We get a lot of questions on our forum and in the comments sections of our articles from car buyers who have given a car dealer a deposit for a car and now – for whatever reason – want it back.

Quite often, buyers will be told that a deposit is refundable if they change their mind, only to subsequently change their minds and be told they can’t have their deposit back after all.

Usually there is no legal right for you to change your mind after buying a car from a dealer. There are no grounds to terminate the contract on medical grounds, compassionate grounds, loss of job or anything else. Once you hand over your cash, it’s gone. Trying to get your deposit back again involves negotiating the agreement of the dealer to refund your money, and is usually entirely up to them to decide to do so or not.

It should be noted that there are legal arguments about how much deposit a dealer is entitled to keep based on their reasonable costs and losses of income from a cancelled order. However, if it gets to the point where you are taking the dealer to court to argue about getting some or all of your deposit back, you are probably spending much more than whatever the deposit was anyway.

So what are the rules regarding deposits and when should you be able to have your deposit refunded?

When is a deposit not really a deposit?

The first problem is the word itself. Most people think of a deposit as a refundable bond or temporary holding payment, but in car sales that isn’t generally true. When you give a car dealer a deposit, it is almost always considered an up-front or initial payment on a car.  As a rule, it is not refundable unless specific circumstances apply.

When buying a car from a dealership, the dealer will want two things: a signed contract and/or a deposit. Having both is better, but one or the other will do if necessary to consider a car sold. If you sign an order form or give a car dealer a deposit on a vehicle, you are buying that car. The deposit is a form of security to hold the car until you are ready to pay the rest of the money and collect the vehicle. If you change your mind, you lose the deposit. Simple enough in most cases.

This is entirely fair enough. Car dealers exist to sell cars. If you walk in and say “I want to buy this car right here”, but you are not prepared to sign an order form and are not prepared to put down a deposit, then you’re not serious about buying the car.

A dealer is not going to hold that car for you without some kind of guarantee that you are actually going to come back with the rest of the money. A signed order is nice, but if you try to back out of it then there’s not a lot they can do unless they want to take you to court. So they take a deposit – the amount may vary, but it has to be significant enough that you won’t simply vanish if you change your mind. You will want that money back and they will be able to either fight you for it or use it as an opportunity to keep you from cancelling your order.

Taking a deposit is also a tactical ploy from the salesperson. Once you have pulled out your wallet, you are making a psychological commitment to buying that car and you are less likely to change your mind or keep looking around for a better deal.

Giving a car dealer a cash deposit on a carBut the salesman told me that my deposit was refundable!

If a dealer tells you that a deposit is fully refundable if you change your mind, do not believe them unless they are prepared to put that in writing. This means getting them to email you to spell out the conditions for refunding your deposit, and/or noting on your receipt (always get a receipt) to say that the money paid is refundable if you choose not to continue with the purchase.

Most dealers will not be prepared to put the above in writing. Why not? Because deposits are not usually refundable unless it is the dealer who is cancelling the order.

Always remember that a verbal promise from a car dealer is worth nothing. If someone promises you something, get it in writing in an official document (email is fine, as it will show sender, email address and date) or else the promise does not really exist.

So when is a deposit refundable?

Generally, there is no cooling-off period when you buy a car from a dealership. If you visit the dealer and buy a car that you have seen at the dealership, even if the actual sale takes place off-premises, then you have bought that car and there is no legal basis to cancel your order and get your deposit back.

However, if the entirety of the sale takes place off-premises (so you are buying a car without ever visiting the dealership), then you have 14 days to change your mind – even after paying for the car and taking delivery. In this case, you are entitled to a full refund of any monies paid (some conditions do apply, though).

If the dealer cancels the order for whatever reason, such as the car no longer being available (it happens a lot, particularly in large multi-site operations), then you are entitled to your money back.

If the contract is voided for any reason, such as the factory not being able to supply the vehicle (production may have ended or halted, or the specification may have changed), then you are entitled to have your deposit back and are not obliged to take another vehicle.

If your finance application is declined, most dealers will refund your deposit without question. Technically, they could hold you to the contract and oblige you to find funding elsewhere, but in reality this doesn’t happen and you can get your money back.

Never give a car dealer money unless you are 100% comfortable with buying the car

This is one of The Car Expert’s Ten Golden Rules of buying a car. Only hand over your cash or credit card once you are completely comfortable with buying that exact car for that exact amount of money (whether cash or finance). If you’re still hoping to get a better deal, or you’re not sure about your job circumstances, or you’re not fully convinced about the colour, or you haven’t discussed it with your significant other or accountant, or any other reason at all, then don’t put a deposit down on the car. It is always much more hassle to get your money back again than it is to not spend it in the first place.

