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Does The FTC’s 3-Day Right To Cancel Apply To Car Purchases?

Making a big purchase, such as buying a car, can be exciting. The brain starts jumping.

The blood starts pumping. For a moment, everything feels really good.

But what happens when the adrenaline fades and the excitement dies down?

Some buyers find that what seemed like a good idea on the lot – hooking themselves up with a sweet new ride – can start to feel like a mistake once they get home and add that new payment to their monthly budgets.

Or realize that burnt fuchsia color doesn’t look nearly as sexy in their driveway as it did on the car lot.

Or see a gem of a vehicle on their way home that gets their brain jumping and blood pumping even more.

It would be nice, wouldn’t it, if you could just walk back a car purchase? Say, “Hey, sorry, but I think I made a big mistake here.”

You may already know the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has a rule that deals specifically with this type of buyer’s remorse.

Unfortunately, that FTC 3-day cooling off period doesn’t apply to vehicles, new or used.

In fact, motor vehicles is one of the categories of consumer goods explicitly excluded from the 3-Day Right To Cancel rule.

What exactly is excluded from the FTC 3-Day Cooling-Off Rule?

couple walks with salesperson through auto sales floor

Automotively speaking, the following things are excluded from the FTC cooling-off period:

  • Cars, trucks, vans, and other motor vehicles sold at temporary locations, if the seller has a permanent place of business
  • Cars, trucks, vans, and other motor vehicles sold after negotiations at the seller’s permanent place of business (car lot)

This pretty much excludes any vehicle sold by licensed car dealers.

Does that mean I have a right to cancel a private party sale?


The FTC cooling-off period and car laws in most states do not cover private-party sales.

In fact, many states go so far as to explicitly exclude private-party sales, leaving them largely unregulated.

Why doesn’t the FTC cooling-off rule apply to cars?

The FTC 3-day right to cancel doesn’t apply to vehicles because cars are almost always sold through car lots or private parties.

The FTC law is specifically designed to protect consumers from high-pressure sales techniques in their homes, workplaces, or at temporary locations (basically, from door-to-door sales and pitches made at trade shows, etc.)

So, while it might feel high-pressure when you drive onto a car lot and a salesperson rushes to meet you before you can even get out of your seatbelt, in the eyes of the FTC it isn’t.

You are, after all, the one choosing to go to the car lot. (Or to contact a private seller about a vehicle for sale).

So, they expect you to do your own due diligence.

So, what do I do if I bought a car I don’t want?

If you purchased a vehicle you simply don’t want, you have very little recourse.

You can always ask the dealer (or private seller) to take the vehicle back and refund your money, but they are under no obligation to do so.

If there is an issue with the vehicle, or with the deal itself, however, that’s another matter.

New vehicles with serious operational issues fall under state (and federal) lemon laws.

Some state lemon laws also apply to used vehicles if they fall within the lemon law coverage period. (A handful of states have lemon laws specifically geared toward used vehicles as well.)

Issues with deals or contracts (such as a seller failing to disclose a problem with the vehicle or changing the terms of the contract) fall under fraud in most states.

In these instances, the Consumer Protection Division of the Attorney General’s Office can provide guidance and mediation.

If necessary, you can also file a lawsuit against the seller.

Consider Before You Buy

Since there is no cooling-off period for vehicles, whether you buy them new or used through a dealer or private seller, you should do any deliberating before you buy.

Once you sign the contract, or transfer the title, you’re pretty much in.

You may have recourse under consumer protection laws if something goes wrong, but you have no right to a return the vehicle under FTC rules.