Returning a Car to the Dealership: A Step-by-Step Guide for 2024


Purchasing a new vehicle is an exciting experience, but sometimes things don’t work out as planned. You may find the car you chose isn’t the right fit or you experience issues that can’t be resolved. Whatever the reason, returning a car newly purchased

to the dealership can be a daunting process if you’ve never done it before. Returning a major purchase like a vehicle can be stressful, but being prepared and knowing what to expect will make the process much smoother.

With the right information and preparation, you can return your car to the dealership with confidence. Use this guide as your roadmap for a successful return that gets you into a vehicle that better suits your needs.

Do Your Research First

Before heading to the dealership, make sure you understand their specific returning a car policy. Many dealerships allow returns within 3-7 days or a few hundred miles, but this can vary. Check the contract you signed during the purchase to confirm the timeframe and mileage limitations.

You’ll also want to brush up on any state laws regarding car returns. Some states require dealers to notify buyers of a return policy during the sale. Others have “cooling off” laws that give you 2-3 days to reconsider the purchase.

Know your rights so the dealership doesn’t take advantage of gray areas. Finally, check the current value of the car using Kelley Blue Book or Edmunds. This gives you an idea of the car’s worth as a trade-in, which will come in handy later.

Can You Return a Car to the Dealership?

The short answer is – sometimes. Most state laws allow you to return a new car to the dealership within a certain window of time if it meets certain criteria. This is commonly known as a “cooling off” period for buyers to change their mind and undo the purchase.

The cooling off period for returning a car typically ranges from 2 to 7 days after purchase. Some states require dealers to notify buyers of their cooling off rights, while in other states it is up to the buyer to know the laws. Used cars usually do not have a cooling off period, but dealers may allow returns as a courtesy.

It’s important to note that you can’t return a car simply because you changed your mind. There typically needs to be a valid reason, such as:

  • The car has a serious defect or maintenance issue
  • The car isn’t what was promised or advertised
  • There was deception or fraud during the sale
  • You are unable to secure financing for the purchase

The cooling off period gives you a chance to thoroughly inspect the new car and take it for a proper test drive to uncover any issues not apparent during a quick test drive at the dealership. It also gives you some breathing room in case buyer’s remorse sets in.

Can You Return a Car to the Dealership?

Steps to Return a Car to the Dealership

Inspect the Car Thoroughly

Do a careful walk-around and inspection of the car, inside and out. Note any issues, damages or problems you find. This creates a record of the car’s condition when you brought it back to the dealer. Pointing out damages or wear and tear could impact the refund amount you receive.

Check that the mileage is within the limits allowed on the contract. Exceeding the mileage allowance significantly reduces the car’s value and the refund amount. Test drive the car as well, to identify any mechanical issues.

Returning A Car
Inspect the Car Thoroughly

Gather All Paperwork

Make copies of your sale contract and any other paperwork from the purchase. This includes the bill of sale, financing agreements, warranties and any add-ons like gap insurance. Bring the original copies with you as well.

Also gather the title, registration, insurance card, owner’s manuals and any extras like keys or third-party accessories that came with the car. Basically, return anything that was given to you by the dealership.

Thoroughly Clean the Car

Make sure to thoroughly clean the car before dropping it off. Wash and vacuum the interior, then clean the outside and tires. A clean car shows you cared for it during your ownership and makes it ready for resale on the lot.

Schedule an Appointment

Call the dealership’s sales department to schedule an appointment to return the car. Explain the situation calmly and set a date and time. Avoid just showing up unannounced with the car.

Having an appointment ensures the right salespeople are available to handle the return efficiently. Ask what documentation they will need so you arrive fully prepared. They may request a copy of the purchase paperwork ahead of time.

Schedule An Appointment
Schedule an Appointment

Drive Back to the Dealership

On the agreed date, drive the car back to the dealership. Try to keep the additional mileage under 50 miles to avoid excess wear and tear fees. Bring any toll or gas receipts if you want reimbursement from the dealer.

Park the car in a designated returns area, if one exists. Otherwise, leave it with the sales associate assisting with your return. Turn over the keys, paperwork and any extras that accompanied the car at purchase.

