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The Ins and Outs of the Car Repossession Process

When a lender finances a car, they retain the right to repossess it if the repayment terms are not paid as agreed. Each state’s laws set limitations on lenders repossessing automobiles. Most states repossession laws are modeled after article 9 of the Uniform Commercial Code (UCC). Article 9 states that you must be in default on a loan before the repossession process can begin. The definition of default will be disclosed in the financial loan repayment agreement. Most loans have language stating a default starts after one, two, or three missed payments. Once the loan is in default according to the financial agreement documents, the lender has the right to take possession of the car. In most states, once the auto loan falls 90 days behind, the lender may reclaim the car. For specific terms of the loan and any repossession actions, please refer to the financial loan repayment agreement; which is signed by the purchaser of the car.

The lender can pick up the car from any location including: (1) your home, (2) work, or (3) other place where it is being stored. In most states, the lender can take the car without a court order. Although, many state laws specify a car can only be repossessed if the lender can do so without “breaching the peace”. The term “breach of peace” means that the lender is able to obtain possession of the car without any threat to the borrower or use of force. A breach of peace could be as simple as the borrower telling the creditor they will not cooperate. If force or threats are used to gain possession of the car the lender may be liable for any damages caused from the repossession. The lender, at this point, must seek judicial permission. They must document the default and wait for the court to issue permission to repossess the car. Once the court gives permission to repossess the car, the lender will likely request that the local police assist in the repossession. Once the creditor has control of the car they can repair it if they choose before selling the car..

When the lender takes possession, they must give notice to the borrower of their intent to sell the car. At this point the borrower’s only option would be to pay the loan and additional costs associated with repossessing the car in full. If the borrower chooses not to pay the loan and costs prior to the notified date of sale, the car can be sold at auction. If the creditor sells the car for less than the balance of the original loan then they can file a deficiency judgment against the borrower for the difference. In order for the creditor to put a deficiency judgment against the borrower the car must be sold commercially (no private sales).

For a car repossession, or in any legal matter, it is in the best interest of the borrower (defendant) to seek legal counsel.

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