If you want to reclaim your car, van, motorcycle, SUV, or other motor vehicle after it is repossessed, you may be wondering if you should hire an attorney. In some cases, say you simply want to catch up on past-due amounts or pay off the loan, you probably don’t need a lawyer’s assistance. On the other hand, if the lender wrongfully repossessed the vehicle, you’ll probably need a lawyer to help you get it back.

Read on to learn more about when it makes sense to hire an attorney and when you probably won’t need one to recover your vehicle after repossession.

The Basics About Vehicle Repossession

If you take out a loan to buy a car, for example, you must sign a contract that states the car acts as collateral for the loan. This means that the lender may repossess the car if you fall behind in payments. Then the lender will sell the car to pay off the debt (or at least part of the debt).

Repossession laws vary from state to state. Often, the lender is able to repossess the vehicle by what is called “self-help” repossession. With this type of repossession, the lender does not have to file a lawsuit in court, but instead can just hire the repossession company to get your vehicle. (Learn more in Nolo’s article Car Repossession Laws: An Overview.)

Should You Try to Get the Car Back?

Depending on your circumstances, you may or may not need assistance from a lawyer to get your vehicle back after it has been repossessed. However, the first thing to think about is whether you should even try to reclaim it.

If you know you can’t afford the payments even if you get the car back, it is probably a waste of time and money to hire an attorney to help you. Likewise, even if you take matters into your own hands and get the vehicle back without hiring a lawyer, all your efforts will be for nothing if you lose it again to repossession shortly thereafter.

On the flip side, if you can afford the payments (or have enough money to pay off the loan) and decide you want the vehicle back, the next thing to figure out is whether or not you need to hire a lawyer.

When You Can Get Your Car Back on Your Own

Depending on the terms of your loan and state law, you likely have two straightforward options for getting the vehicle back.

  • You can pay off the loan, which is called “redeeming” the vehicle.
  • You can catch up on past-due amounts, which is called “reinstating” the loan.

You probably don’t need to hire an attorney if you want to do either of these things.

Paying Off the Loan to Redeem the Vehicle

To redeem the vehicle, you’ll have to paying the entire loan balance, plus any late fees, collection costs, and repossession costs (such as towing charges, storage fees, repair expenses, and others). Once you redeem, the lender will return the car to you and you’ll own it outright.

Bringing Your Past-Due Payments Current to Reinstate the Loan

To reinstate the loan, you’ll have to pay the past-due amounts (including late charges or other fees), plus the costs of repossession. Upon reinstatement, the lender will return the car to you and you must resume making payments on the contract. (Learn more about the difference between reinstating a car loan and redeeming the vehicle.)