16 COMMENTS

  1. Hi Stuart.

    Thank you for this informative article. I wonder if you don’t mind answering a personal query on this: I put down a £300 deposit on a car from a dealership and the entirety of the sale took place over the phone and not on premises. A couple of days after putting down the deposit over the phone i did not go ahead with the order. I did not sign any sort of order form etc. As per your article above i believe i am entitled to this money back but the salesman told me that they had to bring in another car from a dealership etc and therefore incurred costs so i cannot have this deposit back. None of this i was ever aware of. They even mentioned that they can hold this deposit in case i wanted to buy a car from them in the future. I have tried contacting them again to request my refund back but have now received no communication back from them and i am wondering a) if i am entitled to my deposit back and b) how to approach the situation?…

    Any help would be most appreciated.

    Thanks

    Matthew

  2. Hello, a £255 deposit was put down on a used car. My son returned the car within the 30 day, under the consumer protection act, as it was not ” fit for purpose”. The company had it back and cancelled the credit agreement, however the deposit had not been returned. Where do we stand.
    Thank you

    • Hi Sandra. Yes, if the car has been rejected under the Consumer Rights Act 2015, the full invoice amount of the vehicle is refundable.

      The finance agreement is separate from the deposit paid to the dealer. You will need to keep chasing the dealership until it is repaid.

  3. Hi. I wonder if you could help please? I’ve recently placed a £1000 deposit on a used approved car from a main dealership. This has all been done over the phone and I was due to complete the sale in person in a few days. I haven’t signed any contracts or seen and T&Cs. I’ve now looked properly at my finances and I am unable to proceed with the deal. At the time I paid the deposit I wanted some time to think about it, but was talked into placing the deposit. Will I be able to get my deposit back and walk away from the deal?

    Any help would be greatly appreciated.

  4. Hi. I test drove a car and left the dealership with no purchase etc. A few days later I decided to buy the car and paid £1000 deposit over the phone. I have signed no paperwork and can now no longer proceed with the purchase. Because I had test driven the car does this mean that although I have signed nothing and paid the deposit over the phone that I am not entitled to my deposit back?

    • Hi Judith. The dealer may be happy to refund your £1,000 or they may want to argue the matter.

      If they want to argue with you, it is likely to depend on how much discussion went on at the dealership, and whether they provided you with a quotation. If you were paying a deposit based on a quotation provided on-site, they are likely to argue that the sale was largely inducted on the premises and that your deposit was confirmation of your acceptance of their offer.

      If you keep arguing, you will probably get it back eventually.

  5. I have seen and enquired about a car online. I agreed a price over the phone and paid a £200 deposit. The dealership has now got back to me and says the picture is a ‘library’ image and that the car has lots of extras on it which has increased the price by about £400. I can stand the extra cost but one of these extras is a red ‘touch’ package. I was under the impression I had orderd a black car only to find out its black and red. Should I be able to get my deposit back?

    • Hi Kate. You are absolutely entitled to your deposit back. The car is not as described so you can withdraw from your purchase and get your money back. The dealer may try and cajole you into buying the car anyway, or transferring your deposit to another car they have for sale, but you do not have to accept any alternative option.

      • Thank you for your advice. I have been to the dealer this morning and told them I did not want the car as it wasn’t the car I had agreed to put a deposit on. They said it was fine and I could get my deposit back and they would call me in the afternoon once a manager could process it. Surprise surprise the phone call never happened and when I called back the sales person I have dealt with was either busy or had gone home. I will try again tomorrow and this time if they don’t return my call I will go again in person and wait at the dealership until a manager becomes available.

  6. Hi there. Thanks for all the advice above. A friend has just phoned and falls in the middle of many of the discussions above.
    He did visit the dealership to test drive the car, but then paid £500 deposit over the phone by debit card.
    He has not seen or signed any paperwork.
    He now wants to cancel the order – but more than 14 days have passed since he paid the £500.
    The dealer says it won’t refund the money because he’s taken longer than 14 days to tell them.
    Any advice would be a great help.
    Thanks
    Dave
    London

  7. I have seen car on auto trader with trader seller, put down 200 deposit to reserve car, but once visited showroom car did not match description of add, I have requested refund which trader has refused. All dealings has been done over phone or sms prior to visit when found out car does not match description. Can I get deposit back, if, so how? Thanks for advice.

What are your thoughts? Let us know below.