While it’s a myth that used car dealers are required by law to provide buyers with a “cooling off” period — during which they can return a car within three days of buying it — you may still have options for returning a defective or impulsive purchase. If you purchase a vehicle that you later learn is defective, your state may have so-called “lemon laws” to protect you.
Step 1 – Research your state’s lemon laws, which you can usually find on your state attorney general’s website. Lemon laws explain the circumstances and timeline in which you can return a used vehicle for a full or partial refund.
For example, in Arizona, you can return a used car to a dealership within 15 days or 500 miles — whichever comes first — if you learn it has a significant defect after completing the purchase. In order to qualify, a major component of your vehicle must break or fail during this time period. Report the defect to the seller immediately. You are entitled to a full refund minus up to $25 for each of the first two vehicle repairs.
Step 2 – Review all the paperwork you signed when you purchased the used car. Look for any information regarding a return policy. While not required by law, some dealerships do offer a money back or satisfaction guarantee. You usually must act quickly to take advantage of these return policies, so contact the seller immediately if you want to return your used car. The Federal Trade Commission suggests requesting a written copy of the seller’s return policy prior to purchasing any vehicle.
Step 3 – Elect the contract cancellation option at the time of sale, if available in your state. Follow the directions specified in the contract to return the used vehicle. Make sure you adhere to the time line.
For example, as of 2010, California requires that all used car sellers offer a two-day cancellation option at a set additional price, depending on the sale price of the vehicle. You may have to pay a restocking fee of up to $500 if you elect to return a vehicle using this method.