If You Buy A Car You Don’t Like, Are Those Return Policies From Dealers Legit?

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As Jalopnik’s resident car buying expert and professional car shopper, I get emails. Lots of emails. I’ve decided to pick a few questions and try to help out. This week we are discussing the difference between a return policy and an exchange policy from a used car dealer, and what to do if the dealer didn’t process your loan but you have the car and the title.


Why you should always look at the fine print when it comes to “return” policies.

Last week when I bought a used car from a Toyota dealership in Arlington, VA I was told I had 7 days to return it. This morning when I called to tell them I would like to return it because I find it uncomfortable I was told it was a 7 day exchange policy. They then proceeded to try and tell me that I must have misunderstood the car salesman who told me the wrong information (twice) because they had no policy for returns at all. They never offered to work with me or tried to find out what I didn’t like about the car.

I know there a much bigger problems in the world but I am rather surprised at how bad they are at customer service.


Often customers will encounter dealers selling used cars that offer either a return or an exchange policy, but the semantic difference between those two options is critical. An exchange policy is where the dealer will swap the car you bought for another one. Of course, if the replacement is more expensive you would be on the hook for the price difference.

A return policy is when a dealer will take the car back and refund your money. CarMax and online retailers like Carvana and Vroom have return policies very clearly spelled out on their respective websites. If you buy a car and you don’t like it, they will take it back providing you are within the time and mileage threshold of the policy.

I have not encountered too many traditional dealers that do a return policy like those other retailers do, but I’ve seen a number of used car lots with “return policies.” However, in my years of experience working with various dealers, there has been a general correlation between used car lots with return policies aligning with more of a shady dealer approach to sales.

The key thing to remember is that salespeople will often tell you whatever they think will help them make the sale. That’s even if it is incorrect, or blatantly false information. If a dealer says they offer or guarantee something, make sure you get it in writing and pay attention to the details.


What should we do if the dealer never processed the loan but gave us a car and the title?

I would like your expert car buyer opinion about a situation. The 328 was purchased from a large, national, well-known dealer. We used outside financing from a bank they were familiar with, so we showed up with a request for funds form for them to send to the bank already filled out. About two weeks later my mom gets an overnight FedEx with the signed over title. A week or so after that a call from the bank that the loan has not been completed, will expire, reapply, etc.

Several calls and emails to the business office and the sales person to try to let them know their mistake, and I get “I’ll look it up and get back to you.” Haven’t heard back in a month now.

My question is, did mom just get a free car? How hard do I try to fix this? Feels like reminding the teacher they forgot to assign homework. What do you think happens when/if they catch their mistake?”


It is very unlikely you got a “free car” out of this situation, and it constantly amazes me how bad dealers are at their job sometimes. You would think getting money for a vehicle would be priority number one, but someone obviously dropped the ball. At the end of the day, you are still responsible for paying for the car one way or another since you did sign a contract indicating you are going to pay X amount for Y vehicle. I would contact the finance manager or the general manager of the dealer and explain the situation, once someone at the top gets word that a car is gone without getting the money, I’m sure they will find a way to process the loan.

Got a car buying conundrum that you need some assistance with? Email me at!

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