Can You Return a Used Car?

If you’ve just purchased a used car and decide you’re unhappy with it, can you return it? It depends on several different factors, but in general, the same types of protections that apply to new cars do not apply to used ones. In most cases, both seller and buyer recognize that the used car is being sold as is, even if it’s not explicitly stated. This does make it something of a gamble, especially if you’re buying the used vehicle from a private party and not from a dealership. However, there are a few times when you may be able to return the car.

Ask About a Warranty

If you’re buying from a dealership, it’s possible that they offer a warranty or a guarantee of some sort on the vehicle, even if it’s used. Sometimes this warranty comes standard on all of their vehicles, although it’s usually for only about 30 days. Other times, it may be something you have to specifically ask about. Either way, make certain you understand the warranty terms and that you have it in writing.

In some cases, you may have to actually buy the extended warranty. While it’s often expensive, it can pay off. Be aware that this warranty may simply cover some of the costs to repair the vehicle rather than return it. Be sure you read the fine print and ask about anything that isn’t clear.

Buyer’s Remorse Period


Some dealerships, especially those that only deal in used cars, do offer the what’s called a buyer’s remorse period. During this time, often only a few weeks, you can return the car if you decide you made the wrong decision. However, this policy greatly varies from dealer to dealer. Some may not offer it at all and consider all sales to be final. Always ask and again, have the terms in writing.

Lemon Laws Do Not Apply

Standard lemon laws do not apply to used cars. These laws protect new car buyers in cases where it’s obvious there are severe defects with the new car. If that’s the case, the dealership has to take it back—you shouldn’t have major problems with a new vehicle, after all. With used cars, there’s no guarantee that the vehicle was defective from the manufacturer. The previous owners may have caused damage, or it may have worn down over the years. However, according to Edmunds there are a small number of states that do have used car lemon laws. Some others do require that used cars meet specific standards before they can be sold.

Car laws do change from time to time, so it’s always a good idea to look into your particular state’s laws prior to purchasing a used car so you know what protections apply.

Fraudulent Sales

If you can show that the vehicle you purchased was fraudulently sold, you can usually return it. For example, if you can prove that the car was declared totaled by the previous owner’s insurance company and was then salvaged and resold without being declared as such, you likely have a case to return the vehicle. It’s illegal to sell a vehicle like this, and you can take legal steps to return the vehicle in this case. Keep in mind that these cases are fairly rare, and in most cases, you’re going to be stuck with the car.

While returning a used car is a rare occurrence, you can still find other options that may solve your post-purchase woes. Contact the seller and use these tips to work out a solution that makes sense–and, before you embark on your next car buying decision, look deeply into the detail to ensure you’re making the right choice.