Documentation You May Need to Return a Car

  • Sales contract – This is your original purchase agreement detailing price, fees, trade-in, financing, etc. Vehicle registration – Original registration and title documents.
  • Purchase receipt – Any documentation showing proof of purchase, sale price, VIN, etc. Warranty info – The new vehicle warranty from the manufacturer.
  • Loan documents – Financing contracts, loan approvals, lien releases, etc. Return form – Dealership form detailing reason for return, condition of car, fees charged, etc.
  • Inspection report – Any mechanical inspection reports noting issues or damage. Police report – If relevant, a police report detailing an accident, damage, or theft.
  • Communication records – Written communication with the dealer about defects, misrepresentations, etc. Defect documentation – Photographs, videos, repair invoices etc. proving mechanical issues or damage.
Can You Return A Car To The Dealership?
Can You Return a Car to the Dealership?

Can a Dealership Refuse to Accept a Car Return?

Dealers are not required to accept a car return if the cooling off period has expired or if the buyer doesn’t have a valid reason like a mechanical issue, fraudulent sale, or inability to secure financing. Refusing a return due to simple buyer’s remorse is often reasonable per state laws.

However, many dealers will still accept returns as a goodwill gesture to maintain customer satisfaction. It’s worth reaching out to the salesperson or manager first to inquire about return policies.

If initially refused, contacting the car manufacturer’s corporate office to file a complaint requesting they repurchase the car can also be effective. Persistence and politeness go a long way.

Finally, if a dealer refuses a return without good cause, legal action can compel them to take the car back. Suing them in small claims court with extensive documentation of defects or fraud often leads to a judgement requiring repurchase.

What to Do if the Dealer Won’t Take the Car Back

Trade it in – You may be able to trade the car in for something different at the same dealer. You won’t recoup all your money, but can at least undo the original purchase.

Sell it privately – Consider selling the car yourself through private channels like Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace, etc. You’ll likely recoup more money than trading in.

  • Voluntary repossession – If you truly cannot afford the car, most lenders allow you to voluntarily surrender it to them. There will be credit impacts, but it can be undone.
  • Legal demand letter – Have an attorney send the dealer a letter demanding they take the car back or face legal action. Often effective as a scare tactic.
  • Small claims court – Sue the dealer in small claims court if you have strong evidence supporting your reasons for a return. Let a judge decide.

Contact an attorney – Consult a local consumer protection attorney. They can review your case details and advise you on the best options specific to your situation and location.

What To Do If The Dealer Won't Take The Car Back
What to Do if the Dealer Won’t Take the Car Back

How Returning a Car Impacts Credit and Financing

If you financed the car through the dealership, returning a car it gets more complicated. Your credit will be impacted, but likely not severely if handled properly: The dealer must contact the lender immediately upon return to cancel the auto loan.

  • Expect a hard credit inquiry to show when first applying for financing. This remains on your report for 2 years but impacts score minimally.
  • The auto loan will show as opened then closed/cancelled when returned. As long as you are not delinquent, it should not damage credit scores.
  • Lack of auto loan history can temporarily lower your credit mix and history, lowering scores slightly.
  • If the dealer takes too long to cancel the loan, missed payments could be reported, hurting your scores more significantly. Stay on top of this!
  • Any down payment or positive equity from

Discuss the Return with the Sales Manager

Politely explain why you are returning a car to the sales manager or associate. Reasons like “it wasn’t the right fit for my family” or “I realized I need more cargo room” are typically accepted. Avoid blaming the dealership or bashing the car model itself.

Calmly but firmly request a full refund if you are within the mileage and timeframe limits. Be ready to negotiate if you exceeded those limits or the car has notable wear and tear. Dealers may charge usage fees based on the mileage you drove before returning a car it.

If you put any down payment or trade-in value toward the car, make sure you get documentation on receiving those funds back. This usually takes a few days to process after the return is complete.

