The Bank Repossessed My Car. How Much Time Do I Have to Get It Back?

If your car loan lender repossessed your car, van, truck, motorcycle, or other vehicle and you want it back, you'll have to act quickly.

By , Attorney · Case Western Reserve University School of Law

If your auto lender repossessed your car, van, truck, motorcycle, or other vehicle and you want it back, you have several options. You may:

  • redeem the car or reinstate the loan (if allowed in your state or by contract)
  • wait until the sale and attempt to bid on the vehicle at auction, or
  • negotiate with the lender to try to get the car back.

But whatever you do, you must act quickly; otherwise, you'll lose the opportunity to get the vehicle back. There's no hard and fast rule on how much time you have to get a car back before the lender sells it.

Generally speaking, the lender must give you notice that allows a "reasonable time" prior to the sale for you to react and exercise your options. At least ten days' notice is usually considered reasonable. Your state's law may also be more specific about the timing of notices. For example, California requires at least 15 days' notice before the sale.

Time Period to Redeem the Vehicle

You can usually redeem the car at any time prior to the private sale or auction. To redeem, you pay the entire loan balance plus certain costs and fees. The notice of sale—which the lender should have sent you—will contain information about what you need to do to redeem, including a telephone number for you to call to find out the payoff amount and how to make payment.

The lender is required to send you this notice shortly after it repossesses the vehicle. Some states, like California, require notice within 48 hours after repossession. Regardless of the timing, the lender must give you written notice that gives you the information you need to exercise your right to redeem within a reasonable time before the car is sold.

During the redemption period, the lender may report the fact that the car was repossessed to the credit reporting agencies. If you redeem, your credit reports should be updated to reflect that information. But the report could also still indicate that the vehicle had been repossessed.

Time Period to Reinstate (If Applicable)

If you're allowed to reinstate the loan by state law or by the terms of your loan agreement, then you might have even less time to act. To reinstate the loan, you pay off the overdue amounts, plus certain costs and fees, to bring the loan current.

State laws vary on the amount of time you have to reinstate the loan. Typically, you're allowed only 15 days after the repossession to reinstate the loan. If your right of reinstatement is based on the loan agreement, then the time period might be more or less, depending on what the agreement says.

Be Proactive in Getting Information

If more than five days have passed since the repossession and you still haven't received a notice from the lender, don't wait any longer. Contact the lender and obtain the information you need to redeem, reinstate, or bid on the car before it is sold.

What If the Lender Sold the Car Without Giving You Notice?

If the lender didn't give you a required notice before selling the car, you could use this as a defense if it tries to get a deficiency judgment against you. If you have questions about your rights and options, consider talking to a local debt relief lawyer.

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