What Happens When They Try to Repo Your Car But Can't Find It?

Repo agents have ways of tracking you down.

Repo agents have ways of tracking you down.

If you're even one day late on your car payment, your auto lender may have the right to repossess your vehicle and recoup its investment. If you try to outwit the repo man and hide your car, be forewarned -- repossession agents have a lot of ways to hunt you down.

How Repo Works

Some car lenders give car owners advanced warning and even a bit of wiggle time to get current on back payments for vehicles. Technically, you're in default of your loan following your first missed payment, and if an auto lender hires a repossession agency to take back your vehicle, the company's goal is to locate your car, remove it to a tow lot and hold it, generally for 30 days. You have a right to reclaim personal items in the vehicle, but you must otherwise come current on back payments, including repo fees, or pay your auto loan in full, or the car will be sent to auction after 30 days. If there's still a balance left after the auction, you're responsible for that debt.

Hiding Your Car

If you know your car is in danger of repossession and attempt to hide it, the repo agency will take steps to find you, which could ultimately cost you more money in the long run. Repo agents have specially-designed towing vehicles that can quickly remove a vehicle from even tight parking areas or secluded parking spaces. If you make it hard to find your vehicle, there's a chance the repossession agency will bill the bank that ordered the repo even more, which will eventually be charged back to you when the bank comes after you for the balance still owed on your car after auction.

How They Find You

Repo agencies may conduct research into the owners of the vehicles they're looking for. Even if you park in a garage or at a friend’s house, some repo agents have been known to follow targets to work, grocery stores or gyms, where they immediately grab the vehicle as soon as they have an opportunity. They may also do some sleuthing to find out what they can, such as asking around your neighborhood about your work hours or where you usually park.

What You Can Do

While your best bet is to make your car payments on time, this isn't always possible. If you know you're going to be late, stay in touch with your lender and try to work out a deferred payment, or some other type of arrangement that will keep the repo agent off your back. If you made a significant down payment or have equity in your car, you may be able to sell it yourself to pay off the loan and still have some cash left over. Another option is to surrender your car to your lender. This will help avoid repossession, but you'll still be responsible for the outstanding balance on the car loan after it's resold.

Your Rights

While repo agents have the right to come onto your property to seize a vehicle, according to the Federal Trade Commission, they may not “breach the peace” through violence or force, and they may not remove a vehicle from a closed garage without your permission. If any of this occurs, you may want to consult an attorney, as you may be eligible for compensation.


About the Author

Lisa McQuerrey has been a business writer since 1987. In 1994, she launched a full-service marketing and communications firm. McQuerrey's work has garnered awards from the U.S. Small Business Administration, the International Association of Business Communicators and the Associated Press. She is also the author of several nonfiction trade publications, and, in 2012, had her first young-adult novel published by Glass Page Books.

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