Consider a Replacement Car

While you’re there, consider test driving replacement models that do meet your needs. The sales team may offer you incentives on another car to keep your business. If you found a better match, you can use the refund from the first car as a down payment.

However, don’t let them pressure you into a new purchase right away if you need time to weigh options. Shop other dealers if none of their inventory fits.

Consider a Replacement Car

Get All Return Documentation

Before leaving, get copies of the returning a car agreement and any other paperwork related to the refund. Double check that details like the return date, condition of the car and agreed refund amount are correct.

Keep this documentation for your records if any disputes arise later.

Wait for Refund Processing

Within a few days after the returning a car, call the dealership to confirm they have begun processing your refund. Ask for a timeframe so you know when to expect the funds back in your account. Contact the financing company as well to close out your auto loan if one was taken out.

For trade-in value, it takes dealers 7-10 days on average to cut a check and mail it to you. Track the refund check if it doesn’t arrive when expected. Immediately cash the check once you receive it to complete the return process.

Understand the Impact on Insurance and Taxes

Returning a car can impact your auto insurance policy. Contact your insurer to remove the car from coverage. You may be owed a partial refund on premiums paid.

For tax purposes, the state will still expect sales tax on the full purchase price unless you qualify for a refund under state law. This varies by location, so verify local policies. You’ll also likely owe proportional registration and title fees based on when you returned the car.

Returning a car to the dealership is rarely a smooth and simple process. But following these steps helps ensure you complete all the logistics properly. Be prepared with paperwork, diligent in inspections and firm but polite in discussions.


Does returning a car affect credit?

Returning a car can negatively impact your credit if the auto loan is not properly cancelled by the dealer, leading to missed payments being reported. However, as long as the loan is closed out timely, returning a car typically does not severely damage credit.

What is buyer’s remorse law?

Buyer’s remorse laws, also called cooling-off periods, allow consumers to return a newly purchased car within a specified time period, usually 2-7 days, if they change their mind or find issues with the vehicle. It gives buyers a chance to properly inspect the vehicle after purchase.

What is the return policy for Tesla 2023?

Tesla’s current 2023 return policy allows a full refund within 7 calendar days or 1,000 miles, whichever comes first. To be eligible, the car must be returned in the condition it was purchased and not have any new damage or issues.

How long do you have to return a used car in WV?

West Virginia law does not mandate a cooling off period for used car purchases, so dealers set their own policies. Many allow 1-5 days for returns. Check the contract for any return period offered when purchasing a used car in West Virginia.

Q: What paperwork do I need to returning a car?

A: Bring your sales contract, vehicle title, registration, insurance card, any warranty info, owner’s manuals, keys, etc. – basically everything given to you when you initially bought the car. Also have copies of the purchase paperwork like your financing agreement.

Q: Can I get a full refund when returning my car?

A: Usually only if the car is within the dealership’s mileage and timeframe limits, typically 3-7 days or a couple hundred miles. Exceeding those limits means you’ll get a partial refund based on usage fees and any wear and tear.

Q: Does a test drive count against the mileage limit?

A: Usually test drive mileage is not counted against the return allowance. Only the miles you drove while in possession of the purchased car will reduce the refund amount.


Returning a newly purchased car can be a headache, but is doable when armed with the right information. Following this comprehensive guide will simplify the process and help you get the maximum refund allowed.

The most vital steps are showing up prepared, documenting the car’s condition, negotiating fairly with sales staff, and tracking the refund to completion.While returning a car is inconvenient, the financial freedom and peace of mind is often worth the effort.

Don’t let setbacks dissuade you if returning a car is your best option. Take it step-by-step and keep pushing forward if you encounter delays. With persistence and adherence to state laws on your side, you can successfully unwind the purchase and regain control of your auto buying decisions.

Allow yourself time to weigh options and don’t feel pressured into another car right away. Returning today could prevent years of paying for a car that never fit your lifestyle. As with any major purchase, conduct thorough research before signing anything.

But if that new car excitement fades quickly, know that you have options. Following this game plan will smoothly guide you through giving back those keys and getting your money back. Don’t be afraid to return responsibly to improve your long-term auto purchasing outlook.

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