Can You Hide Your Car If It Is Going to Be Repossessed?

In most states, repo men and lenders don't have to tell you in advance that they're coming to haul your car away, but this doesn't mean you won't know it's about to happen. You know when you made your last payment and that the clock is ticking. Technically, your lender can repossess as soon as you're in default, which could mean the day after your payment was due. Few move to act quite this quickly, however -- at least not without trying to get you to catch up with your payments first. If the tow truck shows up in your driveway, you may have a few legal remedies to stop the repossession, but hiding your car isn't one of them.

Hidden vs. Inaccessible

Although trying to hide your car is probably not a good idea, you don't have to take intentional steps to make it easier for the repossession agent to get to it, either. If you've always kept your car in a locked garage, for example, you don't have to move it to the curb. The repo man can't break into your garage because this is breaching the peace and it's against the law. But he can ring your doorbell and ask for access to your vehicle.

Moving the car to a friend's house or to a parking lot on the other side of town is another matter. If you do this for the specific purpose of avoiding repossession, it's considered fraud in some states -- a criminal act. If you make arrangements to keep the car at a public facility, such as a rental garage or lot, some states require that the owner notify the authorities of any long-term arrangements for vehicles kept there. The repo man can check with law enforcement and easily locate it. Taking it from such a place doesn't constitute breaching the peace.

The Repo Man Will Keep Looking

Even if you place your car at a private location, odds are your lender or its agent will find it. An article on Edmunds.com says many repossession agents are accomplished skip tracers. If your car can't be located in any logical place, the agent will attempt to try to track you down if you've taken off with the car or look for clues as to where you may have hidden it. He might contact your friends, loved ones or acquaintances until he finds someone to divulge your vehicle's whereabouts, either willingly or unwittingly.

You'll Owe the Lender More Money

Maybe you know you'll have the money to catch up with the loan in a few short weeks, so you give in to the temptation to hide your vehicle for a little while. If the repo agent finds it, you'll probably end up owing your lender more than just the balance of the loan. When a repo agent has to put extra time and effort into tracking down a car, he charges the lender more for his trouble. In turn, the lender adds these costs to your debt. This is legal in most states, so after your vehicle is repossessed and sold, you'll be responsible for any outstanding balance the sale doesn't cover plus a lot of additional repossession fees as well.

The Lender Can Take You to Court

Although hiding your car isn't usually a criminal offense unless your lender can prove you were trying to commit fraud, you might leave yourself open to a civil lawsuit if you successfully manage to conceal your car. The lender can file a replevin case against you, asking the court to order you to turn over the vehicle and to make you responsible for all the associated costs of having to take you to court. It can ask for a judgment against you for the money and use it to garnish your wages or levy your bank accounts.

Tip

Even if you don’t hide your vehicle and the lender repossesses it, this doesn’t mean you don’t have any legal recourse to try to save it. Most states offer various options.

  • You may be able to reinstate your loan. This involves catching up with your delinquent payments and reimbursing your lender for the costs of repossession. If you can do this, and if your vehicle was taken without any prior warning such as a notice of intention to repossess, the lender is obligated to return the car to you. You may receive a notice after the repossession telling you that you have this right.

  • You might also be entitled to redeem your car before its sale by paying off the loan and associated repossession costs before it’s sold.

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