Say you've recently purchased a new car, and you decide soon after signing the papers that you don't want it after all. Is it too late to change your mind? Can you reverse the process of buying a car? We'll help you answer that question by explaining whether it's really possible to "return" a car like you can return a pair of shoes or a sweater that doesn't fit.

Usually Not...

Unfortunately, most car sales are final, and that means you can't return a car like you can return most retail items. There are many reasons for this. Most importantly, a dealer isn't obligated to take a "return" because signing the papers essentially confirmed that you were certain you wanted the car. There are other issues, too. If you've financed the car, it can be very complicated to unwind the deal with the bank or lending institution. In some cases, the paperwork has already been sent to your local Department of Motor Vehicles, which makes it even harder. Also, if you wait a few days to ask for the return, it's likely that you've already put some miles on your new car, which could affect the vehicle's value.

...But It's Up to the Dealer

With that said, some dealers will allow you to return a car. Usually, this only happens in a few unusual circumstances. For example, if a dealer offers a return policy, you can typically return a vehicle if you meet the dealer's conditions. A dealer may say that you must return the car within a week, for instance, or after no more than 500 miles have been added to the odometer.

Some dealerships will also allow you to return a car if you decide to go for a different one instead. In this case, the dealer records a sale either way -- so if you return the car quickly enough, they might be willing to allow it. For example, if you drive off the lot in a green Camry, then decide you actually want a red one, the dealer might be willing to make it work -- though you may end up paying a little extra for the inconvenience.

Trade-Ins Make It Harder

In nearly all situations, you won't be able to get back your trade-in, so it's important to be sure you're satisfied with the deal you're making when you sign over the papers to your old car. Dealers don't usually resell trade-ins themselves. Instead, dealers usually take trade-ins to auction for other dealers to buy. Once that has happened, your car is gone, so you shouldn't come back after a few days hoping to reverse the deal and get your old car back.

In most situations, buying a car is a final decision, so we suggest that you mare sure you're positive you want the car you're choosing before you sign the papers.

author photo

Doug DeMuro has a wide range of automotive industry experience, from work at a Ferrari dealership to a manager for Porsche North America. A lifelong car enthusiast, Doug's eclectic vehicle purchases include a Porsche 911 Turbo, an E63 AMG wagon, an old Range Rover and a Mercedes Benz G-wagen.

Related Articles & Car Reviews

Find Cars for sale near you:

Research by Vehicle Type

  • Commercial
  • Convertible
  • Coupe
  • Hatchback
  • Hybrid
  • Luxury
  • Sedan
  • SUV
  • Truck
  • Van/Minivan
  • Wagon

Shopping Tools