With car prices at record highs and inventory getting thinner, shoppers might be tempted to rush through a deal this summer without giving it much thought. But what happens if you later have buyer’s remorse, whether it be from too high of a car payment or realizing your new car isn’t actually what you wanted? Is it possible to return your car?
In most cases, the answer is "no," with an occasional "maybe." If you signed the sales contract, you own the car. And the law is on the side of the seller.
For new cars, your legal rights can be summed up in the one sentence that’s posted on the wall of many dealership sales offices: "There is no cooling-off period." This refers to the Federal Trade Commission’s cooling-off rule for some purchases. However, this rule is primarily meant to protect consumers from high-pressure door-to-door sales tactics. It explicitly does not apply to vehicle purchases.
Essentially, the dealer has to decide whether to unwind the deal or not. While business owners clearly want customers to be satisfied, undoing a car purchase is a costly headache for a car dealer. That vehicle can no longer be sold as new, and it lost some of its value once it was driven off the car lot.
You might have better luck returning a used car, but it all depends on the state where you live and the individual dealership’s policies. Some used car dealerships offer limited-day return policies, but read the fine print carefully to see what situations are covered.
Considering all this, Edmunds experts detail three common car-return scenarios people might have and offer tips for each.
If you have buyer’s remorse, you can call the salesperson first as a courtesy, but be prepared to contact someone higher up the chain, such as the sales manager, general manager or owner. Make your call on a business day as opposed to a weekend.
The majority of car dealers have no written policies that allow you to rescind the purchase agreement you’ve signed. This means your only recourse is to plead your case. You can say that you have discovered you don’t like the car or that it will stretch your budget and put you in dire financial straits.
The dealer might be willing to rework the deal to place you in a vehicle with a lower purchase price. But know that the dealer is under no legal obligation to do so.
I WAS RIPPED OFF
If the car salesperson you worked with didn’t keep promises, or you suspect fraud, you might have a case. The best way to reach a resolution is to simply return to the dealership and ask to speak to the manager in a calm tone. Yelling and cursing won’t get you anywhere.
Be prepared to prove your case with any documentation you can find, such as emails or text messages. The goal is to show that you were promised one price but charged another.
Consumers who cry foul on price are at least partially to blame. Buying a car can be an emotional purchase and can cause some people to lose sight of the details. If you’re on the brink of a deal in the showroom and think you don’t have enough information to proceed, don’t. It is better to walk away from a deal 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 deal you feel comfortable with.
THE CAR’S A LEMON
Sometimes a buyer quickly decides the car is defective and wants to exchange it for a different one or cancel the deal. But it takes time out of service and repeated visits to the repair shop — for the same issue — to legally establish that a car is a lemon and have a vehicle considered under the lemon law. Make sure you brush up on the lemon law in your state to help determine if this is the proper course of action.
In situations in which there’s a clear problem with a new car, the dealer will often fix it under warranty. If no warranty exists, as with many used cars, you can still lobby to have the car fixed.
EDMUNDS SAYS: When the typical response to unwind a deal is likely to be "no," it’s best to never put yourself in the position of asking. Head off any issues 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.