In general, car dealerships don’t take returns or offer return policies for purchased vehicles. If the deal was legal and truthful, there are no federal laws requiring dealerships to accept return on car purchases. There are a few exceptions, including some that are your rights as a consumer.
Written by Attorney Aan Malahia Chaudhry.
Updated October 25, 2023
Do Car Dealerships Accept Returns?
Once you've signed a sales contract for a vehicle, the dealer usually isn’t obligated to take the car back or offer a refund or exchange.
That said, there are some exceptions to this general rule. For instance, some dealerships may have a return policy that allows you to return the vehicle if you are dissatisfied or if the vehicle has mechanical problems. This is uncommon, though, and these policies often have restrictions.
Do Lemon Laws Protect You?
You may be able to return a new vehicle you purchased under your state's lemon laws. Lemon laws are federal and state consumer protection laws that protect consumers who buy defective vehicles or certain consumer goods.
Specifically, if the defect affects the use, safety, or value of a vehicle and the vehicle can’t be repaired, then the manufacturer must replace it or repurchase it from the consumer.
You may be able to return a used car under lemon laws if your state allows it. Currently, there are only seven states that have lemon laws for used cars. These states are Connecticut, California, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, and Rhode Island.
Not Every Car Dealership Has a Return Policy
If you’re dissatisfied with the new car you purchased, you should check to see if the dealer has a return policy. Most don’t because the process can be time-consuming and costly. Some dealerships also have a limited-time exchange or car return policy.
Online car purchasing sites are becoming more and more common. If you purchased the car through a service like CarMax or Carvana, there will likely be a return policy under some conditions. Be sure you understand this policy before you make a purchase.
Can You Return a Car if It Has Serious Mechanical Issues?
If your car has serious mechanical issues, the first thing you should do is gather documents that show the mechanical problems. You may have to visit the dealer's service department multiple times. During these trips, you should make sure that the mechanical issues are reported in detail on the repair orders.
If your vehicle is beyond repair, check your state’s lemon laws to see if you’re eligible to file a claim. If you are and your claim is successful, you could get a full refund from the dealership or a comparable vehicle in exchange. If you hire an attorney to help you deal with the situation, you may also be able to recover your legal fees as well.
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Can You Return a Car if You Think the Dealership Cheated You?
Sadly, it is possible for car dealers to trick you during your car purchase. They could make false statements about the price of the vehicle, tell you one price but put another on the sales documents, or pack the contract with add-ons that you didn’t agree to.
If you think you were scammed, you can try meeting with the dealership to resolve the problem. Make sure you bring documentation to support your claim.
If you buy a used car that was wrecked or had mechanical issues the dealer knew about, legally they must disclose this information to you.
What Other Options Do You Have if You Believe the Dealer Cheated You or Was Dishonest?
If the dealership chooses not to honor your claim, you can try to resolve the issue in the following ways:
Contact Your State’s Attorney General Office
Your state’s attorney general’s office can help you understand your protections and options. They may also investigate your complaint.
File a Complaint With the Federal Trade Commission (FTC)
If your concern is primarily with false or deceptive advertisement, you can file a complaint with the FTC. If your concern is primarily with problems in your contract, contact the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). The CFPB is a federal consumer protection agency.
File a Complaint With the Better Business Bureau (BBB)
The Better Business Bureau (BBB) works with companies and consumers to come to a fair resolution.
If you want to file a complaint with the BBB, you can do so online by mail. Once the BBB processes your complaint, it will ask the dealer to respond within 14 days. The BBB will forward the response to you and the process will continue until the dispute has been resolved or the case has been terminated.
You can also write a review of the company on the BBB website. Though this won’t resolve your issue, it can be helpful to others in the future who are considering doing business with the company.
File a Complaint With Your Local Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV)
You can file a complaint with your local DMV Through their business regulation section or licensing board. The DMV may be able to assist with general claims, as well as with specific issues, including title and lien issues or incorrect paperwork.
Find an Attorney
If your claim is still not resolved, you may consider hiring an attorney to sue the dealership. This is particularly useful if the dealer didn’t disclose the condition of the car during your purchase.
The National Association of Consumer Advocates (NACA) is a great source to find attorneys for your claim against the dealer. While NACA itself does not provide legal advice or representation, it can help learn more about your consumer rights and/or connect you with an attorney through its online directory.
Can You Return a Car if You Have Buyer’s Remorse?
Buyer’s remorse is common after big purchases. Once you start making monthly payments, you may find they don’t fit well within your budget, which can lead to having second thoughts. But if you’ve already signed a sales contract, it’s unlikely that the dealer will agree to take the car back. If so, you will remain responsible for your car payments.
The Best Cure Is Prevention
To ensure you can afford your car payment, make sure you do your research. Know your budget and what the car is worth. Also, be sure to research the dealership’s policies before you make any sort of deal.
To avoid paying a price above market value, you can research prices of similar vehicles on Kelley Blue Book, Edmunds, and Carfax. These sites provide an estimated car value based on the condition, year, make, and model of the vehicle. This will help you get an idea of the car’s value before you head to a dealership.
Are Car Sales Subject to the Federal Three Day Cooling-Off Rule?
Unfortunately, no. The Federal Trade Commission's cooling-off rule gives you a three-days “cooling-off period” to cancel purchases of $35 or more that are made at temporary locations (for example, if you make a purchase from a door-to-door salesperson). Vehicle purchases don’t fall within this rule.
Are There Any State Laws That Protect You?
The cooling-off rule is federal, and your state may have its own grace period. For instance, California state law provides a grace period to return a used car that cost less than $40,000. It’s called a contract cancellation option agreement, and it’s outlined in the California Car Buyer’s Bill of Rights.
You can check your state’s DMV website to see if your state has a similar law.
What Are Your Options if the Dealer Won't Take the Car Back?
If you can’t return the car or find relief through filing a complaint, you still have a few options, though none are ideal. Here are a few to consider:
Sell Your Car
Keep in mind that you probably won’t be able to recoup your full purchase price by selling your car, but you will recover some money from a sale.
Refinance Your Car Loan
There are two ways that you can refinance your car loan.
Extend the loan period — this allows you to make smaller payments each month. But it often means you end up paying more in interest in the long term.
Get a lower interest rate — this can decrease your monthly payment, though it may not be a significant decrease. Since refinancing means you are opening a new loan, you may also have to pay loan fees.
Consider Voluntary Repossession
If you are falling behind on car loan payments, you may consider a voluntary repossession as a last resort. This is when you turn over your car to the lender voluntarily. Your lender can repossess your vehicle because the lender secures your auto loan with the vehicle purchase.
When the car is later sold, the sale proceeds will go toward paying off the loan. If the car was sold for less than the loan balance you will owe a deficiency balance. Keep in mind that any prior missed payments and the repossession could still show up in your credit report, which can hurt your credit score.
Although there are certain exceptions, you can’t generally return a car you just bought to the dealer. Some dealers have a return policy, but most don’t. If you want to return a vehicle, in most cases the dealer will be the one who decides whether they’ll allow it or not.