan price and inflate the monthly payment.

Advice: You’re not likely to get an additional discount on the car or a better offer for your trade-in after the fact. If you are one of those buyers who purchased additional products and warranties, they can often be canceled and the money returned to you. This will reduce the price of the loan, increase your chances of getting a better interest rate when refinancing, and save you more in the long run.

Consumers who cry foul on price are at least partially to blame. Preparation and research are essential for such a large purchase, and if you’re on the brink of a deal in the showroom and think you don’t have sufficient information to proceed, don’t. It’s better not to buy the car than to argue after the fact that you paid too much. Your best bet is to do your pricing research online and work out a nearly painless deal with the dealership’s internet sales manager.

Problem: “My car is a lemon”

Sometimes a car will have a few issues shortly after the purchase. The customer quickly decides the car is defective and wants to exchange it for a different one or cancel the deal. But the car must have multiple visits to the dealership’s service department and needs to be out of commission for an extended time — for the same issue — to legally establish that a car is a “lemon” and have a vehicle considered under the lemon law. If you purchased a used car that still has a manufacturer’s warranty, the lemon law should still apply. Make sure you brush up on the lemon laws in your state to help determine if this is the proper course of action. Used cars are trickier since many are sold “as-is,” meaning the onus is on the buyer to have it inspected and determine its condition.

Advice: In situations in which there’s a clear problem with a new car, you need to allow the dealership a chance to fix it under warranty. If no warranty exists, as with many used cars, you can still lobby to have the car fixed. The dealer’s incentive to make such repairs is to build goodwill and attract repeat customers. Buyers who fear being stuck with a lemon can opt for a certified pre-owned vehicle, which tends to be pricier but usually comes with a limited warranty for added peace of mind.

When can you return a used car?

Used cars have more options when it comes to returning them, even though they come with a number of caveats. In California, for example, a customer can buy a “cancellation option agreement” for vehicles under $40,000 purchased at a dealership. The contract gives a person up to two days to return the vehicle provided it is driven no more than the specified mileage, the buyer has all the original paperwork, and it’s in a similar condition to when it was purchased.

Some online used car outlets will offer money-back guarantees provided a number of requirements are met. The return windows from Carvana and Vroom are about seven days, while CarMax offers an impressive 30 days. Be aware that there are mileage and return policy requirements and restocking fees to consider. If the vehicle is transferred from elsewhere, the shipping charges may not be refunded. It can also take a few weeks for the refund to be issued. Finally, if there is negative equity in the car loan, you’ll once again be responsible for paying that off.

If you still don’t get satisfaction

If your grievances are deep, or you have complained to the dealership for no availability, there are still a few things you can do. Obviously, you can hire a lawyer and sue the dealership. But this is costly and time-consuming. So let’s look at other options.

You can register a complaint against the dealership through local and state agencies. Go to the website for your state’s Department of Motor Vehicles to see if there is a way to file a complaint.

Your state attorney general’s office is another place to look for information on how to file a complaint against a car dealership. The National Association of Attorneys General lists the state attorneys general and their offices’ websites. From there you can find information on laws and the complaint process.

Another avenue is the Better Business Bureau. Ideally, the time to check the dealership for consumer complaints is before you buy a car. The same goes for Edmunds’ Dealer Ratings & Reviews and other online reviews such as those posted on Google or Yelp. But after the fact, you might be able to get the BBB to bring some pressure on the dealership to resolve a dispute. Short of that, threatening to give a dealer a bad rating or review online, or on a manufacturer’s post-purchase survey, might carry some weight.

How to avoid the problem

While you might be able to pressure a dealership into taking a car back, it’s far better to avoid such difficulties in the first place. If you’re unfamiliar with the sales contract, ask to have it emailed to you before taking delivery. Even if the finance manager snaps a photo of the pricing page of the contract and emails or texts it to you as an image, it gives you a chance to review it and all the prices. Make sure to ask for the “out-the-door” price, to see all aspects of the deal. Then you can plug the numbers into the Edmunds calculator and make sure everything adds up correctly.

Edmunds says

Many of these problems can be resolved when people take a mature approach. “Dealerships really are looking for repeat business and make great strides to create an environment that promotes long-term relationships with their customer base,” Eleazer told Edmunds. “The best way to resolve these misunderstandings is to simply return to the dealership and ask to speak to the manager in a calm tone. Drama and shouting does not impress. Asking for help does.”

It is best to never put yourself in the position of having to ask to cancel a car deal. Avoid the unwind bind by being a prepared car buyer who knows a car’s pricing, reads the sales contract carefully, and fully inspects the car before taking ownership.