Can You Return the Car You Just Bought?

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Can You Return the Car You Just Bought?

Under Some Circumstances, a Dealer Might Take a Car Back


It's the morning after your big car purchase and you wake up with a knot in your gut. The car you bought suddenly seems like too much car for your needs, the monthly payments are high and you bought an expensive warranty. Long story short, you want to return the car.

Most stores let you return clothes and products if you change your mind. But that's almost never the case with cars, where return policies and laws are notoriously strict. Nevertheless, car buyers with buyer's remorse ask us all the time: Can I unwind the deal?

The answers are "no" and "maybe."

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."

There is a federal cooling-off rule, which is primarily meant to protect consumers from high-pressure door-to-door sales tactics. It doesn't apply to automobiles. If you signed the sales contract, you own the car. And the law is on the side of the dealer.

So, what can you do about that knot in your gut? Here's where the "maybe" comes in. Essentially, it is up to the dealer's discretion whether to unwind the deal. While business owners clearly want customers to be satisfied, undoing a car purchase is a costly headache for a car dealer. But there are times when it's the right thing to do. That's the viewpoint laid out in "Unwinding a Deal," an article in a dealer publication, F&I Showroom. The author is Marv Eleazer, finance director at Langdale Ford in Valdosta, Georgia.

Addressing other car-selling professionals, Eleazer writes: "There are situations where we must swallow our pride and endure the hassle of unwinding a deal." He goes on to address several specific situations: if the car doesn't perform as promised, if the buyer has misrepresented his credit score and if the salesperson has over-promised and under-delivered on the deal.

Obviously, unwinding a deal is a gray area, and the buyer must carefully approach the dealer with such a request. While each situation is different, let's look at three common scenarios.

"I Have Buyer's Remorse"
In recent years, some manufacturers such as Chevrolet have offered car-return programs. But the vast majority of dealers have no written policies allowing vehicles to be returned. This means that your only recourse is to plead your case. You can say that you have discovered that you don't like the car or that it will stretch your budget and put you in dire financial straits.

If you have buyer's remorse, you can call the salesperson first as a courtesy, but be prepared to contact someone higher up the dealership food chain, such as the sales manager, general manager or owner. It's in the dealer's sole discretion to undo the purchase.

"I Got Ripped Off"
In "Confessions of a Car Salesman," undercover car salesman Chandler Phillips recalls that a couple appeared in the showroom yelling and waving their sales contract. A group of sales managers surrounded the two and escorted them to the back of the dealership.

Apparently, they had bought a car the day before, Phillips writes. They went home and reviewed the contract and felt they got ripped off. "I heard one of the sales managers say: 'Buying a car is like going to Vegas — sometimes you win and sometimes you lose.'"

This is a harsh response that is probably not indicative of what most dealers would tell a customer. But it does underscore how difficult it is to get a deal reversed just because you think you paid too much.

If, however, the salesman didn't keep his promises, or you suspect fraud, you might have a case. But don't make wild, unfounded accusations. Instead, use any documentation you can find. If you feel you paid way too much, reference True Market Value (TMV®) pricing as proof of an acceptable price.

Consumers who cry foul on price are at least partially to blame. Perhaps a pushy salesman exploited their lack of knowledge. Preparation and research are essential for such a large purchase and, clearly, these two were unprepared to enter the arena. Once at the dealership, they should have simply walked out rather than buying the car and then arguing — after the fact — that they'd paid too much.

"I Bought a Lemon!"
It takes time, and repeated visits to the service bay, to legally establish that a car is a lemon. However, buyers may quickly feel their car is defective and want to return it or exchange it for a different one. This is particularly true in the case of used cars.

In situations where there is a clear problem with a new or newly purchased used car, the dealer will probably fix it under warranty. If no warranty exists, as with many used cars, you can still lobby to have the car fixed. The dealer's incentive is that by doing so, he'll build good will and attract repeat customers.

The Dealer's Perspective
It's helpful to understand the dealer's point of view to reach an acceptable solution to this problem. Responding to Edmunds questions by e-mail, Marv Eleazer writes, "There is no problem that can't be resolved when people take a mature approach. Dealerships really are looking for repeat business and make great strides to create an environment that promotes long-term relationships with their customer base."

He adds: "The best way to resolve these misunderstandings is to simply return to the dealership and ask to speak to the manager in a calm tone. Drama and shouting does not impress. Asking for help does."

In cases of buyer's remorse — perhaps if a person bought too much car for his budget — Eleazer writes that the dealer might be willing to place him in a more affordable car. But dealers are "under no obligation to do so either legally or morally."

