Can a Repo Man Take Your Car Without Letting You Know?

Lenders can repossess vehicles when borrowers miss auto loan payments.

Lenders can repossess vehicles when borrowers miss auto loan payments.

Each state has its own laws regarding vehicle repossessions, but they usually don't require giving advance notice to vehicle owners. Nonetheless, you and any co-owner would probably know whether your car is at risk of being seized. Loan and lease contracts outline the conditions that allow companies to repossess vehicles. Some auto lenders even include notices on their customers’ monthly bills that list repossession as a potential consequence for violating the loan agreement.

Lender Rights

Lenders and lessors generally have the right to seize your vehicle as soon as you miss an auto loan or lease payment, according to the U.S. Federal Trade Commission. Sometimes lenders repossess vehicles that haven’t been insured by the owners. In any case, the repossession agent a lender hires to seize your car doesn't have to notify you about the pending repossession. Furthermore, agents usually can walk onto a vehicle owner’s property to seize a vehicle, if necessary.

State Laws

A "repo man" can take your car at any time, but some state laws don't permit him to do so in any manner. For instance, some states have regulations that specifically prohibit the use of threats or physical force to make people turn over their vehicles to repossession agents. Such actions may be considered a breach of peace in some states, according to the FTC. Moreover, laws in some states bar agents from going into a closed garage to remove a vehicle without the property owner's permission.

Personal Property

Belongings you want to keep might still be in your car when a repossession agent takes it. States usually prohibit lenders from keeping or selling personal property found inside a repossessed vehicle. So, your lender should allow you to retrieve your belongings. You might need an attorney's help to get compensation for any personal property that's damaged or missing. Without witnesses, though, you might have a tough time proving that the missing items were inside your vehicle when the agent took it.

Avoiding Repossession

You can avoid having your vehicle repossessed by contacting your lender as soon as you know you're going to miss a payment. Your lender might give you more time to pay, or reduce your payments for a short time. However, don't promise to pay more than you can afford. You might not get another chance to catch up if you fall behind on payments after negotiating new terms. Get any repayment agreements you make with your lender in writing.


About the Author

Frances Burks has more than 15 years experience in writing positions, including work as a news analyst for executive briefings and as an Associated Press journalist. Burks has banking and business development experience, and she has written numerous articles on consumer issues and home improvement. Burks holds a bachelor's degree in political science from the University of Michigan.

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