You can't cancel a private car purchase unless your bill of sale states otherwise. If you're purchasing from a dealership, you might be able to return your vehicle without penalty, depending on your state's rules or your purchase situation. If your car does not qualify for a return and you have financed it, your return results in a repossession.
Lemon Law or Dealer Issues
If your vehicle has repair issues that the dealer can't fix, your car might qualify for return under the Lemon Law. Dealers are governed by various used and new car warranty rules that vary by state. Most states require dealers to provide a limited warranty with used and new car purchases. Under the Lemon Law, you can return your vehicle if it has a repair issue that impairs its driving purpose. The dealer must have opportunity to fix the vehicle, but states vary on the number of times the dealer can attempt repair before the vehicle qualifies for the Lemon Law. To find out whether your vehicle qualifies, contact an attorney or your state's Attorney General's office or website.
Deposits -- Not Purchases
If you've only left a deposit on a vehicle, you aren't the vehicle's owner. You don't have to purchase the vehicle, even if the dealer tells you it arranged for financing. If you intend to shop around for other vehicles or aren't sure you want to purchase a particular vehicle, do not leave a deposit. If you cancel your car purchase and the dealer won't return your deposit, call your state's motor vehicle department to find out where to submit a complaint.
Same Day Dealer Purchase
You can cancel a vehicle purchase when you've signed your paperwork, including finance contracts and motor vehicle paperwork, if you haven't taken ownership of the vehicle, meaning you've driven it off the dealer's lot. Dealership's don't submit lender, manufacturer or motor vehicle paperwork immediately, all of which is necessary to title you as the vehicle's owner. If you've already taken a vehicle from a dealership, a small window of opportunity exists for the car's return. If you can bring the car back the same day or early the next, it's very unlikely any of your paperwork has been sent for processing.
Manufacturer or Dealer Return
While the law doesn't offer a "cooling off" period for a car purchase, the dealer you're purchasing from might. Ask the dealer if it offers a return option before you agree to a purchase. Some manufacturers or individual dealers offer a purchase grace period to ensure buyer satisfaction. If so, return your vehicle within the specified period without penalty. Check purchase paperwork to determine if your purchase includes a return provision or call the dealer to inquire.
- FTC.gov; Buying a Used Car; June 2008
- National Automobile Dealers Association. "NADA Data 2019: Midyear Report," Page 19. Accessed March 26, 2020.
- Maine Bureau of Consumer Credit Protection. "Downeaster Common Sense Guide: Auto Buying and Financing," Page 3. Accessed March 26, 2020.
- U.S. Department of Transportation, Federal Highway Administration. "Average Annual Miles Per Driver by Age Group." Accessed March 26, 2020.
- U.S. Energy Information Administration. "Weekly Retail Gasoline and Diesel Prices." Accessed March 26, 2020.
Shanan Miller covers automotive and insurance topics for various websites, blogs and dealerships. She has extensive automotive experience, including auction, insurance, finance, service and management positions. Miller has worked for dealer sales events around the United States and now stays local as a sales and leasing consultant for a dealership.