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Can a Buyer Ask for a Refund After a Private Auto Sale?

Created by FindLaw's team of legal writers and editors.

After a vehicle is sold from one private party to another, the buyer can ask for their money back, but the seller generally does not have to agree to cancel the sale, absent a warranty or fraud.

Buyer's Rights Are Limited Following Private Sale

Selling a vehicle yourself can often get you more money than trading the vehicle in or selling it to a dealer. However, while a dealer won't call you two weeks later and ask for their money back, there is a chance that a private buyer will.

What can you do if you sold a car and now the buyer wants their money back? Of course, you have the option of simply refunding the buyer's money and taking the car back. But, chances are you don't want to take the option if you were happy to get rid of the car in the first place.

The buyer's legal options depend on the facts surrounding the sale, but generally speaking, the buyer's rights are very limited when purchasing a vehicle from a private party.

Private Party vs. Dealership Auto Sales

Whether the buyer realizes it or not, there are important legal differences between buying a vehicle from a licensed dealership and buying from a private party.

When a person buys a used vehicle from a dealer, they are protected by state and federal consumer protection laws because the dealer is a business. However, when a person buys a vehicle from a private seller, the vehicle is sold "as is," meaning without warranty, unless otherwise noted in a contract signed by the seller and the buyer.

Purchasing something "as is" is a legal term meaning “with all issues known and unknown." This means the seller is generally off the hook for any problems that may occur after the title changes hands. At that point, the problems become the buyer's responsibility.

Of course, there are exceptions to this. Namely, if you, as the seller, were not honest about the condition of the vehicle, or you didn't have legal standing to sell the vehicle in the first place, then the buyer could make a fraud argument.

Vehicles That Don't Pass Emissions Testing

There are laws in certain areas that prohibit selling a vehicle that does not pass emissions. Vehicles sold “as is” are not exempt from these laws. If a vehicle was sold in an area where the law applies and the vehicle did not pass emissions testing at the time of the sale, the buyer could potentially ask for their money back or file a civil claim.

Consult state law and a consumer protection attorney in your area for more information.

What If the Buyer Sues?

If the buyer did decide to file a lawsuit, say, in small claims court in an effort to get a refund, both parties would have the opportunity to tell their sides of the story and a judge would issue a decision. An attorney who practices consumer law would have more information on what to do in that situation.

Next Steps

Contact a qualified consumer attorney to assist in your lemon law or dealer fraud matter.

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