Car Buying

Buying a Car: Is There a Return Period?

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author photo by Doug DeMuro July 2015

If you're buying a car, you may have heard that your purchase includes a return period. Essentially, many drivers believe that there's a period of time after you've bought a car that you can return it for a full refund, as provided by law. So is it true? Is there a return period? We have the answer.

In General, No

In general, there are no laws or rules providing a return period when you purchase a vehicle. In fact, there generally aren't any laws or rules providing a return period. In most cases, it's merely the policy of companies and retailers (like Walmart or Target) to allow refunds, rather than a legal obligation. Car companies and dealers generally don't have this policy, which means drivers will almost always find themselves out of luck if they want to return a car like they might return a lamp or a sweater.

Lemon Law

There is, however, one major exception to what we've written above: the lemon law. Every single state has a lemon law on its books, which allows a customer to return a seriously flawed vehicle and get a full refund from an automaker. However, the customer must prove that the vehicle has major issues. While the definition of major issues is different in just about every state, it usually involves the vehicle having a certain number of unscheduled repair visits in a certain time frame -- such as the first 60 days of ownership -- or suffering a persistent issue that the dealership can't seem to accurately diagnose and correct.

If you think you might qualify for your car to be bought back under the lemon law, you'll want to check your state laws to find out whether or not you qualify. In some cases, an attorney may even be necessary. Unfortunately for drivers who believe they've bought a defective used car, the lemon law almost always only applies to new vehicles.

Other Exceptions

There are a few other exceptions when we say that cars can't be returned like a traditional good. For example, some dealers offer a return policy if you bring back the car within a certain number of days or miles. Some dealers -- and certified pre-owned programs -- boast an exchange program that allows you to bring back a vehicle and exchange it for another one if you're unhappy after a certain time frame. And if you're really not sure about your vehicle choice, you can always ask the dealer to write a return guarantee into the contract when you're buying a car. Although most dealers will likely refuse to do it, some may accept the offer just to earn your business.

This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
Buying a Car: Is There a Return Period? - Autotrader