Can I change my mind after signing a contract to purchase a vehicle?

Updated November 22, 2016

While you can change your mind about a vehicle purchase after signing a contract, the dealer you purchased from does not have to take the car back once you've signed your paperwork. The Federal Trade Commission warns consumers that no law exists to give buyers the right to return a purchased vehicle, although a dealer may choose to offer some kind of guarantee period.

Time frame

If your dealership offers a cooling off period, or some type of return guarantee, return the vehicle within the dealer's stated time frame. If you're unsure whether the dealer offers a guarantee, call and ask, or check over your purchase contract. Otherwise, you have very little time to return your vehicle after you purchase it. It generally takes a dealership one to two business days to process loan and state paperwork for a vehicle purchase. Bring your car back the same or next day if you want to cancel your sale. If your paperwork has already been processed, you cannot return the vehicle.

Contacting the Dealer

Call the dealership and ask to speak to the sales manager. Your salesperson does not make decisions regarding vehicle returns. Tell the sales manager why you want to cancel your purchase, and tell her you are returning the vehicle. The sales manager may tell you that you can't return the vehicle, although if your paperwork hasn't been processed yet, you have a small window of opportunity to return the car. Bring the car back to the dealer and leave the keys with a dealer representative. If the dealer calls you afterward to pick up the vehicle, you must do so. It is likely that the dealer will take the car back if you drop it off before your paperwork is sent to a lender or motor vehicle department.

Return Options

If you can't return your vehicle to the dealer, try calling your lender. If the dealership set up financing for you, it has a relationship with that lender. Tell your lender why you don't want the vehicle and that the dealer isn't allowing you to return it. You may ask the lender to act on your behalf to return the car. However, the lender may choose not to help. If this is the case, you may choose to sell the vehicle, trade it toward another purchase or have it voluntarily repossessed. Repossession should be your last resort, as it significantly damages your credit.

Going Forward

Eliminate vehicle purchase issues and return problems in the future by taking your time when purchasing a car. Research prices before you shop, and carefully plan your budget. Do not sign contracts or purchase paperwork until you know you've found the car you want. Do not leave a deposit while you continue shopping. Test-drive as many vehicles as possible. Check current financing rates to ensure you obtain a fair and affordable interest rate. Proper preparation helps avoid buyer's remorse.

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About the Author

Shanan Miller covers automotive and insurance topics for various websites, blogs and dealerships. She has extensive automotive experience, including auction, insurance, finance, service and management positions. Miller has worked for dealer sales events around the United States and now stays local as a sales and leasing consultant for a dealership.