Can a used car dealership keep your deposit if you decide against purchasing a vehicle?
My fiance called a dealership after seeing a truck they had online. This dealership is over 200 miles from our home. After talking to the salesman, my fiance was interested. They asked him to place a deposit of $3000 so that they wouldn't sell the truck. Due to his banking rules, he could only place down $1700 from his debit card, which he did. This was on Saturday 2/13/10. We decided against the purchase and now they say they will only refund $1200 because they "could have sold it" between Saturday night and Monday morning (they're closed Sundays). Can they legally keep our money?
Yes; in fact, they could have legally kept the entire $1,700. The purpose of a deposit is for the prospective buyer to "put some skin in the game" in order to convince the possible seller to hold the item and not sell it for anyone else. The deposit imposes duties on both parties; if the seller sells the item despite there being a deposit, the buyer could sue; and if the buyer walks away from the sale, the seller gets to keep the deposit. (It would be different if the seller rendered the sale impossible, or possibly if some third party or "act of god," like storm destroying a vehicle, make the sale impossible.) It doesn't matter how much or how little time passes from when the deposit is made to when the buyer decides to walk on the sale; once the deposit is made, the buyer is obligated to complete the sale or lose the deposit.
Certainly, check any paperwork you may have received, including terms and conditions listed online--if the dealer's own terms say that a deposit is refundable under your circumstances, they have to honor their terms.
Did you sign any documents regarding the deposit or did you discuss the terms: refundable or non-refundable? You must have gotten a receipt. What does it say?
It sounds as if the dealership is trying to pull one over on you. Deposits are either refundable or non-refundable. They are trying to partially refund the money without claiming a valid reason to withhold the $500 (like a processing fee or a re-stocking fee for certain other items). "could have" sold it does not count. If you take them to court they will have to prove that they had a bona fide purchaser that they had to refuse because they held it for you. Unlikely.
I would contact the Missouri Department of Revenue's Motor Vehicle Bureau and the DMV, who issues dealership licenses and file a complain. Otherwise, sue them in small claims court. Good luck.