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Can I Return a Car?

Posted by Charlie Maniates | May 8, 2019

Buyer’s remorse is a feeling most people have experienced, and it can hit especially hard when caused by a major purchase like a car. You may have uncovered major problems, realized your monthly payments surpass your budget or just decided the car isn’t all that you thought it’d be. In these situations, your first question probably is: “Can I return it?”

Unfortunately, there are very few instances where the dealer is legally obligated to take the car back. One major exception, however, is the lemon law, which is strictly about defects, not changes of heart or mistakes on the buyer’s part.

Lemon Laws Protect Car Buyers From Defective New Vehicles

A lemon is a car that’s substantially defective and has endured prolonged out-of-service periods within a certain threshold of time and/or miles driven from when the purchase was completed. Lemon laws vary by state, so it’s important to research the exact lemon-law rules for wherever you live. Additionally, lemon laws usually cover only brand-new vehicles (sorry, used-car buyers!). 

If you think your new car may be a lemon, keep all service record paperwork to help prove your case. You may also need to consult an attorney, as establishing a car as a lemon can be an extended process. If your car isn’t a lemon, the likelihood of a refund is at the discretion of the dealer. In other words, don’t count on it.

For those of you who haven’t yet signed on the dotted line, take the following proactive approaches so you don’t back yourself into an irreversible corner.

Some States Require Dealers to Offer a Right to Cancel

The Federal Trade Commission’s Cooling-Off Rule that gives you a three-day window to cancel a sale unfortunately doesn’t extend to car purchases. However, some states do require dealers to offer purchase protections. For example, dealers in California must inform prospective buyers about cancellation option agreements that can be purchased for an additional fee when buying a used car. Find out whether your state offers a similar protection.

For states that don’t require a right to cancel, dealers are free to decide their own cancellation policies.

Determine the Manufacturer or Dealership Cancellation Policy Before Buying

Some automakers have established buyback programs in the past, typically as a means to lure consumers who were wary about the health of the company or the economy – such as when GM offered a 60-day money-back guarantee after its bankruptcy – or as an incentive to give their products a try. In 2018 Hyundai instituted a three-day money-back guarantee, but by 2019 this aspect of the Shopper Assurance program had been revised to allow only exchange for a different Hyundai vehicle.

If your dealer offers a return policy, ask about it before you sign the paperwork and be sure to get it in writing. Some may require you to pay a fee for one, some may offer it freely to persuade you into buying and some may not offer one at all. But, it certainly doesn’t hurt to inquire about it during negotiations.

Regardless of what the dealer’s policy is, though, the best protection is the one you can provide for yourself.

Thoroughly Evaluate Any Car You’re Considering Buying

Your evaluation of each potential vehicle purchase will be your best defense against buyer’s remorse. Your due diligence should include the following measures for each model.

Taking the time to verify these areas will go a long way in helping you drive off the lot as a happy customer.

Find your perfect car.

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