Your Rights as a Consumer: Can You Reject a Car If It’s Faulty?

Car buyers often walk into a dealership believing they can purchase a car and return it if they decide it doesn’t meet their needs. Many drivers live with this assumption and buy a car. They then learn that the dealership doesn’t have to take the car back and give them a full refund if they change their mind. No law exists today that says a dealer must take this step to meet the needs of the consumer. Why do so many people believe dealers sell cars with a return period?

No Return Period?

Surprisingly, no law requires a company to take back any product after a consumer buys it. In most cases, local, state, and federal governments don’t regulate return periods for any product. Companies and retailers establish their own return or refund policy, even though they aren’t obligated to do so under the law. However, most car dealers and manufacturers have opted not to establish a policy of this type. As a result, drivers find they cannot return a car after they purchase it like they would a blouse that doesn’t fit or a couch they decided wasn’t comfortable. One exception to this is the lemon law ( which many people reference when speaking of their desire to return a car they bought.

People often refer to the Cooling-Off rule established by the Federal Trade Commission. This rule provides consumers with the right to cancel a sale within three days of the purchase. What these individuals don’t realize is this rule only applies to certain sales. When the parties complete the sale in a home, dorm, workplace, or the seller’s temporary location, the three-day rule goes into effect. Salesmen invited into a home to make a presentation often pressure consumers into making a purchase, and these sales fall under the Cooling-Off rule. However, other sales don’t, such as when the buyer purchases a car at a dealership.

Lemon Laws

When do lemon laws come into play? Consumers who find they aren’t eligible to return a vehicle under the Cooling-Off rule next ask about lemon laws. Certain buyers find lemon laws apply to the sale when they purchase a vehicle only to learn it is seriously flawed. When the buyer proves the vehicle has major repairs, the automaker or dealer provides a full refund. Every state establishes its own lemon law and what vehicles car buyers may return using this provision. A person can’t walk back into the dealership 24 hours later, say the vehicle has a noise, and expect the dealer to provide a refund. Certain steps must be taken before a consumer can get a refund in this situation.

Car buyers need to research the lemon law in the state where they purchased the vehicle, as the law varies by location. However, most lemon laws in the United States require a person to take their vehicle in for a specific number of unscheduled repair visits within a certain time period before the lemon law kicks in. The law also applies when the vehicle has a persistent issue that the dealership cannot repair within this time period. Minor mechanical issues with a car repaired under warranty won’t qualify the buyer for relief under lemon laws in place today.

For instance, New Jersey allows buyers to get relief when they purchase a new motor vehicle with serious warranty defects that the dealer and manufacturer cannot repair. This law applies two years from the date the buyer purchased the vehicle or when the car reaches 24,000 miles, whichever occurs first. The New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs established a Lemon Law unit to handle these claims. This unit only handles cases involving new passenger motor vehicles, motorcycles, authorized emergency vehicles, and motor homes. All other consumers seeking relief under the law need to handle the case on their own or hire an attorney to do so on their behalf.

New Jersey also has a Used Car Lemon Law car buyers must be familiar with before making a purchase. To qualify for relief under this law, the car buyer must make the purchase at a licensed dealership and take the care in for repairs multiple times. These repairs must involve parts covered under the car warranty. The state requires licensed dealers to provide a limited warranty on used cars. As a result, drivers who choose to purchase a vehicle through a licensed dealer get an extra layer of protection if the car turns out to be a lemon.

Relief From Unscrupulous Dealers

When a car buyer believes they received an unfair deal or overpaid for the car, the best course of action involves working with the dealership. Don’t speak with the salesman but ask for someone higher up. The sales manager oversees all deals and may work with a customer to protect the dealership’s reputation, particularly when the deal clearly favors the business over the consumer. Avoid becoming confrontational with anyone at the dealership. Remain respectful and reasonable throughout the visit, as this encourages staff members to treat you the same. They are more willing to work with someone who remains calm and collected rather than someone who rants and raves while disturbing other customers.

Take responsibility for the transaction that is no longer acceptable. The dealer didn’t make you sign the sale contract, and you must acknowledge this. It remains the consumer’s responsibility to do their homework before spending their money. This ensures the deal ultimately signed is fair for both parties. Tools helpful during this part of the process include Kelley Blue Book for car valuation tools and dealer ratings available on many sites. This ensures the selected dealer has an excellent reputation and a proven track record.

Avoiding Buyer’s Remorse

Individuals find buyer’s remorse isn’t an acceptable reason when a person wishes to return a car. They cannot force the dealer to take the vehicle back except in limited circumstances, so buyers must know what they are doing and take steps to avoid making a purchase they later regret. Emotions often lead to impulse buys. The high cost of a car means an impulse buy of this nature becomes a very costly mistake. The buyer might walk into the dealership with a set price range only to fall in love with a vehicle that costs significantly more and take it home. A few days later, this same individual realizes they can’t afford the car and now they cannot return it.

To avoid this, car buyers need a cooling-off period much like the one described above. Test drive several vehicles, choose one you love, and walk away. Go home and do additional research on that make and model, its track record, the manufacturer warranty, and more. Drivers often do this before heading to the dealership only to find a car they haven’t researched but love. They need to hold off on buying so they can go through the same steps for the chosen model. The cooling-off period also gives the buyer time to learn how much it will cost to insure the vehicle, the taxes associated with driving the car, and things of that nature. While it’s difficult to find a car you love and walk away from it, doing so saves money in the long run. When you buy, you’ll know you are getting a car you love that is right for your needs.


Before buying a vehicle, drivers need to research dealerships while researching different makes and models. Each dealership establishes its own policies, including items related to returning a vehicle. For instance, one dealer might allow buyers to return a car within a specific number of miles or days. Others allow the driver to return a car and exchange it for another of the same value or higher with no added fee. A few dealers allow a potential buyer to take the vehicle home and drive it for 24 hours or a similar time period to ensure the car is right for them.

It never hurts to ask about the return policy. Actually, car buyers need to have the dealer put a return guarantee into the sales contract before signing the document. Most dealers refuse to include this, but some dealerships recognize doing so shows good faith and that they stand behind the cars they sell. In addition, they realize the buyer will share this information with family and friends. This boosts the dealership’s reputation and its brand visibility, so the dealership wins along with the customer.

Consumers must understand they cannot return a car simply because they want to. Returning a car because a salesman was overly aggressive isn’t an option either, in most cases. It’s up to the consumer to make certain they get a good deal when making the purchase. The dealership looks out for its interests, and the buyer must look out for theirs. If you have any doubts, have a clause written into the contract stating the buyer may return the vehicle without penalty within a specified time range. If the dealer won’t agree, go elsewhere. With plenty of dealerships today, doing so won’t be a hassle.


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