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Mar
6

Dealing With Repossession Under California Law

If your car has been repossessed and you live in California, here’s what you need to know.

Most people think that if they don’t pay the car loan, the lender will come to repossess the vehicle. Once that’s done, they figure it’s all over.

That’s exactly what my client thought when the tow truck was hauling away his Ford Explorer. Fast forward a few months and he knows better.

Now, so can you.

When A Vehicle Can Be Repossessed

In the beginning, there’s a car loan. You miss a payment and figure that a delay of a few days won’t make a difference. With so many cars in California, it’s not uncommon to be late by at least a few days.

What you don’t know is that under California law, the lender can repossess your vehicle without any prior notice to you so long as you’re as little as one day late on payment.

In fact, the lender can repossess a car in California whenever there’s a default in the terms of the contract. That includes not only missing a payment but also an insurance lapse.

It’s a good idea to read the contract carefully so you can find the landmines.

Who Can Repossess A Vehicle

Under California law, the car finance company as well as a registered repossession agency can repossess your automobile.

In order to have authority to repossess the vehicle, the company must be licensed or registered with the California Department of Consumer Affairs, Bureau of Security and Investigative Services. You should always ask to see the license before surrendering your car to a repo agent, and verify that license with the California Bureau of Security and Investigative Services.

Place And Time Of Repossession (And The Shakedown)

A repossession agent in California can’t come into a private building such as a garage, nor can they enter a secured or locked area such as a gated driveway, without the permission of the owner of the premises.

Your car can, however, be repossessed from unsecured driveways, streets, parking lots, and other publicly accessible areas in California at any time of day or night.

You don’t need to be present when the vehicle is taken, so if you park on the street and go to sleep there’s a chance the car may be gone when you wake up.

If you happen to be present when the car’s being taken, you may be able to save the car by paying the balance due rather than losing your wheels. If that happens then you have the right to receive an itemized receipt, and the repossession agent is required to forward your payment to the car lenders.

Timeline After Repossession

Once the car is repossessed, the clock starts ticking.

California law gives the repossession agency 48 hours to give you a Notice of Seizure that provides you with the name and contact information of both the legal owner and the repossession agency.

You must also be given an Inventory of Personal Effects that