Vehicle Repossessions 101

Car Repossessed?

Learn What To Do Next.

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Car Repossession

You can fight back against unlawful vehicle repossession!

The thought of your car 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?

This predicament 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, the notices they need to provide to borrowers and how they can handle sales.

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

My Car Was Repossessed. Now What?

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.

Find out which repossession company contacted the police and when they were contacted. From there, make sure you have these documents:

  • Your car purchase agreement
  • Your retail installment sales contract
  • The deficiency notice and notice of intent to sell property from the lender
  • Your loan payment history
  • Collection letters containing the balance you owe

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.

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, etc. They can’t use physical force, threaten to use force, or enter your property with your permission.

This means they can’t enter your home without your invitation or accessed 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: time, date, name of the repo company, a description of the agent, etc.

  • Take photos of the agent’s truck. The photos should include the tow truck's license plate, company name and contact information.
  • Take a photo of the interior and exterior of your vehicle.
  • Record the current mileage on your vehicle by photographing the odometer.
  • Document any damaged property, such as lawns, gates, garage doors, vehicles damaged in the process of repossession.
  • Get a police report that details the incident. Get the names of the officers who responded.
  • If anyone else witnessed the repossession, get their names and contact information.

Police Involvement in Vehicle Repossessions

Keeping the Peace

The police may be contacted by the repo agent or the consumer during a vehicle repossession. When law enforcement comes to the scene, they are to help in keeping the peace.  If a situation were to become volatile, the police are to assist in diffusing the confrontation. The police are there to protect everyone from harm.

Breaching the Peace

The police are not to assist the repo agent in the repossession of your car.  They are not to threaten you with arrest or command that you turn over the keys or your vehicle to the repo agent.  Once the police become involved in the repossession, they have crossed the line from keeping the peace to breaching the peace, which may be a violation of your constitutional rights.

The U.S. Constitution is very clear.  Police cannot take sides in a civil dispute between private parties. In a recent federal lawsuit against a Pennsylvania State Police trooper, the jury awarded $500,000 in punitive damages for violating a woman's civil rights when he assisted a local repo man in the repossession of her automobile. To learn more, click below:

Angela Hyman v. Bryan Devlin  U.S.D.C. W.D.Pa. No. 3:17-cv-00089 (KRG)

How Can I Get My Car Back?

A bank, credit union or finance company can repossess a vehicle if there’s a default – late payments or partial payments – a lapse in car insurance coverage or following the death of the borrower.

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. You should get it with enough time to get your car back before it is sold.

And if any of the laws governing repossession were broken, you may be able to take legal action against the lender or repo company.

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.

Flitter Milz Track Record: Repossession Cases (partial list)

Learn more about Car Repossession

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