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Mom, I bought a car. Can you pay for it?

Tara Baukus Mello
Tara Baukus Mello

Dear Driving for Dollars,
My 18-year-old son, a college freshman, recently purchased a car. It was quite spontaneous, and neither I nor his dad knew he was doing it. It's been a few weeks, and he realizes now that he cannot afford to make the payments. We cannot afford to make the payments for him. How can he get rid of this car?
-- Laurie

Dear Laurie,
It sounds like he purchased the car entirely on his own, meaning no one else's name appears on the car loan, the title or any of the paperwork. If that's the case, the car and the car loan are legally just his responsibility, and you have no legal responsibility to help him out. In most states, there is no "cooling off" period for a car purchase, so it's likely that you have no legal leg to stand on to insist the car be taken back, since he is technically an adult.

First, do a little legwork to find out what the car is worth -- at a dealership and in a private-party sale -- and compare it to what he owes. Hopefully, the gap is minimal. Next, contact the manager of the dealership to see if you can get him to take pity on your son's bad decision and allow him to return the car.

Even if you can negotiate the car being returned plus a small payment to compensate for the depreciation, it's likely this will be the cheapest way out of the situation. If the dealer won't take it back under any circumstances, consider selling the car privately and paying off the car loan. Again, it's likely your son will be on the hook for some cash due to depreciation, but if you or someone you know can give him a loan to cover the difference, it will be better than him being saddled with a high monthly car payment or wrecking what little credit he has through late payments.

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