When a car is repossessed, can you get back your belongings that were left in the vehicle? Yes. – Alabama Consumer Finance Attorney Judson E Crump 36   Recently updated !


Repo companies often try to extort money from debtors.  Don’t let them.

People come to me often looking for help dealing with debt left over after a car has been repossessed by a dealer, bank, or auto finance company.  When I ask about the repossession itself, I very frequently hear something like this:

“They wouldn’t even let me get my stuff out of the car.  Can they do that?”

No.  They cannot.

If you bought a car on credit, then you took ownership of the vehicle subject to a security interest held by the dealer.  A security interest basically means that you’re part-owner of the collateral.  Your contract with them gives them certain rights regarding the collateral (the vehicle).  The most important right they have is the right to repossess the vehicle when you default on the contract.  And as you probably can guess, if you do indeed default on the contract, then they can indeed repossess the vehicle.

But there’s an important thing to remember: they have a security interest in the vehicle, not the items inside the vehicle.

This means that if your car is repossessed, and the repo man, dealer, or finance company has no right to take the property inside the vehicle.  For example, if you left your purse in the car and the vehicle is repossessed, they have to give your purse back.  They can either mail it to you or give you the opportunity to come and get it.  If you call them and ask for your property, they have to make it available to you.  It’s that simple.  Also:

  • They cannot require you to pay a fee in order to come get your property.
  • They cannot require you to sign a waiver in order to get your property.
  • They cannot take anything out of the vehicle – including any loan, sale, or warranty documents that you left in the vehicle after the sale.  Your copies of the transaction documents are your copies.  They cannot steal them.
  • They can require you to schedule in advance a time to come retrieve your belongings, as long as their requirement is reasonable.
  • They don’t have to hold onto your stuff forever.  If you want your property back, call them as soon as you know they have it and demand it back immediately.  If they refuse, write them a letter and send it certified mail.
  • They can require you to sign a receipt that identifies the property that was returned.  This is different from a release or a waiver of notices.
  • They can charge you a storage fee for holding the goods if you don’t get them as soon as possible after the repossession.

Very often, subprime car dealers will utterly ignore the law.  Dealers who are accustomed to customers who are ignorant of their rights and cannot afford an attorney know the law perfectly well, but also know from experience that they can usually steal their customers’ belongings without getting caught.  Don’t be a willing victim.  If you have tried to get your property back and they say something like “We can’t let you onto the premises” or “You’ll have to pay a $25 storage fee” or “You’ll have to sign a release.”  That’s all bullshit.  Call them on it.


About Attorney Judson E Crump

I am an Alabama consumer credit attorney. I specialize in defending people from their creditors. I fight (and usually win) credit card and collection lawsuits. I fight unjust predatory lenders, foreclosures, and I help people recover from credit reporting errors and identity theft. I live in Mobile, Alabama, and I have a wife and 3 children. I love reading and growing things.


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36 thoughts on “When a car is repossessed, can you get back your belongings that were left in the vehicle? Yes. – Alabama Consumer Finance Attorney Judson E Crump

  • delmer romero

    Hello, my car was repod over a car title loan and inside the car i have many important medical and court documents can i call the place that had my car and get my stuff out as well?

  • Allie Harris

    I really needs to speak with you, please on multiple things that’s involving a home that was purchased .my phone number is 251-458-3804

  • Nicole

    Possession’s inside a repossessed vehicle, are they subject to any hippa laws? We asked as they came and towed away our truck if we could collect our items and we were told no by the tow company and that we had to call the creditor. We called, and we were told that no, we can’t come and get them until they go through and inventory all items in the truck. We had to wait 3 days to be able to retrieve them, and, that’s when we found out they went through each and every piece of paper we had in there.

    This included social security numbers, bank account info, as well as other, confidential information about us. Is this allowed? I feel our right have been violated as we can’t be sure that the employees tasked with that job, didn’t write down info, read our mail, etc. We aren’t really sure exactly what was in there…is there anything I can do about this?

    Thank you,
    Nicole

    • Attorney Judson E Crump Post author

      Nicole,

      I am honestly not sure if HIPAA applies to car dealers and repo companies, but there are other privacy laws, like the Gramm-Leach-Bliley act, which require that they protect personal information and let you know what they do with it. If you live in Alabama, feel free to call me to discuss this. 251.272.9148.

  • Hannah

    My car was repo yesterday, I called today and told them my mother would be there sometime this week to retrieve my childs car seat and the guy told me, “she’ll need to have my other key to the car.” Can they keep my child’s car seat over this key?? I have no way of getting this key back to them and I cannot have anyone take me as I do not have a car seat for my child now and my mother says she does not have the time to drive to my in laws to get the key for this guy.

    • Attorney Judson E Crump Post author

      Hannah,

      I assume you’re in Alabama. They aren’t allowed to hold your belongings hostage for money or property. That’s extortion. If you’re in ALabama or the car is here, call me and we can discuss this.

  • Ana E Alvarez

    My boyfriends car was repoed about a month ago with my purse in it. My social, license and other personal things were in my purse but the repo company refuses to give it to me. Can they do that? We live in California and they are charging us to get our things back.

    • Attorney Judson E Crump Post author

      Ana,

      I am not licensed to practice law in California, so I cannot give you legal advice. I can say that in most states, they must make your personal belongings available to you at a reasonable time and place, and they can charge a reasonable fee if the contract allows them to do so. I recommend that you contact a California lawyer for legal advice on this matter. If you can’t find one, go to http://www.consumeradvocates.org, and you can look a consumer specialist up in your zip code. Best of Luck!

  • Jimmy

    I live in the state of MN. My vehicle was recently repoed. While claiming our personal belongings, all valuables in the vehicle was not returned. Our jewelry, my wallet, and $500 cash was stolen. What advice can you help with in retrieving my personal belongings and prosecute for such crime?

  • Demeria Evans

    My mother passed away, my son was driving a car that was in her name and it was repossessed. They will not let him get his personal items out of the car, what can we do?

    • Attorney Judson E Crump Post author

      I assume you’re in Alabama if you’re posting on my webpage, so based on Alabama law, here is what normally is the best way to protect yourself.

      First, make a complete list of every item that was in the vehicle and its replacement value. Send a written demand for these items and offer to come pick them up during regular business hours. Keep a copy and send it certified or deliver it personally. They are not allowed to keep other people’s belongings if you demand them back and make reasonable efforts to get them from them. If they continue to refuse and the property is worth a good bit of money, then you can sue to force them to return the stuff.

  • Misty

    Hello, my car was barely 6 weeks late and got repo. The repo man was rude and kept asking me for my keys, which I have to him. I didn’t removed my personal items because they frightened me and kept pressing the panic button on the key chain to make my neighbors aware of the incident. We called the buy here pay here, ahw asked the repo man to leave the car because we made an arrangement. He said – No I am already here and if I don’t take it, I don’t get paid- well the amount of retrieval of my vehicle payment suddenly increased by a thousand. Leaving us no option to get it back. The repo man said I needed 200.00 to get my items back. So we waited till the car was back in dealership to get items. To my husband surprise the repo man trash the car, stole most of my items including my plates. The owner of the lot had to basically repo the repo man of his vehicles. The dealer GPS tracked my car all over Alabama, to top it all he switched my car plates and put fraudulent plates on it. When my husband went to retrieve the plate ,he noticed the screws were loose, he matched the registration and they were not ours. He took my expensive items and trashed the vehicle with all this dirty auto parts, compressor, gas filled parts. Also my personal mail was opened. I don’t know what to do.

    • Attorney Judson E Crump Post author

      Misty,

      That doesnt’ sound right at all. If they switched the plates, that could indicate that they were taking it for their personal use. They can’t do that without notifying you in writing ahead of time and giving you credit for the value of the vehicle. Also, if you came to an arrangement with the creditor, that may be a defense to their repossession. They’re not allowed to use your personal belongings to extort money. But if you chose not to get them from the vehicle when he took it, then you may be required to pay a reasonable fee for storage of the personal belongings. Whenever they take personal belongings, it is important to catalog every item that was in the car, and note the value of that property. Write the repo man a letter and deliver it to their place of business personally with a witness or by certified mail.

  • kymmee

    i need help my car was repossessed on january 20 2017 it is march 2nd have not heard from the dealer no letter no nothing i have my belongings in the car im very upset…

    • Attorney Judson E Crump Post author

      Kymmee,

      If you or the vehicle is in Alabama, then I may be able to help you. If your concern is with personal belongings that were taken along with the vehicle, then you need to immediately make a complete list of all items that were in the vehicle and their approximate value. You can file a court action to recover these items if the repo man won’t return them.

  • Jorge A Morales

    I had my truck repo n they don’t want 2 give me my personal belongings back…or tell me where u can get the belongings back…I live in Laredo Texas wat can I do…plzzz help me…I need my belongings back

    • Attorney Judson E Crump Post author

      Jorge,

      I can’t advise you on Texas law, but generally they have to give you a reasonable chance to get your stuff back during ordinary business hours. If they won’t, then you should write a letter demanding their return. Send it certified to prove delivery.

    • Attorney Judson E Crump Post author

      Jim,

      I’m not authorized to practice law in Michigan, so you’ll need to talk to a Michigan lawyer. In Alabama, a repo company can probably charge a reasonable fee for storing your property if you don’t get it, but they do have to make the stuff available to you. But as for just holding your stuff hostage until you pay some money, I personally believe that’s extortion.

  • Gregroy Matter

    When my car was repossessed and my dealer never informed me of where to get my stuff or where it was going to be auctioned after I called them. They then called and said my stuff has been trashed by the repo company about a month later but I am still uninformed of who the repo company was. Do I have a right to fight for my property or the value of my proper back?

    • Attorney Judson E Crump Post author

      Gregory,

      I assume if you’re writing me that you’re in Alabama, so I’m going to talk about Alabama law. Here, the answer is YES. You do have the right to get your property back if they refused to offer you any chance to get it returned. If they offered to get it for a small fee, then you may not be able to sue them for much, but if they just didn’t offer you anything at all, that’s bad and they shouldn’t be allowed to get away with it.

    • Attorney Judson E Crump Post author

      Kianna,

      That doesn’t sound right. In Alabama, I believe that they are allowed to dispose of them after holding them for a reasonable time for you to come get them. And they have to make them available to you if you offer to pick them up during ordinary business hours.

      I assume that you’re in Alabama or the car was repo’d here or brought here. If so, call me and we can make an appointment to discuss your options.

      JEC

  • Michael Morrison

    Thank you so much. I know you are an attorney in Alabama. I’m assuming that is Alabama law.

    Do you know, by any chance, if WA or PA is any different? I’m originally from PA, moved to WA about 8 months ago. Only made partial payments on my car for twoonths in a row. (Not going to make any excuses for that. It is purely my responsibility, and I fully own up to that.)

    The bank, of course, was demanding payment in full ($10,000….yeah right!) Or they would repo the car.

    Well, they got the car, but I had left some important documents, a $100 jacket, some jumper cables, and a few other odds and ends in the vehicle.

    For the past two weeks, I have been attempting to claim my things. The repo company is telling me it is a $50 “processing fee,” plus $5/ day for “storage fees.”

    I smelled bullshit immediately, and threatened to call an attorney. They said “go right ahead” with full confidence, directly in my ear! Furthermore, they said they would throw it all away after 30 days.

    Why in God’s name they would throw away perfectly good things, rather than just simply hand it over, is beyond my comprehension.

