Can I Get My Vehicle Back After It Is Repossessed in Florida?

By Tom Streissguth
You can take a couple of routes to reclaiming your car.
George Marks/Retrofile/Getty Images

When you borrow money to buy a car, the lender relies on the vehicle as collateral for the loan. If you default on the loan -- which could mean simply being late with a payment -- the creditor has the right to repossess the car. If done legally, a repo is impossible to fight in court. But there still may be a way to get the wheels back in your driveway.

Repossession

Florida law allows "self-help" repossessions, which means auto lenders don't need a court writ or order to seize a car if the buyer has defaulted on the loan under the terms of the contract. Nor is it necessary for the lender to involve the sheriff -- state-licensed private companies carry out most auto repossessions. A person repossessing your vehicle can trespass on your property to claim the vehicle -- as long as there is no threat of force or breach of the peace -- and use whatever means necessary to secure it and tow it away.

Negotiation

If the repossession is done in violation of law, you can file a complaint against the lender, go to court and demand return of the vehicle. If your vehicle was legally repossessed, you have no recourse in the courts. If you need that car back, you can try contacting the lender to discuss the issue. If you can bring the payments up to date or pay off the loan entirely, the lender may allow you to reclaim the car. The lender is likely to demand payment for the repossession and storage charges. If you can't work it out, the lender will dispose of the vehicle.

Resale

For the most part, auto lenders have no interest in keeping large fleets of repossessed vehicles; they will generally sell the car at auction to recoup their loss on the loan. By Florida law, you must receive notice of the sale. You have the right to demand that the lender sell the car to pay down or pay off the loan balance, which remains a legal debt. The law requires that the lender provide advance notice of the date of a public sale, at which you can appear and bid for the vehicle. If it's a private sale, the lender only has to notify you of a date after which the car can be sold at any time, rather than a specific sale date.

Defenses

Florida law requires resale of the vehicle in a commercially reasonable manner, meaning for a reasonable price. If the car fetches a price way below the market value, the law allows you to claim damages. If you are sued after the sale for a deficiency judgment -- the balance remaining on the loan -- an unreasonable auction sale price provides a defense. You would also have a claim against the creditor for the loss of any personal property taken with the car and not returned.