Dealer Deposits - Gone forever?


Once a deposit is given - can it be returned?

Back story:

A new auto dealer found with a close match to what was desired, vehicle to be delivered to dealer (already ordered - not a dealer locater) within the next few weeks - and to ensure the car was not taken by another ‘earnest money’ was placed to hold the car for review then would establish price, and most likely purchase. Nothing signed except paper to run credit to check financing.


Is this ‘earnest money’ / deposit gone for good - to treat the dealer’s family to a week of steak dinners on me?

When asked the dealer became highly defensive, refused further contact, and offered only the name of his attorney ‘if I wished to pursue the matter.’ Wow, huh?

Any and all help GREATLY appreciated!


…You didn’t get any paperwork to outline the deposit amount and what it was for? I’d think you might have some trouble getting the deposit back without having something in writing.
Can you clarify…Are you trying to cancel the purchase of the vehicle that was ordered and they are refusing to refund the deposit?
I’m not sure of usual dealer procedures but I’d really have a hard time ever putting money down on a vehicle just for the chance to negotiate pricing, etc…


I agree with Jad above that you really messed up not getting a contract of some sort specifying the conditions that a deposit must be returned and when it is lost.

You are also being rather weaselly with us in concealing your actions in the matter. We would need the salesman’s version of the case before we can render a verdict.


If I am interpreting the OP correctly, he/she handed cash to a car salesman without obtaining a receipt stating “Refundable Deposit in the amount of $XX.XX received on XX/XX/07”. If I am correct, then it would seem as if that money is gone down the crapper–unless the saleman is unusually honest and moral.

And, if I am correct, then the old expression, “A fool and his money are soon parted” comes to mind.


At this point it is likely a job for YOUR attorney. Without a knowledge of more facts (like is the dealer saying it never happened or just too bad, and did he provide the car and you had changed your mind?) and you local laws on the subject, we really don’t know.


Mention the better business bureau in the manner and speak to the dealership manager not the peon’s. It is never in the interest of a dealership to be even appear in the BBB with a resolved dispute. Then move on to the states attorney general office if nothing happens there.

My bro-in law works in the car sales industry in NH as head of finance of large dealership family. He said there is no such thing as a non-refundable deposit in NH with regards to auto sales.

Lastly and hopefully you used a credit card for the deposit. Call the credit card and dispute the charge. There is never a good reason to hand over more than $100 for a deposit on any vehicle and never ever cash.


If you gave someone money with no paperwork to show what it represented, then you GAVE someone money. If you have no proof, no receipt, for the money you gave, then it was basically a gift.

Why would you do something like that?

If you have a sales contract with a deposit listed on it, and you decide to cancel the sale, you CAN get the deposit back, but if you have no paperwork you’re probably out of luck.


My boyfriend went to buy a new Honda Civic in June. They’re very backordered in the Central New York area, so the dealer told him he needed to put down a deposit until one of the already-ordered vehicles in the color he wanted came in. They said this was to guarantee that he’d get this car (they didn’t have the VIN number but said that the light blue Civic ordered on whatever day was his).

He had to put down at least $200 or more for this deposit, but it was credited towards his down payment when the car actually came in. My problem with this procedure was that they wouldn’t put it in writing that this was refundable. We got the manager out there and he couldn’t give us that assurance either. My boyfriend was sure he wanted the car, so he paid $500 and got a receipt for it. The salesman did tell us that the only way to get the money back was to say that my boyfriend could no longer wait for this new car to come in because his old car had permanently died and needed an immediate replacement.

You aren’t giving us the whole story. I find it hard to believe you could put a deposit down and then decide later that you don’t want the car, because you’re preventing the dealer from selling it in the meantime. I’d bet you went into the same agreement my boyfriend did and now you’re trying to back out from purchasing the car. If I’m wrong and your situation was exactly as you described, you should have gotten paperwork to prove it.


Yes. I do apologize for not providing more information. The vehicle is not to be purchased - financing was not as good as another dealership, also the way the sales team has handled even the thought of a sale going out the door and the return of funds makes me not EVER wish to return to the dealership.

The receipt says I paid cash toward a vehicle - a generic receipt - hand written by the sales office clerk.

Finally, yes, I am obviously ‘green’ to the whole car buying experience… something I am becoming more seasoned at in a hurry!


As I recently replied above to another comment, yes, I have a generic receipt… however the dealer said basically tough cookies, no refunds.


Yes. More is there, this is a small posting board, and should have mentioned more. Yes, similar situation to your boyfriend. I DID plan on purchasing the car, however several variables came up… I was laid off (not being ale to then place the presumed larger deposit planned, and also not certain I could swing the monthly payments), I had been told that the deposit WAS fully refundable, and finally I was dissatisfied with the dealership and their new behavior.

Not trying to be (as another stated - ‘weaselly’) just did not share everything, I am sort of dismayed at being laid off and all. Stupid really to be so ashamed.


If the dealer actually told you it was refundable, you should have insisted it be put in writing. We couldn’t get them to do it, so we made absolutely certain that my boyfriend wanted the car no matter what.

You obviously have approached the dealer about getting your money back, but if his response was to contact a lawyer, I wonder how that conversation went. If you haven’t already explained your circumstances, I’d try that. I know it might be uncomfortable, but if the dealer knows you have a genuine reason they might be more sympathetic. If you’ve already tried that, you might be out of luck. Without a contract or detailed receipt, I’m not sure you’d have any legal recourse. You could try reporting the problem to your state Attorney General, but I don’t think it’d go far.


