How to Get Back a Cash Deposit When Buying a Car

A deposit on a vehicle may not be refundable, depending on dealer policies and local law.

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When you decide to purchase a vehicle, and you can't take delivery immediately, you may choose to give the dealership a cash deposit to hold the vehicle. This will keep the dealership from selling the vehicle you want to another person. Consider carefully if you want to do this, as you may lose your deposit if you do not make the purchase. In some cases, you may get a refund of a deposit.

The Law

According to the Better Business Bureau, it is a widespread belief that a car dealership must give back a cash deposit that a buyer makes on a vehicle purchase if the buyer changes his mind, but it isn't true. A car dealership does not have to return a deposit to a buyer if the buyer made the deposit as a good-faith gesture of his intention to purchase a vehicle. The purpose of the deposit is to show that a buyer is serious about the purchase, and willing to lose the deposit if he does not follow through with his agreement.

Dealership Policies

A car dealership is free to set its own policies with regard to how it will treat cash deposits, as long as these policies are consistent with the law. A dealership may have a policy where it just does not accept cash deposits, or it may allow a refund within a certain number of days. The dealership should have its policies clearly defined, and any non-refund policy should be clearly written and indicated on any receipt or contract that you sign.

Just Ask

If your circumstances have truly changed, and it no longer makes sense to purchase a vehicle that you agreed to, you can ask the dealership for your money back. The dealership may comply, particularly if it is interested in building a long-term relationship with you as a customer. If the dealership senses that you are simply going to purchase a vehicle somewhere else, it is less likely to give you a refund. Speak with the sales manager or general manager, and make your case.

Legal Remedies

If the dealership has a refund policy clearly posted, or written on the sales contract or receipt, and it chooses not to honor that policy, you can seek legal recourse against the dealership. If the deposit amount is less than the small claims court maximum for your state, you can file a suit there. Small claims doesn't require a lawyer, and the filing and hearing process is relatively simple.