With soaring gas prices and devastating inflation, now is not an ideal time to buy a car. If you find it necessary to make such a major investment, you may take comfort in the belief that if you regret your purchase, at least you have a three-day window to return the car for a full refund, no questions asked. Unfortunately, the three-day grace period for car returns is mostly a myth. Here’s what to know about the 72 hours after you buy a car, and what you can do to avoid car buyer’s remorse in the first place.
What is the three-day grace period?
The three-day grace period is a real thing also known as The Federal Trade Commission’s “Three-Day Cooling-Off Rule.” It is designed to protect consumers from certain high-pressure sales tactics “made at your home, workplace, or dormitory, or at a seller’s temporary location, like a hotel or motel room, convention center, fairground, or restaurant.”
Unfortunately, this protection does not apply to car dealerships. Here are some other circumstances not covered by this FTC rule:
- Sales made entirely online, by mail, or telephone.
- Sales made after completing negotiations at the seller’s permanent place of business, where the seller regularly sells the goods or services you bought.
- Real estate, insurance, or securities.
- Purchases needed to meet an emergency.
Can you ever return a car?
So it’s true after you sign a new, used, or leased car agreement, there is likely no three-day grace period if you are struck with buyer’s remorse. If you find mechanical issues after leaving the lot, your ability to return the car depends on how lemon laws work in your state and the specific terms and conditions of the car return policy.
As with any major purchase, document everything: If you do discover that you’ve been ripped off, you’ll need records to build your case for yourself. You might end up contacting the dealership manager, the Better Business Bureau, your state attorney general’s office, or your state’s consumer protection agency.
Unfortunately, the main takeaway here is that returning a car is a painful uphill battle. In most circumstance, the dealer will not be legally obligated to take the car back and issue you a refund or exchange after you’ve signed a sales contract.
What to do before you buy a car
The best way to avoid the headache of a car return is to be thorough before you make such a big purchase. Inspect the car yourself before you sign anything. Do a test drive on real roads (not just the parking lot): Are there any leaks? Do you feel weird vibrations? Does it drive straight? If anything feels off, err on the side of caution.
Never let a salesperson rush you, and never trust their car knowledge at face value. Make sure to ask these maintenance questions before you buy, too. And if you’re buying from an independent seller, it could be worth it to spring for mechanic’s expert opinion before driving away in your new ride.
It’s important to do your research ahead of time and be decisive once it’s time to pull the trigger. As we’ve previously covered, walking away as a negotiating tactic is no longer a savvy move—by the time you return, your car will most likely have been sold to someone else.