What to Know About Hiding a Car to Avoid Repossession
If you are behind on your car payments and have been for a while, there is a very good chance that your creditor is going to attempt to repossess your vehicle. Car owners, especially in the United States, become understandably attached to their vehicles for all sorts of reasons. For many, the thought of losing their set of wheels seems almost unbearable. If you are on the verge of repossession, your first instinct might be to try to hide your car from the repo man. The reasoning is pretty simple: if they can't find it, they can't repossess it. But does hiding a car to avoid repossession actually work? Here are a few factors to consider:
When a Repossession Can Occur
Long before repossession is a possibility, you should take steps to avoid this emotionally and financially taxing process if at all possible. In many states, all it takes to trigger the repossession process is a default on your loan.
If you contact your creditor before this or have never missed a payment, you may be able to negotiate a more pleasant resolution to your problem before it even begins.
What You’re Up Against
Repo men and women are trained professionals whose livelihoods depend on getting possession of your (well really, your creditor’s) vehicle. As such, they’re not going to mess around and be easy to avoid. As one experienced repo man told the auto gurus at Edmonds, "We use every trick in the book to get your car. We watch the house and follow you if you take the car anywhere. We'll grab it when you park, even if it is for a few minutes. I took one from a gas station when the owner went to the window to get their change. The harder you make it for the repo man, the more he is going to charge the bank. The bank will add this to the amount you owe, and you will eventually have to pay it."
Where You Live
We're talking about jurisdiction here. Every state has its own laws concerning vehicle repossession, more specifically, what can and can't legally be done to accomplish it. Whatever actions you are considering to avoid repossession, knowing the laws of your jurisdiction is crucial before you do anything. You can be certain that your repo man does.
In most states, your vehicle can be repossessed the moment you default on your loan or lease (check your agreement to see exactly what triggers default). That doesn't mean that your credit agency will be right over, but they might. The point here is that by the time default has happened, both you and your creditor have probably already been in communication about your late payments and have not been able to work something out. So, for your creditor repossession is likely the next logical, and immediate, step.
Where do you usually keep your vehicle? This is important because in most states, such as New York, a creditor may legally enter your property to repossess the vehicle in question as long as it does not in the process "breach the peace." As you might expect, what constitutes a "breach of the peace" varies by jurisdiction, but may include causing physical damage (like breaking a lock or door) or other physical force, threatening the use of force, or even removing the vehicle from a garage without the use of force.
So, notwithstanding a breach of the peace, a creditor can go just about anywhere on your property to get your car, including your yard, behind your house, in the woods surrounding your house, etc. Additionally, in most jurisdictions, it can go onto other public or private property to affect repossession. So if you think you are safe parking your car in your next-door neighbor's driveway, think again.
Remember, also, that your creditor can repossess your vehicle from almost any public location including the parking lot where you work or shop. Don't think that repo men won't keep an eye on your comings and goings to facilitate a repossession. As a result, if you intend to "hide" your car, that's going to include not using it. What this all means is that if you have a garage in which you normally keep your car locked, then you can probably effectively "hide" your car to avoid repossession. That is, with a few caveats.
One Big Legal Wrinkle
You knew there had to be one, didn't you? Here's the legal catch to "hiding" your vehicle: it may be a crime to intentionally hide your car to avoid repossession. Put another way, it is against the law to hide your vehicle with the intent of defrauding your creditor. So, if you are in default on your car loan and you lock up your car in your garage or otherwise purposely make it unavailable for repossession, you are breaking the law. And in doing so, you likely leave yourself open to both civil and criminal penalties. Now, proving intent can be very difficult to do, which is why we mentioned that, in practical terms, locking your vehicle in the garage can be effective. But remember, that's only if locking it in the garage is what you normally do.
A Temporary Fix, At Best
The reality is that hiding your vehicle will only help you avoid repossession in the short term. First of all, you really don't intend to keep your car locked up without using it forever, do you? Second, once your car loan is in default, your creditor is going to let the DMV and your insurance carrier know, and when they do, it will be next to impossible to keep your plates and insurance coverage.
Third, there's a legal action known as replevin. Replevin is an alternative to repossession that a creditor can use to collect the money a debtor owes. With replevin, the creditor files with the court seeking an order requiring the debtor to pay what he or she owes on the car loan (plus costs and other charges) in the form of a money judgment. If the creditor is successful in obtaining the money judgment and the debtor still does not pay up, then the debtor is exposed to further civil and criminal penalties.
A Better Idea
Since hiding your car is fraught with potential problems and only a temporary fix at best, maybe a better idea is to come up with a different solution altogether. The best one is to communicate with your creditor. They already know you're having a problem making your payments. And they, like you, would prefer a solution that doesn't require sending a tow-truck out to locate your car and physically haul it away. It's a big time and money hassle for them, too. So it's likely that they are willing to try to work something out. This will only happen, however, if you are willing to talk. And let's face it, if you don't work out a better solution, they are going to come out and take your car anyway, probably sooner than later.
Federal Trade Commission. "Vehicle Repossession." Accessed Jan. 7, 2020.
Edmunds. "Stay One Step Ahead of the Repo Man." Accessed Jan. 7, 2020.
The New York State Senate. "Consolidated Laws, Vehicle and Traffic, Title 4, Article 17, Section 425: Repossession of Motor Vehicle or Motorcycle; Garageman's Lien; Notice to Police." Accessed Jan. 7, 2020.
Massachusetts Office of the Attorney General. "What to Know If Your Car Is Repossessed." Accessed Jan. 7, 2020.
Code of Virginia. "§ 6.2-2217. Limited Recourse; Repossession and Sale of Motor Vehicle, Subsection E." Accessed Jan. 7, 2020.
Legal Information Institute. "Replevin." Accessed Jan. 7, 2020.