Valley Repo Business is Booming

November 25, 2008 12:42:55 AM PST
Car makers are having trouble selling cars and consumers are having trouble making payments on the cars they already have. It seems the only auto-related business making any money right now is the repossession business. Two valley repo men earn their money, when yours runs out.When the sun sets, Tyler McDonald's day begins. McDonald is the "Repo Man." When consumers don't make their payments, the repo man comes to collect. Tyler McDonald talks on the phone with a tow truck driver. He describes a 2007 Dodge Charger. "It's just sitting out front right now and the dude's kinda confrontational."

On this particular night McDonald has several cars and a motorcycle on his list of pickups. He's gotten word that one repo might be a problem so he brings in Kenny Priest as backup. McDonald knows the guy is going to be confrontational because the bank's already said he's been confrontational with them. He's argued with them on the phone. Says McDonald, "We'll just have to wait til we get there."

As it turns out the car is nowhere in sight when McDonald and Priest arrive, so they move on. Their next pickup is a motorcycle. The motorcycle is easy. The owners hadn't paid on the bike in months. The family lost their business and is going through bankruptcy. They already had a car repossessed. They knew it was just a matter of time before the bike was picked up.

Owner Christine Nichols says, "We knew eventually, yeah. With the car we knew who to contact and we went and gave it. With this it was not that clear." McDonald and Priest are meeting more and more people like Christine Nichols. Kenny Priest says, "With the economy going the way it is, we got a lot of hours and we're getting paid, but it kinda sucks for everybody else."

The repo man doesn't need your permission to repossess your car. Technically he can take it the first day after a missed payment. And getting possession of a car or other vehicle isn't all that difficult. Many times the dealer or the bank will provide an extra key. But the repo man can get in a car without a key. He has what's called a "break in" kit . Once he's inside, he has possession of the car.

Private detective Rocky Pipkin, has had a recovery business for more than a dozen years. He says that technically the way the law reads, if you gain access or entry into the vehicle, then you possess it and the repossession is over. Says Pipkin, "You can't go behind a locked gate or a gate unless it's open... you can't open somebody's garage and take their car... it pretty much has to be in public view." Banks and dealerships pay anywhere from 150 to 400 dollars per pickup. But it's a lose-lose situation for the lender.

Michael Strodtman who is a finance manager for Fresno's Auto Depot says his business is not making any money on repossessions. He says they're only losing money. He says his business recovers only 50 percent of cars that consumers quit paying on. Of those, he can only re-sell 10 percent. The rest he takes to auction. For that reason Strodtman tries his best to get some sort of payment from the consumer. He says, "Our intent is to try to work with the consumer and we will bend over backwards as a dealership to keep those consumers in their car and get on the road to financial recovery." Many consumers are just trying to hang on to their houses right now and put food on the table. And as long as the economy continues its downward slide these repo men will continue to roam the streets looking for the next vehicle to pick up.

Kenny Priest and Tyler McDonald say repossession is definitely a thrill. "It's fun," they say, "when you drive up to somebody's house and you have the orders to pick that car up and you drive off, it'll get your heart racing." What is a thrill for Priest and McDonald is a heartache for so many people who can no longer afford the lifestyle they wanted.

For the most part repossessions take place quietly. But for those occasions that might get out of hand, repo men usually carry mace, tear gas, and often a handgun.

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