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Wheels, Tires, and Belongings After Repo: Personal Property or Affixed to the Vehicle?

TIADA frequently receives calls inquiring about personal property found in a vehicle after a repossession. If a customer defaults on their retail installment contract, the dealer should take precautions when dealing with personal property found in the vehicle after a repossession. 
What about personal belongings such as clothes and tools? 

Any lien interest is only recorded against the vehicle and not any personal belongings.  Most post repossession notices contain language that informs the customer that the dealer will hold personal effects for a period of time, 31 days by law Texas Occc Code 348.407 (with a 15 day notice).  Dealers should use reasonable care to prevent employees, agents, and tow drivers from causing loss or damage to a customer's personal property such as clothing, tools, jewelry, and cell phones.  It is recommended that dealers keep an inventory of personal items recovered in a vehicle and such items should be stored separately from other inventory.  Some dealers use video to record the retrieval and inventory of personal property to avoid disputes later on.

So what happens after 31 days?

While Texas law precludes dealers from keeping or selling any personal property found in the vehicle within 31 days, what happens AFTER 31 days?  Dealers are not in the self storage business and will likely need to review their inventory of personal effects.  While not required, dealers may want to attempt a final communication to inform the customer that you will be disposing of any person belongings after a future date to be determined.  At that point it is up to the dealer to dispose of any remaining items.  Many dealers donate items to charities, but it is up to each individual dealer.

Check out these wheels!

Dealers do not have to uninstall and return any fixtures, customizations, or improvements a customer made to the car.  Under Texas law, fixtures become part of the encumbered property.  Dealers may, but do not have to disassemble and return stereos, sounds systems, tire rims or other devices that were installed on or to the car. Please note that case law is not exactly clear on this as one dealer has been successefully sued by rent a wheel business.  However, in most situations if tools are required to uninstall property the dealer can sell the car with those fixtures.  Dealers may allow a customer to remove wheels and stereos so long as the OEM original parts are properly re-installed and in good condition.  It may be prudent to sign a supplemental release just in case.

There have been instances where businesses that “Rent to own” wheels attempt to claim a lien on their wheels attached to your property.  Custom wheels can be repossessed off of the vehicle while in the customer's possession, but not once in the possession of the dealer after a repossession.  Contact your attorney immediately if such action is taken against you.

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