The question of whether one can return a used car once it's been purchased does not have a quick yes or no answer. Ultimately, it depends on where you bought the car and under what conditions, and what is wrong with the car and when those problems become apparent. South Africa's consumer protection law, the 2011 Consumer Protection Act (CPA), provides some defence against fraudulent sellers.
How to Avoid Needing to Return a Used Car
Though the CPA gives used car shoppers some recourse, it is best to try to avoid needing to take advantage of these protections. Be careful when shopping for a used car. Research the make, model and year of the car you want and find out if there are any common repair issues to look out for. Look for a deal that includes a warranty. Do not buy a car on a whim. Test drive it and look up its history using the vehicle identification number (VIN). Purchase from a dealership that offers a warranty or a seller that has provided a list of, or is otherwise upfront about, any issues the car may have. A seller that claims a used car has no problems may not be telling the truth. Take the car to a trusted mechanic to have it appraised before purchasing. If the seller objects strongly to this, you have good reason to be suspicious.
When Can You Return a Used Car?
One important thing to keep in mind is that you will probably not be able to return a used car because you don't like it or you have changed your mind. There must be something wrong with the car to justify action on the seller's part, and even then, they will likely want to settle for a repair that is significantly less expensive than the cost of the entire vehicle. The only time in which a straight return in exchange for the full purchase price is feasible is when the dealer or seller has misrepresented themselves or the car. This could mean that the dealer or seller actually did not have the right to sell the car, which can happen with stolen cars, or that the car's overall quality or cost was misrepresented. If the car has incurred any damage after purchase, the cost can be deducted from the return.
Buying Used Isn't the Same As Buying New
If you've never bought a new car before, be aware that there are trade-offs for the bargain offered by purchasing a brand-new car. The car may have visible wear on the interior and exterior, and because it's already been used, its mechanical parts are likely not in pristine condition. At some point, most cars require repair. That point tends to arrive sooner with a used car than with a new car. However, this doesn't mean that used car sellers can get away with selling a lemon (a significantly damaged or malfunctioning car). It simply means that buyers need to be aware of what condition the used car is when they buy it. A 10-year-old car is very likely to have some problems, and awareness of those problems can give the buyer a bargaining point in negotiating the final sale price.
Buying from a Dealer
Under the CPA, car dealerships can no longer sell used cars in 'as is' ('voetstoots') condition. This means that they must take responsibility for any issues that are wrong with the car immediately after the sale. Car dealerships don't have to disclose problems, technically, so if you drive off the lot with a problem you don't notice, you aren't completely out of luck, but it may be difficult to return the car. Your ability to have any recourse may depend on the details of the sales contract you sign. If the car has a warranty, that may help to cover the expense of repairs for a limited period after the sale, but it doesn't necessarily mean you can just return the car and get your money back. This may be possible in cases of misrepresentation, but misrepresentation may be hard to prove.
Independent used car sellers can sell their cars as is, or voetstoots. However, according to the CPA, sellers who opt for this condition must provide the buyer with a complete list of any and all mechanical and technical problems. While the buyer cannot return the car or demand repairs for any of the problems on this list, other problems that show up within 6 months of purchase may be actionable. The CPA's voetstoots clause specifies that buyers can demand a refund or repair for problems that show up during this 6-month period after purchase. Sellers have some protections too, though; the original list of issues is included in the sales contract, so buyers will have a hard time lying or otherwise being misleading about these details.