Can I Return a Car I Just Bought and How?


Unfortunately, returning a vehicle you just bought may not be as simple as returning a dress to the clothing store. Car dealerships are not legally obligated to accept returns and issue refunds once you sign on the dotted line of the sales contract. But that doesn’t mean you’re stuck with the car forever. Consider alternatives such as selling your car and buying a different model. If unaffordable monthly payments are the problem, refinancing your loan is also a viable option.

You’ve finally bought that dream car of yours, but instead of feeling on top of the world, you’re experiencing a tinge of regret. Don’t fret. You’re not alone in this. Buyer’s remorse is more common than you think. According to a 2021 LendingTree survey of 1,919 car owners in the United States, around 40% of respondents said they’ve regretted a new car purchase. And the most common reason why they felt this sting is because they wished they had purchased a different make or model.

But what do you do now that you’ve made this purchase? Can you return it to the seller? Maybe, maybe not. But if you can’t return the car, there are certainly some alternatives to consider.

Can you return a car you just bought?

In short, probably not. Whether you purchased a brand-new car from a dealership or a used car from Facebook Marketplace, the seller of the vehicle isn’t legally obligated by federal or state laws to issue you a refund or accept a return after you’ve signed on the dotted line of the sales contract. Sure, most retail stores like H&M or Target may allow you to return products for a full refund within a certain timeframe. But that’s usually not the case with a vehicle purchase.

Of course, there may be some exceptions to this rule. For example, if the vehicle you purchased has major mechanical issues and isn’t safe to drive, the dealership that sold you the car should be willing to accept a return. Also, some dealerships have return policies. For example, CarMax has a 30-day return policy that allows you to exchange the vehicle for one you like better or receive a refund.

Is there a cooling-off period for car purchases?

While some believe that the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) “cooling-off” rule provides a way to cancel a car loan within 72 hours, it’s important to note that this law doesn’t apply to car loans.

So what exactly is the cooling-off rule? According to the FTC, “The federal Cooling-Off Rule gives you three days to cancel certain sales made at your home, workplace, dormitory, or at a seller’s temporary location, like a hotel or motel room, convention center, fairground, or restaurant.” However, as stated by the FTC, “the rule doesn’t cover sales that involve cars, vans, trucks, or other motor vehicles sold at temporary locations if the seller has at least one permanent place of business.”

In other words, car dealerships have zero legal obligation to refund you unless the vehicle has mechanical issues.

What to do if you regret your car purchase?

If you’re having regrets about your recent car purchase, try not to panic. There are many ways you can remedy the situation. Here are some of them.

Talk to someone you trust.

If you’re feeling regretful about your car purchase, talk to your friends and family to get an honest opinion. Sometimes, buyer’s remorse stems from not feeling deserving of a valuable and quality item and not because you actually made a wrong purchase. Your loved ones may agree with what you chose and help you realize it wasn’t a poor purchase decision.

Contact your car dealership.

While car dealerships have no legal obligation to accept a vehicle return and provide refunds, it’s still worth talking to them to see if they could offer any solutions. Remember, they want to keep customers happy. If you’re lucky, some dealerships may allow you to switch the car, so it never hurts to try.

Seek consumer protection.

If you regret the car purchase because you felt that the dealership didn’t play fair and tricked you into accepting a terrible deal, contact your state’s local consumer protection office or the state attorney general’s office to make your voice heard.

Ezra Peterson, auto expert and senior director of adds, “If the vehicle in question is defective, you can leverage the lemon laws in your state to receive a refund or credit for the car.” Lemon laws are regulations that protect consumers if they purchase a defective vehicle. Note that these laws vary by state, and you may have a limited window of time to report your purchase as a lemon.

Refinance the car loan.

If you didn’t shop around for car loans when you initially purchased the vehicle, don’t worry. You’re not stuck with high monthly payments forever. You may be able to lower your car payments with an auto refinance. However, most financial experts recommend waiting at least six months to a year before refinancing. Taking out new loans within a short period of time could negatively impact your credit score.

Sell or trade in the vehicle.

