You can fight back against unlawful vehicle repossession

The thought of your car or truck being repossessed summons up a few different feelings, none of them good.

  • Fear:

          How will you get to work, run errands, take your kids to school without your car?

  • Humiliation:

          Your neighbors will know that you’re struggling financially.

  • Defeat:

          How will you come up with the money to recover your car?

But this doesn’t mean you’re helpless in the face of repossession. There are laws designed to protect consumers, even those who fell behind on their car payments.

These laws determine how banks and lenders can operate during repossessions, what notices they need to provide to borrowers and how they can handle the sale of the repossessed vehicle.

If you’re facing repossession, here’s what you need to know.

What Should I Do If My Car is Going to Be Repossessed?

If you think your vehicle is about to be repossessed, take these steps:

  1. Remove all purchase and loan documents from the vehicle.
  2. Remove all personal belongings.
  3. Make a record of the vehicle: note the mileage on your odometer and take photos of the interior and exterior of the vehicle.
  4. Ask your lender to provide you with a written loan payment history and a payoff figure.
  5. Don’t try to hide your vehicle to avoid repossession.


My Car Was Repossessed. Now What?

  1. Determine whether your vehicle was repossessed or stolen
    The first thing to do is to make sure your car was in fact repossessed – and not stolen – by calling your lender and your local police department.
  2. Gather your car purchase, loan and payment documents:
    • Buyer’s Order or car purchase agreement
    • Retail Installment Sales Contract (RISC) or loan agreement.
    • Loan Payment History 
  3. Obtain tow company information
    Find out which tow company was hired by the lender to repossess your vehicle.  Request the location and contact information of the tow company so that you can contact them to retrieve your personal belongings from the vehicle.
  4. Gather repossession documents mailed from the lender
    After the repossession, the lender is required to provide the borrower with the following documents:
    • The Notice of Intent to Sell Property or repossession notice.
      This document will detail the terms for you to get your vehicle back.  Also, the letter will designate a time period within which you must act before the vehicle is sent to a private sale or auction.
    • The Deficiency Notice
      This notice is sent to the borrower after the vehicle has been sold.  It will list the selling price of the vehicle, repo and storage costs.  The selling price will be deducted from the balance owed on the loan.
  5. Be Cautious:   Waivers and Release Agreements
    Never sign a waiver or release agreement to get your vehicle back. Signing a waiver could negate a legal claim of wrongful actions by the lender. There’s no law requiring you to sign documents to recover your vehicle, even if the repo agent or storage yard asks for one.
  6. Collection letters & calls
    Once the vehicle is sold, typically the lender will assign collection of the deficient balance to a debt collector.  Collectors must follow the law when they are collecting debt from consumers.  If you receive collection letters or phone calls for the deficient balance on your car loan, the collection contact can be reviewed for potential violation of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act.  Learn about your rights with debt collectors.


What Rights Do I Have After a Repossession?

No matter the circumstances that led to your vehicle being repossessed, the lender must still adhere to the rules. These rules govern how and when they can repossess a car, what type of notices they need to give and how they can auction off or sell your vehicle.

If they’ve ignored any of these rules, you might be able to take legal action against the lender or repossession company, even if you had fallen behind on your payments.

How Do I Know If the Repo Agent Broke the Rules?

Repo agents don’t have free rein when it comes to taking possession of your car, truck, motorcycle, boat or RV. They can’t use physical force, threaten to use force, or enter your property without your permission.

This means they can’t enter your home without your invitation or access a locked garage or fence unless you give them the OK.

If you believe that a repo agent broke these rules or the repossession was improperly carried out, take these steps to document the process:

  • Write a statement that explains how the repossession unfolded: date, time, name of the repo company, a description of the agent, notes of statements made and actions taken.
  • Take photos of the agent’s truck. The photos should include their vehicle’s license plate, company name and contact information.
  • Take a photo of your odometer and the interior and exterior of your vehicle so you have a record of its condition.
  • Document any damaged property with photographs (i.e. fence, garage door, lawn, other vehicles)
  • Request a police report that details the incident, with the names of the officers who came to the scene.
  • Obtain witness statements, including their names, contact information and a written statement of the events they saw.


How Can I Get My Car Back?

A bank, credit union or finance company can repossess a vehicle if there’s a default, whether the borrower made late or partial payments, missed payments, had a lapse in car insurance coverage or a co-borrower passed away.

The loan agreement you receive after buying your car explains the rights you have during repossession. This document is known as a Retail Installment Sales Contract, which says whether you need to pay off the entire balance of your loan to recover your car, or simply pay your past due payments.

The lender may also require you pay the cost of towing and storing your vehicle in addition to satisfying your loan payments.

After the repossession, you are entitled to a notice that explains what you need to do to retrieve your car. This document is often called a Notice of Intent to Sell Property. The lender will mail it to you shortly after the repossession, and within enough time to get your car back before it is sent to auction or sold at a private sale.

If any of the laws governing repossession were broken, you may be able to take legal action against the lender or repo company – whether you had fallen behind on payments or not.

If you think your lender mishandled your repossession, turn to the law firm of Flitter Milz. We are a consumer protection practice that has helped people like you fight wrongful repossession by problem lenders. We can review your case and determine whether the finance company and repossessor acted lawfully and if you can take legal action.

If your car, truck, RV, boat or motorcycle was repossessed, call us toll-free at 888-668-1225, or contact us today for a free evaluation.