Non-vehicle sale

The consumer’s issue:

“On 18th August 2021, I saw an advertisement for a used 18-plate SUV with around 26,000 miles on the clock on the dealership’s website, which met the specifications that I was looking for. I subsequently called the seller and paid a deposit over the phone, and arranged to collect the vehicle three days later.

However, the dealership called on 20th August 2021 to advise that it had sold the vehicle to somebody else. The business said they would try and source an alternative car that was similar, but they were unable to find one within the same price range. Within the two weeks of placing the deposit, the price of used vehicles increased, meaning the retailer could not match their original offer.

I complained to the dealership, as I did not believe it was fair that I would now have to pay more money for a similar vehicle, and they were ultimately the party at fault for selling the reserved SUV. The business said that their only obligation was to refund the deposit, which they did. However, I have now purchased a vehicle which is one year older and £1,000 more expensive.

To resolve the complaint, I am seeking compensation for the financial loss that I have incurred.”

The accredited business’ response:

  • The customer called us and placed a deposit for a vehicle they saw online. They paid a £99 reservation fee which is used to hold a car until a contract can be concluded.
  • We realised an error had been made, as this vehicle was actually sold to a customer in July 2021 and should not have been made available online.
  • We offered to reimburse the £99 reservation fee, and to try and source a similar vehicle for the customer at no additional cost.
  • The consumer complained to the manufacturer directly regarding the issue, who said that no further action was required on our part.
  • Whilst we are sympathetic in terms of the consumer’s situation, and have apologised for the initial error, we cannot be held accountable for the fact that used vehicles were appreciating in value.

The adjudication outcome:

  •  Under the Code of Practice for Vehicle Sales, the business had an obligation to ensure that the vehicle advertised online was available to purchase after the reservation fee was placed.
  • The Motor Ombudsman adjudicator concluded that the business had breached the Code of Practice, as it was clear this obligation was not met. The business however, acknowledged the initial error and offered to source an alternative vehicle as well as refunding the reservation fee.
  • A business must provide a customer with the terms and conditions of any deposit at the time of sale. If it is found that the business breaches this condition, they would be expected to refund the deposit in full. In this case, the adjudicator was satisfied that the business offered to refund the deposit on two occasions, and eventually, the deposit of £99 was returned.
  • The customer also complained that they had incurred a financial loss as the value of used vehicles increased in the two weeks where the business sought an alternative car. However, the adjudicator did not find this to be a direct demonstrable financial loss, meaning the dealership could not be held liable for this.
  • The adjudicator also stated that the customer was advised just two days after putting down the deposit that the original vehicle was no longer available, and the customer could have also tried to find an alternative from a different retailer.
  • After reviewing the facts of the case, the evidence did demonstrate that the business had breached the Code of Practice, but had offered a fair and reasonable remedy to resolve the matter.
  • The adjudicator was therefore unable to ask the dealership to do anything further in this instance.


  • Both parties accepted the adjudication outcome, and the case was closed.