Legalities aside, if the seller is honoring their part of the contract and the buyer wants to back out, they forfeit the deposit. That’s why they call it earnest money and it covers the seller’s expense and potential lost sales while the contract is being perfected. That being said, most sellers will make allowances for hardship cases by exercising goodwill and refunding a deposit.


Rather than re-type the entire thing, I decided to copy what I wrote about the BBB in another thread. See below for my explanation of why the BBB is essentially a toothless tiger.

Okay. First we need to establish the fact that, contrary to what most people believe, the Better Business Bureau is NOT a governmental entity with regulatory or punitive powers. Instead, it is a private organization that businesses join voluntarily, for an annual fee.

To be fair, patronizing a business that is a member of the BBB is probably going to result in better treatment for the customer. But, note that I said probably, not definitely.

Let’s say that you have a dispute with a merchant, and you contact the BBB. The first thing that they will determine is whether or not the offending business is a paid-up member. If it is not a member, you will be told that the BBB will take note of the information that you provided, but that they are powerless to intervene with that business.
Result for the consumer? Nada.

Now, let’s say that you contact the BBB and they find that the offending company is a member. What will they do? They will contact the business in question, and they will request that the company satisfies your complaint. The key word is REQUEST, not ORDER. What is the penalty for a business that does not satisfy a customer? For a few offenses, the penalty is…nothing… other than to note that information in the files of the BBB.

If a member business begins to develop a pattern of unresolved complaints, then the BBB gets serious and informs the business that they will not accept the annual membership fee unless the business begins to do the right thing in terms of satisfying customers. So, the harshest penalty that the BBB can enact is to refuse to accept the annual membership fee from a business. Wow! That’s really harsh!

So, as I have implied, patronizing a business that is a long-term member of the BBB will likely result in a better experience for a customer, but it is not a guarantee of anything. A business could join for a few years, get those nice decals to display on their front door, and then turn into a business that abuses customers. On the other hand, patronizing a business that is not a member of the BBB is a real crap-shoot. That business could be great in terms of customer service, or it could be run by crooks.

Oh, and by the way, the BBB sells local franchises. And, in some areas, the local franchise-holder charges a fee for a consumer to file a complaint.

So, clearly, the BBB is a profit-making organization, and is not a governmental organization with regulatory or punitive powers. If someone is looking for actual enforcement of regulations, then that person should look to their local consumer protection agency (usually county or state operated), rather than the BBB.


Auto laws are very specific and vary by state and you may want to consult a lawyer, however in most tracsactions deposits to hold an item without a commitment to purchase are nonrefundable, only applicable toward the purchase price if you decide to purchase. You’re essentially compensating the seller for taking the product off the market for a time and missing possible opportunities to sell.


wouldn’t this be a good reason to put a deposit on a credit card? If you had to back out, or they tried to weasel out/into something, you could call the credit card company, request a charge back form and send it in. I know when I buy my new car, I’ll tell the salesman that if they want to advertise their dealership, they better give me a license plate frame, and nothing more. Nelson(not sure they put it on the Lambos they sell though) , Ricart and a few other dealerships around Ohio like to put extra badging on the trunk so they can advertise their place. If I ever bought from them, told them no badges from them, and they have their badge on the car when I go to pick it up… I’d turn right around and walk out


Spoke with dealer - they told me I was a liar and that I did have a job… they came across as if they KNEW I did or did not have employment. I thought all this with privacy laws and the like was withheld from common / public record. Oh well, learning other things too. Could not believe the 180 of the dealership… I mean just because I do not wish to buy NOW does not mean I will NEVER wish to buy in the future. In essence they have created a crusader against their business instead of a possibly future patron.


Yes. Kicking myself for that one… believe me, kicking myself for that!


Respectfully, not wishing for a ‘verdict’ nor to be labeled as ‘weaselly’ - I did not share all information purely due to the fact that I presumed it unnecessary.

Honestly there is more, and have added more to the original post - see comments to the other postings.

Respectfully, thank you for aiding me, I really feel like I need any assistance I can find, just please understand I am not trying to be dishonest, and do understand there are indeed at lease ‘two stories’ behind every event.


The only thing I will add is that because of the fact that you backed out of the deal they may have a claim against that deposit.
I find it hard to believe a new car dealer would jeopardize their reputation and risk lawsuits or licensing problems by doing something that you may feel is blatantly illegal.

You’ve asked the dealer to expend time and effort procuring this car and state that their “financing is not as good as another dealer”. Time is money and dealers do not want cars sitting on the lot - period.

You seem to be offended by the fact they know something about you. That info was obtained in the first 5 minutes you were there probably. Any signed paper at all, showing them your drivers license, an innocent comment in which you may have said the word “yes”, etc. gives them the right to hit the credit reporting agencies right up.
So, before you had time to get comfortable in a chair the printers were probably already spitting out info on you.

Now, why is the dealer being surly about this?
Because they no doubt see on your credit report hits that you’ve been hitting another dealer up for financing on a car at the same time. Each dealer can see what you’re doing at the other so don’t try to remain anonymous. It won’t work.

Like it or not, my opinion is that you should not get the deposit back.