Your Options for Returning a Used Car
Reviewed by Attorney Charles Panzarella
Buying a used car can be an exciting yet challenging process. Despite your best efforts, you may later uncover issues with your vehicle or wish you had not gone through with the purchase. In such situations, it’s reasonable to ask: Can I return the used car I just bought from a dealership?
The short answer is, depending on your situation. While dealers are not obligated to take back a returned car if you simply change your mind, you may have options under certain conditions. This article covers consumer laws and best practices to inform your decision-making process.
When Can You Return a Used Car?
Every state has laws, known as “lemon laws,” that require dealers to address defective vehicles or honor service contracts. Specific eligibility conditions apply based on your state, the age and mileage of the car, and the type of problem encountered.
Additionally, you may have recourse if the dealer acted fraudulently or failed to honor the terms promised verbally or in writing. Here are some examples of situations that could justify returning a recently purchased used car:
- You were charged more than the advertised or negotiated price.
- The car broke down or needed significant repairs soon after purchase.
- You discovered undisclosed defects, such as flood damage or frame repairs.
- The dealer refuses to fix issues covered under the stated warranty.
Documenting the Issue
If you find yourself with a potentially defective or misrepresented used vehicle, expert advice is to address the problems soon rather than ignore them. Here are the steps you can take:
- Review all paperwork and recorded materials from the sale. Look for inaccuracies between promises made and actual contract terms.
- Thoroughly examine the vehicle and identify any defects, damage, or needed repairs. Take clear photos and videos documenting issues.
- Check the market value for comparison if you think payments were unfairly inflated. Online pricing guides can serve as proof.
- Present your concerns to the dealership’s management in writing. Focus on facts and resolution rather than venting frustrations.
- If the dealer proves unresponsive within a reasonable time, escalate by filing a complaint with your state consumer protection agency.
Sample Letter to Dealership about Defects
If writing to your dealership about possible defects or misrepresentations, here is a sample letter format you can follow:
Here is a sample demand letter to a dealership about defects found in a recently purchased used car:
Dear [Dealership Manager],
This letter is in regards to issues I have encountered with the used [Make and Model] I purchased from your dealership on [Date of Purchase]. I have been a loyal customer for many years, but unfortunately the vehicle I just purchased does not live up to the standards I have come to expect.
Specifically, I have discovered the following mechanical and cosmetic defects:
– Engine knock indicating premature wear or improper maintenance
– Significant oil leak originating from the valve cover gasket
– Multiple dents and scratches on three of the door panels
– Cigarette burns in the back seat cushions
– Trunk fails to latch properly and reconnect brake lights
I purchased this vehicle based on your sales associate’s assurances during our verbal discussions that it was in “great shape” and “ready for years of use.” However, the issues I discovered only days after driving the [Make and Model] off your lot indicate otherwise.
I feel that these defects impaired the use, value, and safety of the vehicle. Furthermore, common sense says your dealership reasonably should have known about them through inspections. As such, I am seeking the following remedies:
- Refund of the full $14,000 purchase price
- Reimbursement for my $2,200 down payment
- Coverage of tax/title fees I will incur again with a new purchase
I kindly request your help making this right by [Requested Remedy Date – 30 days out]. Should we not be able to reach an agreement, I will have no choice but to pursue action through small claims court, consumer protection agencies, and the Better Business Bureau. Please contact me at your earliest convenience so we can discuss a fair resolution. I look forward to working with you.
[Your Phone Number]
Note: This letter aims to be firm yet solution-focused in tone while leading with the specifics. This is only an example letter and should not be taken as a final draft.
Seeking Legal Guidance
For complex cases, consulting consumer law attorneys can help assess any case potential. They can also manage negotiations or litigation, seeking reasonable settlements. Retaining legal counsel is typically recommended if damages exceed small claims court limits.
Attorneys may work on a simple consultation basis, take on cases contingency based on the outcome, or set fees based on the expected complexity involved. Reputable lawyers are transparent about fee structures so consumers can make informed decisions.
Here is draft content to cover returning a car purchased from a private party:
Can I Return a Private Party Car Purchase?
While less regulation applies to private party vehicle sales than dealerships, you may still have options if the private seller misrepresented the vehicle or has violated your state’s sale laws.
In most states, some implied warranty applies even on private sales when defects substantially impair the use, value, or safety and the seller had reasonable grounds to know about the issue. Proving this can be challenging without thorough documentation, but possible avenues depend on state law and include:
- Suing to revoke acceptance if undisclosed issues come to light shortly after the sale. Time periods range from 1-2 months generally.
- Small claims court cases if the seller knowingly hid major defects or history like prior wrecks. Damages may be awarded.
- Reporting to state DMV or consumer protection divisions if “bait and switch” tactics, mileage tampering, or expired safety certifications come to light. Fines or charges may apply.
- Checking if repairs soon after the sale are covered under manufacturing warranties that follow the vehicle. Lemon law coverage is unlikely, though.
- Reviewing the valid bill of sale and any “As-Is” clauses or waived warranties that may impact claims. Disputing invalid contracts may be possible.
As with dealership transactions, move quickly to gather evidence of misrepresentations and attempts to contact the seller. Letters sent by certified mail help establish timelines. If you believe illegal activity occurred, contacting local law enforcement to report fraud may also be warranted.
While less clear-cut, returning a private party-purchased car depends on proof and the willingness to go through legal escalations. Consulting consumer attorneys can help assess case potential based on state laws and specific circumstances.
What If There Are No Legal Violations?
Sometimes, lemon laws may not technically apply, but you may still have options to return a used car purchase. This usually depends on the individual dealer’s policies and your ability to negotiate.
Potential steps to attempt returning a car without outright legal violations include:
- Review the purchase contract for any return or exchange grace periods the dealer allows. These vary greatly but can provide an opening.
- Approach the dealer management with empathy and flexibility – offering options like switching to a cheaper car can demonstrate good faith.
- Consider accepting alternative resolutions like extended warranty coverage on major repairs early after the sale.
- Check if lender financing rules provide any cooling-off period or guaranteed approvals that give you time to change your mind.
- Understand that taking a credit hit or losing non-refundable fees paid is likely if you simply change your mind with no defects present.
The key is checking all available avenues through the dealer first. But also prepare for the reality that you may need to sell/trade the vehicle later once the market cools on higher interest rates or prices. Consulting used car sales experts can provide a broader perspective as well.
Summing It Up
Buying a used vehicle requires checking over both the car and business dealings carefully.
If serious problems come to light after an initial purchase, legal and appropriate steps can be taken to make things right again. Knowing your fundamental rights as a consumer is critical to navigating any need to return a newly purchased automobile.
Call us if you have any questions about returning a used car to the dealer:
Check out these articles for additional information: