What to Do If You Expect Your Vehicle to Be Repossessed

Protect Your Rights When You Fear Repossession of a Vehicle

It happens to a lot of people — you encounter financial difficulties and find yourself behind on your financial obligations. You may be in arrears on the payment for your car or truck, and may have received notice of a potential repossession. What are your rights and what can you do to protect yourself?

When a repossession can take place without court order.

As a general rule (in New Jersey) your lender or their agent (a repo man) may not “breach the peace” without a court order. This means they cannot use or threaten physical force, and they cannot come into your home, garage or a locked closed area to repossess your vehicle without a court order or without your consent. They may, however, repossess the car on the street, in an open driveway, in front of your house or in any other public place without a court order and without notice to you.

It’s also important to understand that if your car is repossessed with personal items inside of it, you risk never seeing those items again. Accordingly, if you anticipate that your vehicle may be repossessed and you must leave it in a public place, you should take care not to leave any valuables in it.

In New Jersey, as long as the license plates are on the car, you remain potentially liable as the owner for any injury or damage someone operating the car may cause, and you need to keep the car insured. You might consider taking the tags off the vehicle and leaving it in front of your home or in some public place. However, when you do, you will be considered to have abandoned the vehicle and may be cited by police for violating the law.

If you file a bankruptcy case, the automatic stay will protect you from repossession for a limited time. If you file a Chapter 13 case, you may be able to bring the loan current through payments under a bankruptcy plan over 3 to 5 years, or you may have other options through the “cramdown” provisions of the Bankruptcy Code. However, if you know that you won’t be able to bring the account current and want to avoid the fear and hassle involved with an actual repossession, we recommend making arrangements to voluntarily surrender the car to the lender at an agreed location (which may be an area dealer). When you do, be sure to remove the license plates when you get to the drop off location. If you are a New Jersey resident, you should surrender them to the nearest DMV office, where you will get a receipt that you can use to remove the vehicle from your auto insurance.

Reliable transportation to get to and from work is often essential to getting back on your feet financially. When this is threatened, getting qualified legal advice and doing some careful planning is essential.

Contact Our Office

At Neuner & Ventura, LLP, we work hard to alleviate the stress, anxiety and confusion that come with a potential bankruptcy filing. We offer a free initial consultation to every client. We do, however, reserve the right to charge a fee to review any work done by another attorney. For an appointment, call us at (856) 596-2828 or send us an e-mail. Evening and weekend appointments are available upon request.

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