Can You Return a New Car?

How to return a car to the dealership
Ryan Hanley headshot photo. Written by Ryan Hanley
Ryan Hanley headshot photo.
Written by Ryan Hanley

Ryan Hanley is a public speaker, podcaster and author of the Amazon best-seller, “Content Warfare.” Ryan has over 15 years of insurance expertise.

Sad woman in new car.

Returning a new car to the dealer is a little like returning hot lava to a volcano. Most likely, it's not going to happen without a lot of time, finesse and perhaps an attorney.

But it isn't impossible. In fact, some dealerships now offer a no-hassle new car return policy to attract buyers with low-risk deals and trial periods. You do have to act fast, however.

Kathryn Hatter at The Nest writes, "Make your return decision as quickly as possible. Some auto dealers have a 24-hour return policy for new car purchases. If you think you’re going to return the vehicle, don’t drive it. Keep it in new condition." 

Even if your dealership offers no solution for auto buyer's remorse, you might still be able to reason your way out of a bad deal with the right approach and a charitable dealer. You should also make sure you're covered with an affordable car insurance policy. Read on for some tips and insights into returning a new car to the mother ship.

What's the Dealer's Problem?

Before you storm the gates, take a moment to see things from the other side. There is a reason that car dealers are mostly exempt from the federally mandated "cooling off period" that applies to toaster ovens and vacuum cleaners. The laws and state regulations on car sales and financing make a complicated web out of every single deal that auto sellers make.

No matter how willing your dealer might be to help you, the act of returning a new car creates a lot of headaches for everyone involved.

In 2012, finance and insurance agent Marv Eleazer wrote a short article addressing the topic of dealer fairness regarding returns. In it, he outlines several of the main concerns dealers face when deciding whether to reverse a sale:

  • Taking back commissions from staff, even after paychecks have been cashed
  • Retrieving statements from the DMV that have already been filed
  • Filing affidavits to keep the new car status on the vehicle so as to prevent severe depreciation and financial loss
  • Retitling a trade-in and getting refunded by the bank

These tasks and the mountains of paperwork involved add up to many hours and troubles for dealership staff – for a vehicle that they considered sold and gone. Despite all of this, a dealer might be willing to work with you if you come in with an understandable and ethical reason for the return.

Good Reasons for Returning a New or Used Car

Eleazer lists several ethical issues for dealers to consider regarding their car return policy. You can use these to your advantage. Edmunds advises that you walk in asking for help and service in a reasonable tone. 

Being overly demanding or angry from the start will probably not get you nearly as far as appealing to ethics and great customer service standards. If one of the following applies to your deal, speak about your concerns with a manager or owner of the dealership.

Top Reasons a Dealer Will Accept a New Car Return

  • Hasty, aggressive sales tactics: This includes a dealership practice that lures you in with same-day, sign-and-drive sales based only on a credit score. If the buyer's employment history and residential history do no back up the credit score, local lenders may be unwilling to back up the sale with financing or may charge such high interest rates that you cannot afford the payments. In this case, the dealer was at fault for being overly quick to sign and should probably allow a return.
  • A lackluster vehicle: Dealers should be willing to honor the promises they and their sales staff make to you. If the salesperson claims the vehicle gets 30 miles per gallon and you can only get 18 mpg on the highway, the salesperson misrepresented the facts. You would be well within your rights to ask the dealer to either adjust the price after the fact or accept a return. This can also apply if your used car turns out to be a lemon. Your state's lemon laws may ensure a return, but if the dealership is uncooperative, you will have to jump through a lot of mechanical inspection hoops to get official lemon status and get your money back.
  • Auto buyer's remorse: Legally, dealers are not required to honor a return based purely on auto buyer's remorse, but in some cases, you might convince a dealership to consider your return simply because you feel like you got a bad deal. Perhaps the payments are hurting your budget more than you anticipated or maybe you found a much better price across town. In either case, a dealership that prides itself on customer service might be willing to work with you on a car return or a reworking of the numbers just to win your trust and future business.
    Bankrate writer Tara Baukus Mello advises, "If you regret your decision because you feel like you got ripped off, gather documentation that shows in what way you were wronged. Request a meeting with the dealership manager and calmly present your case."

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What Motivates a Dealer to Accept a New or Used Car Return?

Repeat business: Car sellers know that this isn't the last car you'll ever buy. They think ahead three, five or ten years down the line when you will either come back for more great customer service or hit up the competitor across town. 

Mention that you appreciated the great service you received while the deal was in process and then sum up the reasons you are dissatisfied with the way everything turned out. Ask that the dealership resolve the situation in a way that suggests you trust their commitment to customer satisfaction.

Reviews: Internet ratings on dealerships are everything these days; dealerships need good ratings to survive. If the dealer seems unwilling to hear you out, you might need to mention that your review will not be favorable, unless something gets fixed.

It's the right thing to do: Many dealers realize the simple fact that, in some cases, accepting a new car return is the best policy. Many dealership owners pride themselves in maintaining a spotless reputation in the community. They would rather put themselves through the hassle of a lengthy return process than leave a customer feeling shortchanged.

Last Resort for Returning a New Car

If you feel that returning a new car or used car is the only acceptable option and the dealer is unwilling to listen, Edmunds advises that you may have to seek legal counsel. This can be expensive and frustrating for all involved, so it is best to exhaust every other possibility first.

Of course, the best way to avoid the headaches of a sticky new car return policy is to look before you leap. Research and time are the best friends of the car buyer. They can prevent you from dealing with unscrupulous auto salesperson and from accepting a deal on a car you can't afford or don't want. Auto buyer's remorse is a terrible feeling. A little patience and an ethical, sympathetic dealer can help you get the car return you need.

When you get that car you want and need, finally, it's time to think about car insurance. Independent agents can help you get the best value for the coverage you need because they don't work for one parent company, like big-name captive agents in your area do. Independent insurance agents are ready to help you get coverage easily and quickly.

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