If You Still Don't Get Satisfaction
If your grievances are deep, or you complained to the dealership to no avail, there are still a few things you can do. Obviously, you can hire a lawyer and sue the dealership. But this is costly and time-consuming. So let's look at other options.

You can register a complaint against the dealership through local and state agencies. Go to the Web site for your state's department of motor vehicles to see if there is a way to file a complaint.

Your state's attorney general's office is another place to look for information on how to file a complaint against a car dealership. The attorneys general Web site for your state will provide information on local laws and the complaint process.

Another avenue is the Better Business Bureau. Ideally, the time to check the dealership for consumer complaints is before you buy a car. The same goes for's Dealer Ratings & Reviews and other online reviews such as those posted on Google or Yelp. But after the fact, you might be able to get the BBB to bring some pressure on the dealership to resolve a dispute. Short of that, threatening to write a nasty online review or give the dealership failing grades on a manufacturer's post-purchase survey might carry some weight.

While a consumer might be able to force a dealership to take a car back, it's far better to avoid such difficulties in the first place. When we buy cars for the Edmunds long-term test fleet, we usually ask to have the contract faxed or e-mailed to our offices before we take delivery. This gives us a chance to review the contract and all the prices. We plug the numbers into our own calculators and make sure everything adds up correctly.

When the responses to your plea to unwind a deal are likely to be "no" or "maybe," it's best to never put yourself in the position of asking. Avoid the unwind bind by being a prepared car buyer who knows a car's pricing, reads the sales contract carefully and fully inspects a new or used car before taking ownership.

To find a dealership that knows how to treat shoppers right, please visit's Dealer Ratings and Reviews.



  • letsrunum letsrunum Posts:

    I had Edmond Hyundai sell me a car before their own people could check the car out for problems. They sold us a car that they let us leave in with a mid size cracked windshield which is a safety hazard, they had a hail sell going on so I asked them was the car that we were buying a part of that sell they told us No! The very next day when I got to look at the car out of the rain I could notice small hail damage over the car 500$ to fix their lie! I gave the car a better look over and notice there was a plastic piece that held a rubber piece in place on the sunroof so it would function properly over a long period of time $400 to fix that. I remembered my wife telling me that 3rd gear was not right but I thought it was her just missing a gear since I made her learn on a 99 Nissan Maxima 5 speed and the car we bought was a 2007 Honda SI 6 speed. When I took it for a test drive myself across town I got it to do what my wife said which was when you were going to shift into 3rd gear it would grind and kick you back down to neutral this is when I started to kick myself in the butt because my wife was right it had transmission problems and in that damn same test drive my passenger side sun visor just fell off plus the air bag light came on the dash. I tried taking it back just the very next day after we bought it from the stealership and the only thing they would do was fix my windshield. Just 6 months later the transmission goes out from that 3rd gear proplem which Honda knows about but wont recall it because it cost me 4,000 to fix the transmission and new clutch, it would just cost them to much to fix everbodys defects that have this problem which they have a big blog on the web with tons of people having this same problem because they used brass parts in the transmission that are made to fell and they know it and I know that you dont use brass you use hardened steel dumb [non-permissible content removed] Honda and this why I stoped buying new cars.Oh I had to put front and back brakes on it in just 3 months. This car cost me 5500 in car maintenance so I now have 17500 in this car and only worth 11500 thanks stealership for not helping people get in a good car. Stay away from Bob Howard's places on Broadway this was my 2nd [non-permissible content removed] car I got from them that broke down so they must sell unreliable cars so just stay very far away you will save yourself lots of money trust me! Save yourself more money and buy an old school car like I did 1970 Cutlass Supreme which had been in the family since the 80's got it off my brother around 2002 and was still running with 300,000+miles plus racing it on the weekends in Guthrie,Ok crown of the 405 baby! I rebuilt the motor in 2007 and still no problems out of it. Insurance is very cheap you dont need a mechanic to fix things and your car will have a 4 star crash rating not like the new cars which have a one star just because they have air bags just put air bags on my old car then it would have 5 stars these new cars just dont have what it takes to be called reliable!

  • isellhondas isellhondas Posts:

    ?????? Your post was very difficult to read and impossible (at least for me) to understand. I have not heard of any transmission problems on those BUT I will say that a LOT of Civic SI's are owned by very abusive drivers. Next time I would strongly suggest a pre-purchase inspection especially if you are buying a used car from a small independent lot. These guys often buy the cars at auction that the big stores don't want.

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