What can I do about car buyer's remorse?

Car buyer's remorse entails feeling anxious, uncomfortable, or regretful about a new vehicle purchase, and it's common. The federal Cooling-Off Rule doesn't apply to most motor vehicle sales, and very few dealerships offer return policies. However, there are steps you can take to resolve the issue. Following key steps before buying a car can help prevent buyer's remorse.

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What is car buyer's remorse?

Buyer's remorse is a negative feeling after making a large, often expensive purchase such as a house or car. Sometimes buyer's remorse manifests physically, in sweaty palms and nausea. Buying a new vehicle and then experiencing anxiety, regret, and fear is common. Perhaps the car strains your finances. Or maybe you simply don't like the vehicle.

But changing your mind is different from discovering that the car is defective because the vehicle could be unsafe to drive and put you and your passengers in danger. In that case, check the lemon laws in your state. Similarly, if the dealership intentionally misled you, you may be able to return it.

Is there a new car cooling-off period?

The Federal Trade Commission has a Cooling-Off Rule that gives buyers three days to cancel specific kinds of purchases, including those involving high-pressure tactics and temporary point-of-purchase locations. Notably, the Cooling-Off Rule doesn't apply to motor vehicle sales when the seller has at least one permanent business location.

The Cooling-Off Rule could apply to a vehicle you bought at a trade show or auto show for more than $130, meaning you'd have three days to cancel, but only if the seller does not have a permanent place of business. Normally, however, returning the car depends on the terms and conditions in the dealer's policy.

Can I return the car?

Maybe. Federal law does not require dealerships to have return policies, so very few offer them. You can try contacting the dealership and explaining the situation anyway. Remember that they're under no obligation to allow you to return the car.

If the dealership does have a return policy, check the terms. Find out how much time you have and which conditions you need to meet first.

Some dealerships will allow you to exchange the vehicle for a different one within a certain amount of time if the vehicle is still in new condition and has minimal mileage. State laws covering used car purchases vary. One state, for example, requires sellers to offer a two-day contract cancellation option agreement for used vehicles under $40,000.

Pro tip:

Take your time. Do research, understand your budget, test drive different vehicles, and make a pros-and-cons list about the car purchase itself. Raising your concerns early on and reading the fine print in a contract can help prevent buyer's remorse.

How to deal with buyer's remorse after buying a car

First, check local laws and consumer protection rules to see if they apply to your situation. If you changed your mind about the car and can't return or trade it in, there are several options, each with pros and cons.

Selling the vehicle yourself is one option. Keep in mind that the car starts losing value as soon as it leaves the lot. You could refinance your auto loan to reduce monthly payments, even though this could end up costing a lot more over time.

Asking for a voluntary repossession is a possibility but should be a last resort since it will negatively affect your credit score, potentially preventing you from being able to afford a new loan in the future.

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