    My hunch is that the law regarding property rights is protected under the Constitution, and is therefore, a federal law that governs all 50 states. Companies cannot steal personal property that has nothing to do with the vehicle itself, then charge for “storage fees.”

    Any help regarding that particular issue would be GREATLY appreciated! I’m struggling financially, and need my things without paying for it.

    • Attorney Judson E Crump Post author

      Michael,

      I can’t say for sure whether or not the law is the same in PA or WA, but Alabama’s law on repossessions is governed by our version of Article 9 of the Uniform Commercial Code. Each state has enacted its own version of the UCC. They aren’t all identical, but they are ususally really similar. So my guess would be that the law is basically the same. To find a lawyer in WA, you should try http://www.consumeradvocates.org. They have an attorney listing of people who could help you.

  • Trina Oliver

    Hello, my name is Trina. I am a mom of 4. I unfortunately had to get a title loan from Title Max on my 2004 BMW. After my husband was hit by a truck whil riding his Harley. I got the loan in September 2016. 2 weeks after I completed big job, which paid me enought to go pay FULL amount back to Title Max. Now here a year later they reposse my car on labor day. I made contact with Title max and repo man. Asking for the location of my BMW. I have my orignal Title in hand. They refuse to give me any information. What can I do now?

    • Attorney Judson E Crump Post author

      Trina,

      May I ask why you didn’t pay off the loan when you had the money? I’m not sure how that’s relevant to their right to repo the car.

      Obviously, if you DID pay it off, then they’re definitely in the wrong.

      I don’t know what state you’re in, but in Alabama, the creditor has to send you a written notice of what they plan to do with the car – basically, when and where they’re going to sell it. You can then go and bid on your own car to buy it back. Which is a good idea if you have the money. Even if you don’t have enough to pay off the full loan, you may be able to bid higher than the car dealers who are going to bid bottom dollar.

      And I haven’t read your loan contract with Title Max, but a lot of secured auto loans give you the right to redeem the collateral before they’ve sold it.

      If you’re in Alabama, you can call me at 251-272-9148 to discuss this.

      Peace,

      JEC

  • Z'irkia Gilmore

    I had my car reposessed and the repossessors were not the finance company i had my License and Social Security and a whole lot of bank cards and other valuables they told me I can’t get my things unless i payed a $100 clean out fee and they will throw my things away after 30 days what do I do.

    • Attorney Judson E Crump Post author

      Zirkia,

      Because you’ve posted on my website, I assume you’re in Alabama and the repossession happened here. Most car sale installment contracts allow them to repo your car, and allow them to charge a “reasonable storage fee” for the belongings in the car. So if your car gets repo’d and a week later, you come asking for it, they can charge you for keeping your stuff. In that case, $50-$100 may be reasonable.

      However, if you ask for your belongings the same day of the repo, then there was never any storage, and so no fees should be owed. Simply demanding $100 because you happened to have stuff in the car when they took it is extortion. You can sue them for willful conversion. You generally need to prove what was in the car with at least one witness or photographs or something like that.

      Then you can take them to court and try to get compensation for the value of the things they took and possibly the costs of not having them. For instance, if you couldn’t drive for 3 weeks because you didn’t have a license and you had to pay for rides to work, then you could ask for those costs as well.

      If you’re in the Mobile area, you can call me to discuss this. I may be able to help you.

      JEC

  • Douglas O Seigrist

    Is this law the same for every state like Arkansas the car I was buying was repoed last night they came in the middle of the night while we were sleeping after we have paid on this car for nearly five years the amount we paid for the was 16,785 and that amount never got any smaller so we got tired of paying for a car for five years and never got it paid (strange) wouldn’t you say. So they came got it last night and my wallet was in the car in the glove box and the car was locked they left drag skid marks on our driveway in the carport all the way down into the the gravel and when I called the place they said they needed a $58.00 money order for a clean out and storage fee so I thought I would file a police report for them steeling my wallet that had 328.00 dollars in it. Please get back to me and text me or call me 501-858-7203.