When Will a Car-Loan Lender Use Replevin?

Find out when your car-loan lender is more likely to use replevin than repossession to take your car.

By , Attorney · Case Western Reserve University School of Law

If you default on your car loan payments, your lender has two ways to take your car back: repossession and replevin. Creditors usually prefer to use repossession because it's faster and less expensive than replevin. But creditors may use replevin when repossession isn't an option.

A few of the situations where a creditor might use replevin to take back your car if you default on the loan include:

  • if a breach of the peace might happen
  • if the car is hidden or missing
  • if the vehicle is in a secured location, and
  • when a repossession isn't allowed or is questionable.

Potential Breach of the Peace

Most states allow car lenders to come onto a property and seize a vehicle, without notice to the borrower, as long as their action doesn't breach the peace. "Breach of the peace" has been defined to include:

  • use of violence or force
  • threats of violence or force
  • acts that are likely to provoke or excite the debtor into using force or violence
  • verbal confrontation with the debtor (sometimes)
  • breaking or damaging locks, chains, fences, doors, or other property to attempt access to the car
  • disturbing neighbors or other third parties (sometimes)
  • using law enforcement to assist in, rather than just observe, the repossession, and
  • trespassing into the debtor's home or secured garage.

If any of these or other events are likely to occur if the lender tries to take your car, it might resort to a replevin action instead.

Hidden or Missing Car

Just because the lender could have a right of repossession doesn't mean that you're obligated to hand the car over to that creditor. If the car is hidden or missing from the location where the creditor expects to find it, then the creditor can't legally make you do anything. Instead, the creditor must seek a replevin order from the court. Once the court issues and serves you with an order of replevin, then you're required to produce the car or disclose its location.

Secured Car

As with the case of a hidden or missing car, the lender can't make you open your garage or unlock your fence. Because the creditor also can't legally break the locks, cut chains, or do anything else that might cause damage to other property or otherwise breach the peace, it must first seek a replevin order. Once the court issues and serves you with an order of replevin, then you're required to produce the car to the creditor. Alternately, the creditor may arrive with a Sheriff and cut locks to access the vehicle, if necessary.

Repossession Not Lawful

Creditors will also resort to replevins when repossessions aren't allowed or questionable.

Other Reasons Creditors Use Replevins

Creditors sometimes have other reasons for using replevin. For example, the creditor might want to get the court involved to resolve legal disputes with the debtor. Or the creditor could want to "kill two birds with one stone," by seeking a lawful return of the property and a money judgment against the debtor.

Getting Help

For more information about car repossession and replevin laws in your state, consult with a local attorney.

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