Can the Dealership Repossess my Vehicle?

Disclaimer: The Lemon Pros do not offer assistance with car repossession, this blog is for information purposes only.

There are times when a dealership is allowed to repossess your vehicle and times when the law prohibits them. Dealerships will often attempt every loophole possible to skirt these laws and hope that people are misinformed on what’s legal and what is not. If a dealership fails to follow specific rules and forces you to return your vehicle without your consent, they may have conducted an illegal repossession.

Our California Lemon Lawyers want to make sure you know your rights. In this blog, our team explains the California repossession laws to you, ensuring that your personal property is safeguarded and that you know what you’re entitled to.

In this guide, we cover everything related to a repossessed vehicle, including how consumers are protected by California law and what you can do to avoid repossession.

Can a Dealership Repo your Car?

Can a Dealership Repo your Car?

When you purchase a vehicle, the dealership must find a lender to finance the agreement. The dealership generally writes in a ten-day window into an agreement, but it can be longer.

If you are current on your payments and the dealership is not able to find a lender after that window, they cannot legally repossess your vehicle because of that reason. The dealership will be required to step into the role of the lender and finance the agreement.

Dealerships are generally allowed to legally repossess your vehicle if you miss a payment, even if the payment is missed by a day or two. 

However, if you stop making your payments because the dealership fails to provide you with registration within three months, the dealership cannot repossess your vehicle. 

When Can the Dealership Repo Your Car?

When Can the Dealership Repo Your Car?

A repossession agent will usually get involved if you are late on your payments or default. Even if you are a few days late on your car payments, the dealership has the right to repossess your car. Under California law, the dealership can also start the car repossession process if the sales contract is breached.

For these reasons, it’s imperative that you understand your agreement with the finance company. You wouldn’t want to violate any of the terms with the car loan lender, which could lead to possible repossession.

Legal Process for Repossession in California

The repossession agency and guidelines are all governed by federal and state laws, including the Uniform Commercial Code (UCC) and the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). For the repo company to take action, the following steps must occur:

Default on loan payments: The first step under California repossession laws happens when consumers stop paying the auto loans. Missed payments are considered a breach of contract, giving rights to the financial institution to take your car.

Written notice: Under California’s repossession laws, the repo agent must provide a notice indicating what can be done to avoid having a repossessed car and when the deadline is.

Repossession: If the deadline comes with no resolution, the repossession agencies have the right to take your car. The car can be given back as a voluntary surrender (known as voluntary repossession), or it can be taken. However, the repossession agencies may not breach the peace to do so. While the car is usually taken from a publicly accessible place, it can be removed from private property. However, no force can be used and the repo agents are not permitted to trespass or violate any laws.

Notice of sale: Repossessed vehicles are going to be sold, but you are to receive notice of this action before it occurs.

Car sold: To receive the remainder of portion of the loan balance, California repossession law allows for the vehicle to be sold through a private sale or public auction. If the entire loan isn’t paid off, the dealership may file legal action to hold you responsible for the balance and any costs related to the repossession.

The California Department of Consumer Affairs (DCA) has a regulatory role in overseeing consumer-related concerns, including concerns of vehicle repossession. Even though the DCA itself doesn’t handle repossession cases, it will provide information, assistance and resources to consumers who face repossession or have questions regarding their rights.

What to do If you are Behind On Car Payments?

The car loan terms set forth what you are expected to pay and how often. As part of the loan agreement, you’ve acknowledged that if you don’t pay, legal action can be taken. Not only may the car be repossessed, but the default could negatively affect your score on your credit report.

If you are behind on your payments, you should attempt to communicate with the lender or dealership before repossession occurs. They will often work with you to find a way to keep your vehicle by reducing your payment, lowering the interest rate, or waiving a payment by adding it to the back-end of the contract.

What happens after Vehicle Repossession?

What happens after Vehicle Repossession?

If your vehicle is legally repossessed, the lender will try to sell it at an auction as soon as possible to satisfy the outstanding loan. This may be problematic to you because the vehicle could sell for less than what you still owe on it. If that happens, you will still be liable to pay that difference in addition to having a repossession on your credit history.

However, not all dealerships and lenders follow the laws of repossession in California. Therefore, their actions may spark one of the many reasons to sue a dealership, leaving you with the ability to get compensation.

If you believe that the dealership illegally repossessed your vehicle, we can assist you with getting your money or personal property back. At times, we can force the dealership or lender to pay you extra corrective compensation. Make sure you keep records of any communication or notifications from the dealership or the lender.

The repossession agency must store the vehicle properly and provide you with adequate notification about the upcoming. You have the opportunity to reclaim the vehicle and your personal property if you can get current on the late payments and other fees that are owed.

If you are unable to meet these obligations, the vehicle is sold and the money earned goes toward the deficiency balance. If the entire amount isn’t covered, you are still liable for the remainder and any other late fees or expenses that have been added.

Additional Car Repossession Agent Resources and Legal Help

Additional Car Repossession Agent Resources and Legal Help

If you are facing vehicle repossession, there are ways to get help. For starters, we recommend reading the repossession guidelines set forth by the California Department of Motor Vehicles. We also suggest talking with your car insurance company about pausing or suspending coverage while you don’t have the vehicle in your possession. Find out what this car insurance lapse means for you.

When facing repossession, the repo agent must be registered with the Bureau of Security and Investigative Services. Only a licensed agent is permitted to repossess your car. As they search for the vehicle, they may figure out how to get around a locked garage, private building or gated community where the car is being kept. However, they must retain lawful control of their actions. Yes, they can take the car from a publicly accessible place, but no physical force may be used and laws cannot be broken when they repossess your car.

As the legal owner of the private property, you may have rights concerning how the car is repossessed. For this reason, it’s best to seek legal advice if your are worried about your rights being violated.


Before dealing with any repo company, it’s best to have a team of legal professionals on your side. You may need help working out terms with the financial institution or gaining access to your personal items as the legal owner.

If the lender sells your car, you may be responsible for any balance remaining and the fees related to the sale. Therefore, you want someone watching out for your rights. Contact The Lemon Pros today and let us help you prevent the damage caused by repossession.

Call us today for a free consultation before time runs out to pursue your claim.

Phone: (800) 917-7147


Why Choose The Lemon Pros?

Our specialty is Lemon Law, that is why we only handle Lemon Law claims. When you hire us, our attorneys will do all the legal work for you, because we understand the stress that consumers like you deal with when they have a Lemon.

We have an excellent success record in representing consumers just like you! We are award winning attorneys, but that has not gotten to our heads. We are attorneys who care and give personalized attention to each and every client, our attorneys directly handle your claim.

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