Can I hand my car back if I can no longer afford the monthly finance payments?

Some forms of finance allow you to return your car early, but there are rules to consider. Here's what you need to know...

Car finance explained

It’s always important to make sure you can afford the monthly repayments before you buy a car on finance, but the rising cost of living means that circumstances change, and people can find themselves in financial difficulty. 

If you’ve bought a car on finance and found that you can no longer afford the monthly repayments then it is sometimes possible to cancel the contract and hand the car back to the finance company without having to pay a penalty.

However, your ability to do so depends on the type of finance you have taken out and how much money you have already paid off. 

Here, we explain exactly what you should do if you find you can no longer afford your monthly car finance payments. 

What should I do if I can’t afford to pay for my car? 

If you pay for your car monthly and find you can no longer afford to, the first thing you should do is speak to your finance provider. It is far better to be honest with them than to default on your payments, and they may be able to help.      

Some lenders will be happier to assist than others, but they might suggest some other solutions that may allow you to keep the car and make the payments more manageable. They could, for example, allow you to defer the payments for a short period of time, or they may be willing to extend the period of the loan to reduce the cost of the monthly payments.  

Again, being open with the finance company and attempting to arrange a solution is a much better idea than failing to pay, which affects your credit score and makes it harder to get finance in the future. 


What if I just want to hand the car back? 

It depends on the type of finance you have and where you are in the contract. If you bought your car using personal contract purchase (PCP) or hire purchase (HP) then you’re allowed to hand it back to the finance company if you have already paid off 50% of the loan, including any interest and fees. This is known as voluntary termination. 

If you’ve yet to pay off 50% of the loan then you’ll have to make up the difference if you want to hand the car back. Equally, if you’ve paid off more than 50%, you won’t get that extra money back if you cancel the contract and return the car. 

If you lease your car through a personal contract hire (PCH) scheme then it’s a lot more difficult to hand it back to the finance company early. You can return it, but you’ll probably have to pay back any remaining money you owe on the contract, so if you still have a year left, then the lender will expect a year’s worth of fees up front. In this instance, it’s better to contact the finance company and see what else you can arrange. 

Can I sell my car halfway through a finance deal? 

If you’ve bought a car on finance, such as a PCP or HP deal, you’re not the legal owner of the car until you’ve made all the payments. This means you don’t legally have the right to sell it privately. 

However, you can trade it in with a car dealer because most major dealer groups have the ability to settle the outstanding finance on a car for you. The dealer will ask your current finance company for a settlement figure and factor the cost of this into a new finance agreement on another vehicle. 

You can’t sell a car that’s on a PCH deal because this is a leasing deal and you don’t ever own the vehicle. 

What happens if I refuse to pay the finance payments on my car? 

Car on breakdown truck

This is the worst thing you can do if you’re struggling to pay because it could end up costing you more in the long run and your car could be repossessed. 

If you miss a payment, the finance company will get in touch, and it’s best to talk to them then. If you don’t, and continue to miss payments, they will issue an arrears notice. They will eventually take the car back and could take you to court to charge you for the outstanding debt and interest on it. 

The best thing to do if you can’t afford finance payments is talk to your dealer or finance provider about options to reduce the finance or hand the car back. Getting a more affordable deal set up sooner will stop you from getting a bad credit rating, which could affect your ability to get finance in the future. 

Could I reduce my payments by downsizing? 

If you're struggling to meet your monthly payments and bought your car on a PCP or HP deal, it's worth talking to the supplying dealer, because they may be able to help you find a more affordable model and help you end the finance contract early and transfer you over to a new one. This means you'll still have your own transport, but have smaller monthly bills. 

It's also worth seeing if you could save money in other ways, such as finding cheaper insurance, driving fewer miles or taking out a servicing plan to spread the cost of maintenance. 

If you used a personal loan or credit card to buy your car and can’t afford the repayments, then you’ll likely have to sell the car to cover the money you owe. 

Next: read the What Car? guide to car finance >>

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