Car Repossession: Redemption v. Reinstatement

You might be able to get your car back after repossession by redeeming it or reinstating the loan.

By , Attorney Case Western Reserve University School of Law
Updated 9/15/2023

If your car is repossessed, you might be able to get it back through redemption or reinstatement. Most states allow you to redeem your vehicle—that is, pay the entire balance due, plus costs and fees.

But whether you can reinstate the car loan (keep the car by bringing your loan current) depends on your car loan contract and state law.

How Car Repossession Works

Typically, when you take out a loan to purchase a vehicle, the papers you sign give the car loan lender a "security interest" in the car. So, the car is collateral for the loan, making the car loan lender a secured creditor. Most states permit car loan lenders to repossess your vehicle if you default on the loan agreement.

However, even if a secured creditor repossesses your vehicle, you still might be able to get the car back. The two possible ways to do this are redemption or reinstatement.

The Right of Redemption: Paying Off the Loan

Most states give you a right of redemption in the car. That means you can get the car back if you pay the entire outstanding balance due on the car loan. The balance you must pay to redeem the vehicle may include extra fees and charges, like repossession, storage, and even attorneys' fees.

The car loan lender is usually required to send you a written notice of the right to redeem the vehicle shortly after repossessing the car. The notice will include the payoff amount necessary to redeem. If you don't receive this notice within five days of the repossession, contact the lender to get the payoff amount.

Redemption is only available for a limited time. Your right of redemption ends when the car is sold.

Should You Redeem a Repossessed Car?

Most people aren't able to redeem their repossessed car. After all, if the car owner couldn't make the car payments, they're not likely to have the finances to pay off the entire balance.

Even if you can redeem the vehicle, redemption might not be in your best interest. The car is often worth much less than you'd have to pay to get it back. And sometimes cars are damaged during the repossession, making them worth even less.

The Right to Reinstatement: Getting Caught Up on the Loan

If you don't have the funds to redeem the vehicle by paying off the loan in full, you might be able to get the car back through reinstatement. To reinstate the car loan, you bring the loan current by making up all of the past-due payments, including applicable fees and late charges, in one lump sum.

When Do You Have the Right to Reinstate Your Car Loan?

Usually, the two ways to get this right are:

  • The right of reinstatement might be built into your loan agreement.
  • Even if your loan agreement doesn't give you a right of reinstatement, the laws of your state might allow you to reinstate the loan. But not all states provide for a right of reinstatement. And under federal banking law, some national banks might not be subject to state laws providing for reinstatement.

How to Reinstate Your Car Loan

If your loan agreement or your state's laws give you the option to reinstate, immediately contact your car loan lender and request a reinstatement quote. Your car loan lender must send you written notice of your right to reinstate, which will include the amount necessary to bring the loan current. The reinstatement amount is usually only good for a specified amount of time, typically 15 days from the notice date.

As with redemption, reinstatement is available only for a limited time. Your right to reinstate will typically end when the car is sold or if the reinstatement amount isn't paid within the deadline specified in the notice.

Getting Information for Your State

To find information about your state or local law, including whether you can redeem or reinstate your car loan, do some research on your own after visiting Nolo's Legal Research area, contact your state attorney general office or state consumer protection agency (see State Consumer Protection Offices), or consult with a local attorney.

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