Sy Richardson & Harry Dean Stanton (background) in a scene from Repo Man 1984
Car Repossession Law
If you are behind on payments (even one), the creditor can repossess the vehicle. [California Civil Code 2983.2] They do not need a court order or judgment first. They are usually not allowed to take it from your garage, but can remove it from a public street or parking lot. They cannot use force or breach the peace [California Commercial Code 9503], but can hotwire the car or use duplicate keys. Car repossession law is usually consistent from state-to-state, but check your specific state law for variations on the above.
Can I Get My Repossessed Car Back?
You have the right to get the car repo back by paying the overdue amount, plus any fines and costs. These can be rather steep. If you can't or won't pay, the repossessor must give you 15 days' notice of the auction. You can bid on your own car. If they get less than you owe as the winning bid (which is usually the case), you'll owe the rest. That is the deficiency balance referred to above. You are entitled to get your belongings which were inside the car back, but only within the short period of time in your contract.