If all else fails, you could always sell or trade in the vehicle and purchase another one that suits you better. But before listing your current car for sale, contact your lender or car dealership to understand the equity position of your vehicle.

If the car’s sales price is higher than what you owe on the loan, you have positive equity and should have no problem transferring the title to the potential buyer. However, selling a car when you owe more on the loan than the car’s value can be complicated. You’ll have to cover the negative equity amount out of pocket before you can transfer the title to the new owner.

Pro Tip

You can determine how much your car is worth by using vehicle valuation sites like Kelley Blue Book or Edmunds. Used-car buyers like Carvana could also give you a valuation for your vehicle.

Do your research before you buy

Remember, just like buying any other big-ticket item, always perform your due diligence to get the best deal and make sure your car purchase is the right fit for your lifestyle and financial needs. Making hasty decisions can leave you with regrets and headaches down the line since returning a vehicle is not as straightforward as returning a jean jacket to Zara.

And if you’re already locked into a loan with unfavorable terms, you don’t have to be stuck with it forever. We can help you compare auto refinance rates to make your car payments more affordable.


Can you back out of a car loan after signing?

It depends on the car dealership. Some dealers may agree to release you from the car loan if you pay them a non-refundable deposit, usually anywhere from a few hundred dollars to $1,000. However, some dealers may refuse to let you back out of a car loan after you’ve signed the sales contract. In this case, try paying down the loan as soon as possible and eventually sell the vehicle.

How do you deal with buyer’s remorse after buying a car?

Dealing with buyer’s remorse after making a big-ticket purchase like a vehicle can be incredibly stressful and upsetting. If you find yourself in this situation, avoid making more hasty decisions that could make you feel worse. Instead, take the time to sit with your feelings and assess why you’re feeling buyer’s remorse. Did you pay too much for the car? Did you not buy the vehicle you actually wanted? Or do you find it too expensive to maintain the car? In some cases, buyer’s remorse might just be a fleeting feeling that subsides with time.

What if you hate the car you just bought?

If you hate the car you just bought, first check the return policy of the car dealership. Though uncommon, some may offer a return policy or an exchange option if you’re unsatisfied with the purchase. And if that’s not possible, you may want to consider selling the vehicle.

Selling a car you bought with cash is relatively straightforward. But if you took out a car loan, you may need to pay it off before transferring the title to the new owner. Contact your lender or car dealership for more guidance on selling your vehicle while the loan is still in place.

Is it normal to feel regret after buying a car?

Yes, it’s normal to feel regret after buying a car, especially when the price tag is high. Buyer’s remorse can stem from various reasons, such as realizing you’ve exceeded your budget or should’ve bought another make or model. But the good news is that, for many, this feeling usually subsides within a couple of days. However, if it persists, you may want to take some of the aforementioned steps, such as contacting your dealership or selling your vehicle.

Key takeaways

  • According to a 2021 survey, approximately 40% of car owners in the U.S. have regretted their new-car purchase, with the most common reason being they wished they had purchased a different make or model.
  • Car dealers are not legally obligated to issue refunds or accept returns after the sales contract has been signed.
  • The federal “cooling-off” rule does not apply to car loans and typically cannot be used to get out of them.
  • Options for dealing with buyer’s remorse after a car purchase include talking to friends and family, contacting the dealership, seeking consumer protection, refinancing the car loan, or selling/trading in the vehicle.
  • While unlikely, there’s still a chance you could back out of a car loan. Some dealerships may agree to release you from the loan in exchange for a non-refundable deposit that could be upwards of $1,000.
View Article Sources
  1. Study: 40% of New Car Buyers Have Regrets – Kelley Blue Book
  2. Buyer’s Remorse: The FTC’s Cooling-Off Rule May Help – Federal Trade Commission
  3. State Consumer Protection Offices –
  4. Buyer’s Remorse: What It Is and How to Avoid It – SuperMoney
  5. How To Trade A Car That Is Not Paid Off – SuperMoney
  6. How To Get The Best Deal On A Used Car – SuperMoney
  7. What is a Rebuilt Car Title? A Detailed Guide – SuperMoney