Viewer denied refund on vehicle deposit

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) – Can a used car dealership keep your deposit, if you find a better deal on a nicer ride, someplace else? The answer is more complex than you think.

The customer says he didn't sign anything. But usually, a deposit is refundable, or non-refundable depending on what's written in a contract, on a receipt, or posted at the dealership. So, if the buyer decides not to buy, they lose the deposit. If the dealership sells the vehicle, when a deposit is suppose to hold it, the buyer can sue.

Robert Morton had good experiences buying used cars. He found a used van he liked at 'Plaza Motors', Midlothian Turnpike. He saw the van but couldn't test drive it. It was getting repairs at a shop next door. Robert says the sales manager suggested he leave a deposit.

"I felt like it was a good car. I wanted to test drive it and I didn't want him to sell it out from under us," said Morton.

Robert left one hundred dollars and got a receipt with the owner's signature, Greg Adkins. Robert found a better deal and says he returned for a refund the next day.

"I came back the following day on the 23rd and Greg wasn't there. Uncle Charlie tells me you have to catch Greg because he handles the money," Morton explained.

Robert says he made several trips before he caught Greg. When he finally did, he refused his request for a refund.

The Office of Consumer Affairs and the Motor Vehicle Dealer Board say don't make a deposit if:

  • You don't have the dealer's promises and assurances in writing.
  • You are unsure and might change your mind about the purchase.
  • Or you plan to shop at other dealerships.

I went to Plaza Motors for its side of the dispute. Owner Greg Adkins wasn't there but sales manager, Uncle Charlie was.

DIANE: "Do you have a notice on the wall anywhere?"
UNCLE CHARLIE: "Yes we do, on credit approval. I'm not sure on his particular deal."
DIANE: "I'm just wondering how would somebody see that sign? It's not conspicuous at all."

Plaza Motors mailed me two certified letters after I dropped in.

DIANE: "It sounds excessive to hold a hundred bucks you know especially if no one invested anytime or labor writing up a sales contract."

The owner's letter says "The posted policy means deposits are not refundable after credit approval or accepted cash offers."

It goes on to say Morton, was also verbally informed and "had he returned the next day as he said he was, we would have refunded his money, as the dealership would not have suffered loss of possible sale due to time lapsed." It says, "Notifying us 5 days later, after he obligated himself to purchase it, does not obligate us to return his deposit."

I tried to have a conversation with the owner to ask whether he had a buyer for the van during that time.  He chose not to call, despite my messages. He ended his letter saying, he didn't feel Morton is entitled to a refund, but he will return his money, if we send him to the dealership.

Such disputes can be settled in court or, file a complaint with the Motor Vehicle Dealer Board or the Office of Consumer Affairs. If you'd like to read the entire letter, click the links below.

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