Vehicle repossession is not “debt law” in the sense we mean it at our site.
If you’ve read many of our materials, you know that we consider debt law as good as it gets for self-representation. That is because debt buyers buy vast quantities of debt and essentially take a “factory” approach to bill collecting and lawsuits. You can expect pretty much every case brought by a debt buyer to follow a similar approach – the petitions are almost always virtually identical, and the whole process is usually shoddy. Typically, the debt collectors don’t have what they would need to win a contested fight – and they don’t want to get what they would need to win because they are designed to catch the 80 – 90% of the people who do not fight.
And debt cases are “document-intensive,” meaning that the debt collector’s whole case will usually depend on getting some documents into evidence. There is very little testimony and no expert witnesses. So that means a pro se litigant can focus on a few simple evidentiary questions and not worry too much about arranging testimony or other trial tactics.
But our materials do not apply to vehicle repossessions and the surrounding issues. Those cases present a different set of issues and opportunities.
What is a “Vehicle Repossession?”
When you buy a car on credit, you will typically sign a contract agreeing to pay a certain amount per month (plus a variety of other terms, obviously). And these contracts and their terms are, in general, a terrible, terrible deal for the customer. One of these terms is a lien and right to repossession, and there is a whole body of somewhat specialized law on all of the repossession process.
If you fail to make payments, the company may have installed tracking and disabling devices in the car – so the car may stop working. And then the repo guys come and get the car. And then the REAL scam begins.
When dealers repossess a vehicle, they are not “collecting a debt.” They are, in legalistic terms, exercising their liens and cutting off your right to a security. It looks like a collection, and it is one, but the law of most jurisdictions does not see it that way.
Still, the idea is for them to get their money back, and what they plan to do is sell the vehicle at an auction.Early in the process, then – before they get your car – you can talk to them and negotiate terms more effectively than later.
Once they get your car, they will want to sell it. If they do this in a “commercially reasonable” way, you will be on the hook for whatever amount of your car note remains. And inevitably, this is a shocking amount. For various reasons (some good and some bad) the courts are extremely lenient as to what constitutes “commercially reasonable.”
But the fact is that the dealers get almost nothing for the cars they repo. They sell them to each other, at auction, so this is one of the all-time scams – and the courts wink at it. In any event, repossession law focuses extensively on this question of “commercially reasonable” and on certain notice provisions. State laws in this area are complex for most people, and the court decisions are not easy to understand.
And the car dealerships have stacked the deck in most cases. Their lawyers specialize in this law, know the facts of the cases they bring (much more than debt collectors, anyway), and will almost always have the contract you signed. They’ll have people who can swear to them, too, because most car dealerships are built around the repossession process.
This doesn’t mean you don’t have a chance to win. It just means that this isn’t the best kind of law to go pro se. Fortunately, if you are broke, most of the legal service organizations that help people without money are good at this. It’s a problem a lot of people with money problems have. We suggest you find one of these places – many law schools have clinics that do this, too – and see if you can get help.
If you can’t do that, it still makes sense to fight, and on a simple dollar basis, joining us to help you do that will probably be worth your money. Your chances of winning aren’t great, but they do use a factory approach, and some of our tools will apply to that. And by fighting you can reduce some of the damage they will do to you.
Repossession and Suit to Collect the Difference Happen Fast
Unfortunately, vehicle repossession cases can happen very quickly. Our advice is to make every effort to find help. Filing an answer by yourself could very well hurt your case. If you must do it by yourself, our membership can give you SOME help – and in that case you simply must join and talk to us before answering the suit. Trying to represent yourself without any help is just not a good idea.
Our Case Evaluation Service
One of the services we provide to members and non-members alike is a “case evaluation.” It’s a great deal for people being sued by debt collectors who would like some guidance about their case. We do not recommend this service for people facing vehicle repossession, though. If you send us one, we will have to spend the time to figure things out (so we will keep your money for the time we must spend) – and then we’ll almost certainly give you pretty much what we say here. Save your money and your time and look for a lawyer who can handle this case for you.