There’s No Three-Day Grace Period at a Dealership
With soaring gas prices and devastating inflation, now is not an ideal time to buy a car. If you feel that you need to make such an investment, you can take comfort in the knowledge that you have at least three days to return the car to get a full refund. Unfortunately, the three-day grace period to return a car is largely 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.
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.
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.
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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 contact the dealership manager, Better Business Bureau, your state attorney General’s office or your state’s consumer protection agent.
Unfortunately, the main takeaway here is that returning a car is a painful uphill battle. After you sign a sales contract, the dealer is not legally bound to take the car back or issue you a refund.
The best way to avoid the headache of a car return is to be thorough before you make such a big purchase. Before you sign anything, inspect the car. Take the car on a test drive (not in a parking lot). Are there any leaks? Are there strange vibrations? Is it straight? If it feels off, be cautious.
Don’t let salespeople rush you and don’t take their car knowledge for granted. 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 and then be decisive when it comes 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.
The author of 5 books, 3 of which are New York Times bestsellers. I’ve been published in more than 100 newspapers and magazines and am a frequent commentator on NPR.