Persistent tobacco odour

The consumer’s issue:

“I purchased a used ’09 plate SUV in July 2019. During the test drive, I noticed that it smelled of cigarette smoke. The dealership advised me that they would clean the vehicle, and that this would get rid of the smell. It was on this basis that I agreed to buy the car, but after two valeting attempts, the tobacco odour was still present.

The dealership offered to exchange the vehicle and provide a £1,000 discount on a new car, along with £500 goodwill. This offer was not acceptable, as there would still be a shortfall of between £1,800 and £2,300 in order for me to purchase a new vehicle.

I am therefore seeking to reject the used SUV that I bought, and to be put back in the position I was in prior to the purchase. At the end of the day, I was sold a car that was not fit for purpose, and the dealership did not honour their promise to remove the smell.”

The accredited business’ response:

  • The consumer is referring to a conversation which took place with the sales consultant during the sales negotiations. Unfortunately, there is no written agreement noted in any of the sales documentation which confirms the vehicle would be free from any type of odour.
  • The SUV was never advertised as being a non-smoker’s car or promoted as such in any advert or online. We cannot say with any degree of certainty that the level of tobacco scent is intrusive since each individual has a different perception of what is acceptable.
  • We have attempted to resolve the matter by having the vehicle cleaned by using a ‘smoke bomb’. This is a deodoriser that is used through the vehicle’s air flow and heater blower to try and eliminate the issue.
  • We did offer a preferential part exchange and deal for another car, but the consumer declined our offer.
  • This SUV was a used car, and the condition was indicative of the age and mileage driven at the time of purchase.
  • We consider that any odour is a cosmetic issue, and is not sufficient grounds to reject the vehicle.

The adjudication outcome:

  • The Motor Ombudsman adjudicator reviewed the evidence to see whether they could find a breach of the Motor Industry Code of Practice for Vehicle Sales.
  • It was noted that conversations may have taken place at the point of sale around the removal of the smell.
  • However, there was no supporting documentation to justify either parties’ position, so it was difficult for the adjudicator to know exactly what had happened.
  • The adjudicator stated that the consumer had the responsibility to ensure that the vehicle met their needs at the point of sale. The customer also test-drove the vehicle before agreeing to the purchase, meaning they had an opportunity to not buy it if the odour was too strong for them.
  • Finally, as the consumer had purchased a used vehicle, they understood it would come with a history, which could include being driven by someone who smoked.
  • After reviewing all the evidence, the adjudicator could not find that the vehicle suffered from a fault, or that the business had breached their Code obligations by misleading the consumer. They were satisfied that the business’ offer to exchange the car was fair and reasonable in the circumstances.
  • As a result, the complaint was not upheld in the consumer’s favour and the adjudicator was unable to recommend any further action.


  • Neither party responded to the adjudication outcome, and the case was closed.