McDonald v Coys of Kensington Automobiles

A firm of auctioneers accepted a car into their auction on the basis that the number was not for sale. A notice on the windscreen said as much and there were no number plates on the car.

The car was duly sold to Mr McDonald who took the car away together with the documents (which included the V5, with the cherished number on it) and registered the car together with the number in his name. He declined to sign the forms whereby the number would be returned to the original owner.

Coys duly sued Mr McDonald. They were unable to sue for the return of the number because, a registration number, not being property, and therefore not being capable of being owned by an individual, could not be the subject of a restitution order by the court. Instead the court decided that McDonald had been unjustly enriched by retaining a number that he knew, or should have known, was not included in the price that he paid, and he was therefore ordered to pay the original owner the value of the number, together with his costs.

One argument that McDonald used to attempt to stave off disaster was that shortly after the purchase of the car he had transferred the car to his girlfriend. The court was not impressed with that argument and did not believe him, and it would not, in any event as it turned out, have affected the issue because it was not the number, but the value of it, which was restored to the owner.

Points of Significance;
1. If you wish to retain a number make sure that all the paperwork is completed before  any contract is entered into for the sale of the car. The number goes with the car.
2. If you are selling a car by auction, make sure that the instructions to the auction house are absolutely clear and that there is notification to buyers that a number is not included if that is the case.

3. If matters go wrong you will not be entitled to the return of the number, only its value.