Can You Return a Car After Buying It?

If you've changed your mind about your recent car purchase, getting your money back could be a difficult process.

Two hands exchanging car keysAdobe Stock


Buying a new car can be an exciting experience. But after driving it home, you may realize your new purchase isn't exactly what you expected. Whether you spot an issue or simply regret buying the vehicle, you might even wish you could take it back.

Although it's possible to return a car to a dealership after purchase, there are a lot of hurdles and requirements that make it difficult to receive a full refund. If you're experiencing buyer's remorse, there could be a few additional options to explore when deciding whether to attempt a return.

Can You Return a Car to the Dealership?

Whether or not you can return a car will likely depend on your dealership's policies. Some national-chain dealerships have policies in place that can save you the hassle of having to justify your return. However, they often have a time or mileage limit, so check the fine print before you start the return process.

Dealerships are not legally required to offer a return policy. Even the federal cooling-off rule, a law which gives you three days to cancel certain purchases, doesn't carry over to vehicles.

Returning a new car may also be more difficult than taking back a used car, since used cars lose value at a slower rate when you drive them off the lot. Between depreciation and registration, a new vehicle that's returned to a dealer will likely have to be sold as used — leading to a potential loss for the dealer.

Reasons for a Return and How to Handle Them

Returning a car because you've simply changed your mind isn't likely to work — unless you know the dealer has an existing return policy. You may be able to convince a sales manager under the right circumstances, but it's highly unlikely.

While a dealer might be willing to let you trade your vehicle in for another one, a refund will not commonly be offered for buyer's remorse. Some strong justifications for your return, however, may allow you to get your money back.

For example, if you believe you have been sold a defective vehicle, lemon laws could help you get a refund. Lemon laws are rules that protect buyers in the instance that they buy a car with a non-repairable defect, whether it be new or used.

However, it takes significant time and effort to prove that your car is, in fact, a lemon. Rules vary from state to state, but you're often required to make multiple attempts at repairing the issue before you qualify. These laws are even more limited when it comes to used cars, with only seven states currently offering protection.

If you feel overcharged for your vehicle — perhaps finding it listed for less elsewhere — you could attempt a return, but this process may also be difficult. The first step would be to bring the issue up with the dealer. If a resolution can't be reached, you may need to hire a lawyer, which could cost you even more.

Getting Your Money Back

If you are able to successfully return your car, you may not receive a full refund. Depending on the amount of depreciation your car has undergone during the return process, you could lose out on the difference between your car's current value and the original price.

If you successfully return a new car based on lemon laws, you should be eligible for either a refund or buyback from the manufacturer. In this case, you will need to reach out to the manufacturer and potentially go through arbitration if you and the manufacturer cannot reach an acceptable solution on your own.

Some dealers may offer you an exchange instead of a cash refund. Manufacturers such as Mercedes-Benz offer a seven-day or 500-mile trial period for their certified pre-owned vehicles, letting you swap out your purchase for another vehicle of similar value.

Financial Alternatives to Returning Your Car

Some alternatives to returning your car might be more worth your time if you're dedicated to recouping some of your investment. The first alternative could be trying to sell your car yourself. Although listing and managing your own sale could be time intensive, this method could be your best bet for getting close to the full price of your vehicle.

If you want to return your car because the payments are too high, you could try to refinance your car loan. Refinancing may help you keep your car under more manageable loan terms.

As a last resort, you could also opt for voluntary repossession if you have no other choice. Voluntary repossession is when you request that the dealer repossess your vehicle and sell it, which could help remove your remaining loan responsibility. However, dealers may still report this to the credit bureaus, which can hurt your credit score.

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Elliot Rieth
Elliot Rieth is a writer who was born and raised in Michigan, the center of the American automotive industry. With a background in the industry that spans from sales to digital marketing, Elliot has years of experience working directly with dealers and OEMs to create digital content and educate potential customers. When Elliot isn’t writing about horsepower or EVs, he can be found with his two greyhounds enjoying a new book or record.