Hammer Time: Search and Seizure

Steven Lang
by Steven Lang
hammer time search and seizure

“Always hire a professional.” It’s one of the easiest pieces of advice to ever give, and one of the absolute hardest to take. We all want our work to be done on the cheap… or free.

I learned a long time ago that ‘cheap’ is almost always the most expensive way to go. The guy who lowballs you for a repo job? He may have faulty equipment or be in a drug laden state. Yeah, you may get that car back for $50 less. But it may likely be ransacked for personal property that will be sold to a nearby pawn to make up the difference. Your ‘former’ customer may decide to pay you a visit given that he left most of his life’s possessions in the vehicle. They have no proof. But you will still have a headache to clean up. Both in terms of an angry former customer and the reconditioning of your once pristine ride. So what do you do?

Always hire a professional… and make their job easy. I have GPS’s for the overwhelming majority of my vehicles. For $150 I can find every single vehicle’s location within 100 feet. For $250 I can have a disabler installed that does wonders. All the repo company has to do is drive up with a self-loading wrecker, aim the ‘ stinger’ to lift the wheels, and take off. Sometimes they need to adjust their new payload due to a weird angle or the vehicle may have it’s driving wheels on the ground. The smart ones will lock and secure the steering wheel along with the lifted wheels… once they are a mile or two away from the pickup location.

The most important piece of equipment for all of these folks is experience. I use two guys for the small number of repos I have during the year. The ‘preacher’ and the ‘undertaker’’. Both of them are lifelong North Georgians with a depth of experience and relationships that make their jobs far less stressful than it would be for most folks.

The preacher is in fact an ordained minister. About 5’10” 230 pounds, the archetype Southern good old boy. Phillip has enough Biblical pearls of wisdom and dirty stories to make any car guy laugh for hours on end.

He is also is an absolute maestro at ‘getting the key’. A vital step in perfecting the security of a repo. His usual shtick is to tell the customer…

“I would hate to put some thick black skidmarks on this nice driveway. If you give me the keys I will let you get all your stuff out of the vehicle and lift the car properly.”

Often times there will be valuables in the vehicle. The person realizes that this big nice burly man is in control of that property. As a matter of tit-for-tat, they will usually play ball. Phillip gets most of my older customers who are delinquent. These folks I want to keep on friendly terms, and usually I have already gone out of my way with helping them in the past. I still get referrals from many of these people after the repo and in many cases, we work out a deal that enables them to eventually become long-term owners instead of long-term debtors.

I really don’t believe in being an SOB unless I absolutely have to. For that I have The ‘Undertaker’. A very tall, very well-connected repo agent… who is also deeply religious. This is the Bible Belt and you will rarely see any veteran in a risky profession who doesn’t turn to faith for inspiration. His name is Jeff and he handles one of the largest used car dealer networks in the city.

Approval Auto Sales averages 30 to 50 repos a week and the owner of the operation, Mike Cortez, is a very good personal friend. We’re both Yankees from the New York tri-state area whose minds are clouded by the fog of perfecting our daily work. I don’t have Approval’s volume because I’m too buys ‘drilling holes’ as a serial entrepreneur. He found one good oil strike and has been digging in the same spot for over a decade. I don’t have Mike’s tools or depth of business knowledge… but thankfully I can use one of his best resources.

Jeff, his repo agent, must knows cops. I can’t state this unequivocally. But I’m inclined to think that Jeff has a cop call whenever he has to deal with any uneasy situation. A bad criminal history along with the vehicle hidden in the garage? Cop calls. Jeff knocks. The garage door magically opens with the keys in the ash tray.

A skip who has a parent or friend co-sign? The cop may inform them that my company has filed a report for ‘theft by conversion’. A felony in the state of Georgia with a maximum sentence of ten years and their name is on the contract. The cop may explain to them that he is trying to end this as peacefully as possible for everyone and would they be so kind as to arrange for immediate pickup of the vehicle with Jeff? In certain states like Louisiana a Sheriff or Deputy actually does the repo. Georgia isn’t one of them. But the realm of ‘probable cause’ likely has a broader interpretation in Georgia than most other states. Your really bad customers don’t want to deal with cops.

