What to Do About a Car Purchase Mistake

Be sure you really want that car before you drive it home.
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The car looked so gorgeous in the dealer’s showroom, and the salesperson convinced you he was making you a fantastic deal. But now that you have the car home, you’re having second thoughts. The two-door sportster isn’t right for your two-carseat lifestyle. Or another look at your budget tells you you can’t afford the new car payments. When you make a car purchase mistake, your options are limited.

Cooling-Off Period

Some people mistakenly think that you have a three-day cooling off period in which you can return an item without penalty if you change your mind about the purchase. While it’s true that federal law provides for a cooling-off period for many purchases over $25, the law does not apply to car purchases. Even if you change your mind an hour after you drive the car off the lot, the vehicle is yours, and the dealer is under no obligation to take it back.

Lemon Law

One exception to the difficulty in getting a refund of your purchase price is if you fall out of love with your new vehicle because it constantly needs repairs or never runs right. Federal and state lemon laws protect buyers of cars labeled “lemons” and entitles you to a refund of your purchase price or replacement of the car. No concise definition of a lemon exists, but generally, if the car has substantial defects that can’t be repaired after multiple attempts, then it’s a lemon. If you suspect your new car is a lemon, work with your car dealer and the manufacturer’s representative to negotiate a replacement or refund.


According to the car-buying site Edmunds.com, your new car loses about 11 percent of its value on average the moment you drive it off the lot. Turn around and drive back to the dealer because you’ve changed your mind about your car, and, if you’re lucky, the dealer will take it as a trade-in on another vehicle and offer you the depreciated value. If you know the car you’d like to own instead of the one you just ought and you’re a good negotiator, you might be able to bargain for a price on the new car that doesn’t leave you hurting too much financially. You could also try to sell your new car to a private individual but again, you won’t get the price you paid for the car.

Other Considerations

Consider if there’s a way to turn the car you don’t like anymore into one you could love. You can’t add more doors or make a small car larger, but if the bright orange that seemed so beautiful in the showroom makes your eyes hurt now, you could pay to have the car painted. If you bought a basic model but long for luxury, you can install leather seats and a fancier stereo system. If you can’t afford the payments, look at negotiating a longer loan term as a way of lowering your payments. If all else fails, find the vehicle you really want, sell or trade in the nearly new loser and chalk this up as another life lesson learned.

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