happy car buyer woman
It is unfortunate that this question is one of the most frequently asked questions we get. There are many reasons an individual might like to take a new car back to the dealer for a refund within days of the purchase. Those reasons can range from simple buyers’ remorse (very common) to fully legitimate legal claims based on illegal actions taken by the dealership (very rare).
The most common form of buyers’ remorse is feeling as if they paid too much for their vehicle. Unfortunately this feeling only creeps in after the contract is signed and the vehicle has been delivered. In other instances it is not unheard of for recent car buyers to suffer a financial setback within days of acquiring their new car. To the afflicted consumer these are legitimate reasons to be able to return a car. However the law does not agree unless something illegal has transpired.
The truth of the matter is that dealers are under no obligation to accept your return unless the dealer’s own internal policy demands it. This is called “unwinding the deal” in car dealer parlance. In short, there is no universal “cooling off period” that protects car buyers who wish to return their vehicle to the dealership. Once you bought it, you own it. Is that the end of the story? Not really. There are certain circumstances and tactics that can be used to divest your self of a newly acquired -- yet now unwanted -- vehicle.
The first option is to simply revisit the dealership and ask if they will take the car back. They will say no, but they may offer to take your vehicle in on trade toward a new vehicle or make an offer to purchase your vehicle. In either instance you will not get a refund of the full purchase price, but you may be able to work something out that puts you in a better situation than keeping the new car.
Do not bother attempting to threaten the dealership with lawsuits or legal complaints unless you feel that the dealer has acted in an illegal manner (although you are completely within your right to do so if you wish).
You can also threaten to complain to third party regulatory bodies such as the manufacturer of the franchise of your dealer (for example, Ford or Chrysler), the Better Business Bureau, Department of Motor Vehicles, or the Attorney Generals Office. However, unless the dealership did something illegal, your chances of restitution or having the dealer take your car back are slim to none.
There are detailed and well-document laws and resources available to consumers who have purchased a vehicle classified as a “lemon.” The requirements for a vehicle to meet a lemon are very strict, and the percentage of lemons sold is rather small. One or two trips to the dealership to fix items under warranty are not grounds to pursue lemon law returns. Usually, a vehicle has to be declared essentially irreparable to fall under lemon law statues.
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There are some dealers that offer between 24-hours and up to a whopping 30 days of grace period after purchasing a new vehicle. Some dealerships return the full purchase price during this time with no questions asked while others will pro-rate your purchase just as if you had rented the car. If you want ultimate protection from buyers’ remorse it can be a wise move to purchase from dealerships with return polices. The problem here is that these dealerships are few and far between. When you are shopping dealers for a new car, ask them about any return policy. Dealers who offer such a policy are usually quite eager to point it out, as depending on your particular market it can be a very significant competitive advantage for the dealer to offer purchase grace periods.
In some instances there are legal loopholes that can be used to unwind the deal. The most common of which involves the age and legal relationships of the buyer. A minor signing the purchase contract can sometimes be grounds to unwind the deal as minors -- generally speaking -- cannot enter into legal contracts. If a minor signs on behalf of an adult it can be construed as fraud, so having your 17 year old kid sign for the car “just in case” is not exactly a good idea. Also, in some states a married person cannot purchase or sell a vehicle without the written consent (signature) of their spouse and dealers are not allowed to sell or purchase a car under such circumstances.
In rare instances, a contract can be signed with conditions that a certain financing arrangement such as a co-signer must be obtained before the contract becomes binding. Other contracts will include a “back out” clause that allows a buyer to back out of the contract before taking delivery at the expense of losing their down payment. Long story short, if it’s not on the contract, it doesn’t exist, so do not rely on these loopholes to get you out of a vehicle purchase contract.
If you feel that a legal loophole may be a way to unwind the deal, consult a lawyer who specializes in contract law as this is tricky ground and dealership know much more about contracts than the average consumer.
You can always attempt to sell the car on the private market assuming that recourse with the dealership has become a dead end. This is usually the most successful tactic when the reason for return is buyers’ remorse.
Photo by Wikimedia Commons