Once Jeff gets a car I cut off all communication to the customer. Don’t talk to them. Don’t return any calls on that evening. Don’t even think about it. The deal is dead. Mail out the ‘Ten Day Letter’ along with the state form for listing personal property within the vehicle on the next day. When they ask for information beyond what the law requires, have an employee refer them to your lawyer who will be happy to help them out. The word ‘lawyer’ effectively ends the relationship.

I have never lost a car in seven years. Not once. This year my repo rate has been less than 10% in an industry where 33% is the norm. But this time there will be a nasty monkey wrench thrown into the system. The SUV that was rented out by the old man should have never left my lot. I had told Stan to never rent a vehicle that was behind the fence. Repairs, reconditioning, and GPS installations are all organized behind the back fence.

Stan fished out the SUV the week before I fired his ass, and likely pocketed a C-note from the Gypsy for reasons I will explain later. No GPS. No returned car. Just a long road to the junior Gypsy’s house along with a quick phone call to Jeff.

It was time to act quick. Lifelong criminals don’t tend to hang out for long.

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3 of 23 comments
  • Saponetta Saponetta on Oct 18, 2010

    contrarian, I ship over 100 cars a year and use a broker service for everyone of them. I never have any problems. The only time I have had an issue was many years ago with a car going to Dramen port in Norway, I used a large individual company and they knocked the front bumper off the car. BTW in my experience(which i'm sure pales next to yours) the nigerian or bosnian in the f350 are the best most careful transporters you can find. Funny thing about that car, it was a 2005 Carrera S launch car that we sold new and took back in on trade. All the launch cars were black loaded cars with ceramic brakes. like all launch cars this one had the leather PCM surround. Well on the drivers side it was leather, and the passanger side of the console was regular plastic. You don't see many porsches leave the factory with those kind of mistakes. BTW that car got clipped in port once it got to europe. the wheels and 4 brand new snow tires i installed for the customer were stolen. That is obviously no ones fault but the theives though.

  • Saponetta Saponetta on Oct 18, 2010

    Speaking of subprime, buy here pay here and bosnians...... I think we can all agree that subprime and especially buy here pay here exists to take advantage of minorities. We are lucky here to have a large population of 35,000+ bosnians. They buy like subprime folks, absolutely LOVE german cars, and all have good credit and lots of cash! $$$$$$$

    • Steven Lang Steven Lang on Oct 18, 2010

      I will have to respectfully disagree with you.

      Subprime lending is mostly handled by large financial institutions. Those firms target an exceptionally massive audience.. and not just consumers for that matter.

      Most BHPH lots are community based. If you go to the medium sized towns in this country, you are guaranteed to see at least two or three BHPH lots and I believe that blue collar folks make up the bulk of their business.

      In the metro areas the most dominant outfits are still the captive finance dealers (Drivetime, J.D. Byrider, Just Right Auto Sales), and I would argue that many of the new car dealer networks already do their own versions of BHPH under their own roof. Ed's ad for the Scion Xb is a good example of that.

      There are BHPH dealerships that will target Latinos, blacks, and a variety of immigrant groups. But usually they are not the biggest players in this business... and many new car dealerships apply the same strategies given their location.

  • FifaCup Loving both Interior and exterior designs.
  • FifaCup This is not good for the auto industry
  • Jeff S This would be a good commuter vehicle especially for those working in a large metropolitan area. The only thing is that by the time you put airbags, backup cameras, and a few of the other required safety features this car would no longer be simple and the price would be not much cheaper than a subcompact. I like the idea but I doubt a car like this would get marketed in anyplace besides Europe and the 3rd World.
  • ScarecrowRepair That's what I came to say!
  • Inside Looking Out " the plastic reinforced with cotton waste used on select garbage vehicles assembled by the Soviet Union. "Wrong. The car you are talking about was the product German engineering, East German. It's name was Trabant.