Losing it

| August 08, 2008

The same thing happens if you try to hide the truck or dodge the repo man. “The repo man charges the lender for the expenses incurred in the repo,” Rutherford says. “If it takes him a long time to find you, you’re just running up your own tab.”

In rare cases, if the debtor puts the recovery agent in a situation where he can’t recover the truck peacefully, or if he’s threatened with violence, he can return with the sheriff and a court order called a writ of repliven. “I’m not going to risk my life over a truck, and I’ll get the sheriff if I have to,” says Dwayne Kizziah, owner of Dwayne’s Towing and Recovery in Tuscaloosa, Ala. “Usually, I don’t have any problems picking up anything I need to get. But I’ll bring back the law if that’s the only way it’s going to go down. It usually doesn’t come to that, though. Most people respect the fact that it’s not their possession if they haven’t paid for it.”

Overcoming the repo
Kizziah has seen a big increase in repos as the economy worsens, but like other recovery agents report, there’s more of a sense of inevitability by the time he gets to them. “Mostly, there’s a sense of shame and embarrassment involved, and I try to respect that,” he says.

The shame in losing a truck is something that one owner-operator, whom we’ll call Max, says he’s knows quite well. Max was running a fairly successful operation when he suffered a serious injury in a fall and wasn’t able to work for several months. Both of his trucks were repossessed, and he was devastated by the loss. “I can’t tell you how deeply depressed I was,” he says. “My credit was ruined, and I couldn’t even get a car loan. It truly seemed like I was at the end of the road.”

Instead of giving up, Max went to work as a company driver and slowly paid back what he owed. His equipment was sold at an auction, and he was responsible for the deficiency. The good news was that he turned over well-maintained trucks in top condition. Plus, he only owed a small percentage of the loan when he lost the trucks. “Slowly, I came back,” he says. His lender continued working with him, and their relationship was a good one. Eventually, he was able to rehabilitate his credit rating and today owns his own truck again.

Rutherford says Max’s story is not an uncommon one. “Don’t give up. If you fall on hard times, there are always options,” he says. “Get financial advice sooner rather than later. If it comes down to the worst-case scenario, turn over the truck peacefully and hire on with a company. Set up a payment plan with your lender and pay down your debt.” Rutherford says he works with truckers to reduce their expenses and live frugally while getting back on their feet. “It can be done, and you come out a stronger, better business person afterward.”

Tools of the Trade
Most repo men can pick the lock of any truck in less than 20 seconds using a standard lock pick. For newer trucks, they’ll use a locksmith to make a key, and some carry a portable key-making machine in their truck.

“In many cases, the trucker leaves the key in the truck or hidden outside the truck,” says recovery agent Jamie Blackburn.

Big easy or big blue – Used to snake through a crack in the window and flip the lock to the door.

Slim Jim and lock pick – Used to tumble the lock and open the door.

Wedge – Opens a crack in the window without hurting the glass.

Taser and Mace – Used to defend against dogs and other animals in the cab.

How to Cut Your Losses

Reach out and touch someone.
If you miss even one payment, your lender can repossess your truck. Check your contract – it’s in there. Call your lender sooner rather than later. When you talk to them, explain your situation. If there’s a chance things will improve, tell them and ask them what you can do to work out a payment plan.

Don’t run.
The worst thing you can do is to run. There was a time when truckers could play an extended game of cat and mouse with the repo man. Those days are gone. Technology makes it impossible to hide, and the longer it takes them to find you, the deeper the hole you dig for yourself.

Don’t fear the repo.
The repo man is not going to risk assault charges, and neither should you. Be civil to him – he’s just doing his job. Believe it or not, he probably feels badly for you.

Don’t strip the truck.
Stories abound about desperate owner-operators facing repossession who decide to remove chrome, tires and any other parts of the truck they think they can sell for quick cash. Don’t do it. Anything you remove will be added to your delinquency.

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