Wilmots Litigation case clarifies law on number plate retention


This was a similar case to Coys v McDonald.  Sir John Madejski consigned 2 cars to Coys auctioneers in different auctions. He wanted to reserve the cherished numbers on both cars so that they were not sold with the cars. He said that his staff would deal with the reservation of the numbers with the DVLA. In the event there was no difficulty with the first car, which was sold at an earlier auction.

With the second car however Sir John’s staff did not complete the necessary forms in time so that the car, when sold at auction, was still registered with the cherished number. However the car had not been on the road for a number of years, the number plates had been removed, there was no registration number mentioned in the auction particulars and the price at which the car was offered for sale was obviously considerably less than it would have been had the number been included.

A Mr Harrison successfully bid for the car and when he came to register it found out that it was still registered with the original number. He decided to keep the number even though it was pointed out to him that any reasonable person would have known from the particulars given above that it was quite clearly not included in the sale. Sir John Madejski subsequently sued Coys (for having failed to take reasonable steps to make sure the number had been reserved) and Mr Harrison.

The court found that Mr Harrison was liable to return the value of the number to Sir John Madejski and that he knew or ought to have known that it was not included in the sale. Coys was held to have complied with its part of the contract, because not only had it not been instructed to deal with the DVLA to make sure the number was removed but there was a specific term in the contract to say that it would not have anything to do with the removal of numbers and that was entirely the responsibility of the owner.

Points of significance;

1. As in Coys v McDonald, make sure that all the paperwork is completed before the car goes into auction.
2. Read the Terms and Conditions of either the dealer or the auction house selling the car to see what the position is so far as the removal of registration numbers is concerned.
3. If things go wrong you cannot sue for the return of the number, only its value.