What's on Tap? Episode One Recap: Replevins, Repossessions, and Repair Shop Liens

The first episode in Weltman’s newest webinar series, What’s on Tap?, is a little fun and a lot of information. It blends two of our favorite topics: local beer and recovering your vehicles. If you’re a vehicle lender, then these answers are for you. The panel for this episode included shareholder and Philadelphia office managing attorney Mike Dougherty and attorneys Scott Best and Cameron Deane.


But first, the beer

The beer of the day featured in this episode was Broken Heels by New Trail Brewing. Since 2018, New Trail has been devoted to brewing great beers and highlighting Pennsylvania’s expansive beauty. 

Onto the topics at hand…

Replevins and repossessions

When someone defaults on their vehicle loan, the original lender will want to have that vehicle recovered. This legal process is called replevin. While both Pennsylvania and New Jersey allow for self-help recovery, which is when you try to recover the vehicle yourself, those efforts are often futile. This is when it’s time to engage legal counsel.
Clients often ask us what they need to start this process. Ideally, the lender will want to have:
  • A copy of the contract
  • Loan application
  • Vehicle title
Both New Jersey and Pennsylvania allow you to seek possession of the vehicle, recovery of monies owed, or both. In PA, it’s called a “one-count claim” or a “two-count claim.” If you want to recover the money owed, you’ll want to be able to support your claim through a payment history. 
Once your attorney has filed the necessary paperwork, the sheriff will serve notice. Each county’s sheriff department requires different paperwork, and your attorney will help you know exactly what you need. The general timeline from filing the complaint to getting this order is 3–6 months. 
Once the vehicle is recovered, statutory notices (which differ between PA and NJ) are issued to the defendant. These documents notify them of their rights and responsibilities.
In PA, a “writ of seizure” can speed up this process. If you secure a bond for double the amount owed, you can get the vehicle in 7–10 days. 
At Weltman, we have relationships with the sheriff departments in every county in PA. It’s this relationship that helps streamline the process. For instance, if the sheriff finds the vehicle but cannot actually get it (perhaps it’s behind a fence), they’ll let us know. We can then alert the court and request a “motion to break,” giving the sheriff permission to physically break down that fence. This helps discourage people from trying to hide vehicles.

Repair shop liens

The most common phone call we receive is about one particular scenario — the vehicle is in the tow yard or repair shop. That shop calls you requesting a large sum of money to retrieve it. In this situation, the issue of “proper notice” comes up. Just because a shop calls and demands payment does not mean you’re responsible for doing so. Legally, you become responsible when that shop sends you notice they have the vehicle. You are not responsible for fees prior to receiving that notice. In some counties, there are also storage fee caps, meaning the shop cannot charge you any more than those limits.
If a shop refuses to release your vehicle, regardless of the proper notice, you’ll want to discuss with your lawyer the most efficient, cost-effective way to proceed. You can go through the process of filing a replevin action, in turn giving that lien precedence over any storage fees. Because there’s time and money associated with filing a replevin, however, it might not be the best route. It’s about being practical because the sooner you can get your vehicle back, the sooner you can sell it elsewhere.
What if the shop has made repairs? The answer depends on whether you’re in Pennsylvania or New Jersey. In PA, the shop is entitled to receive payment for their work. You’ll want to get all documentation regarding those repairs to prove they’ve happened. In NJ, the loan lien maintains priority. 

Questions from viewers

Can I file a replevin against a tow or repair shop?
Yes, in both states. File it as soon as possible because the repair shop does not have any right to hold your vehicle. There’s an expedited process in NJ called a “verified complaint;” however, this type of complaint limits your recovery to possession only and a separate complaint for any deficiency will have to be filed for any balance remaining due after recovery of the vehicle.   Again, an attorney can best advise for your situation.
How do you handle recovery when a government agency has possession of the vehicle?
There are many instances when a government entity may have your vehicle. For instance, the Philadelphia Parking Authority may take possession because your borrower has incurred several parking tickets that have gone unpaid. Generally, all fines and fees must be paid before the government agency will release the vehicle to the lienholder, at which point the loan lien can be executed. Different cities will have different ordinances. 
If a state court takes possession (usually in a criminal proceeding), you’ll want to reach out to the seizing agency to find out the status. This will usually be the local police department or state police. If it’s being used as evidence for a court case, you can file to have it returned once it’s no longer needed
When a federal agency such as the DEA takes possession, you’ll want to file both a claim for recovery of the vehicle and a petition for mitigation via the DEA’s website. The U.S. attorney will then contact your attorney to talk about next steps.
In both instances, the vehicle may be subject to civil forfeiture, so it is important to monitor these proceedings and file the necessary paperwork to enforce your lien against the vehicle before the government takes title away from the borrower. 

What’s on tap next?

Every episode of What’s on Tap? is based on the questions that YOU, the viewers, want answered. When you submit your questions either during registration or live on the webinar, you’re in the running to receive commemorative What’s On Tap? swag and local Philly brewery gift cards! 

If you would like to view this recorded webinar, click here. For additional questions, please contact Mike, Scott, and/or Cameron at any time.
This blog is not a solicitation for business, and it is not intended to constitute legal advice on specific matters, create an attorney-client relationship or be legally binding in any way.

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Michael J. Dougherty


Cameron W. Deane


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