Can my car get repossessed without a lien on it?

Something kind of scary happened to me yesterday that really freaked me out. A repo man came to my front door and said he had to take my car. I told him he had the wrong person, and he eventually left, but now I’m wondering if there’s a chance that my car can get repossessed even if there’s not a lien on it. Can it?

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Macy Fouse · Answered on Jan 26, 2023
Reviewed by Shannon Martin, Licensed Insurance Agent.
That does sound terrifying, especially if you’re not expecting it! It’s not common, but it is possible for your car to get repossessed even without a lien on it.
In general, a car gets repossessed when a borrower can’t make payments on their car loan. Since the lender has a lien on the car, they take possession of what’s legally theirs—the vehicle. Before the lender resorts to repossession, they typically offer other methods to help the borrower get back on track with their loan, like late fees or penalties. Some lenders, however, might jump straight to taking legal action or repossessing the car.
If you buy a car from a private seller, there may be a way your vehicle could be repossessed even if you don’t think it has a lien. Here are the two main circumstances where that might happen:
  • If the previous lender makes a mistake and doesn’t update their records after a loan is paid, they may wrongly attempt to repossess the car.
  • If the seller washed the title and illegally left out the lien information in the sale, the vehicle could be repossessed by the lender.
If you run into either of these issues, you have certain rights as an innocent buyer called “bonafide purchaser rights” that would entitle you to legal action that could help you keep the vehicle.
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