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What happens when you default on a car loan?

Here are 4 consequences, plus what you can do if you default.

Falling behind on your car loan payments not only damages your credit score, but could also cause you to lose your car. And if you had a cosigner on your loan, they’ll be hit with the same repercussions. But there are steps you can take to avoid repossession when you’re facing default.

How do I know if my car loan is in default?

Your car loan could be considered in default after just 1 missed payment, though it varies by providers. Typically, most lenders won’t take steps to repossess your car until you’re 90 days late on a repayment. Your loan agreement should detail how many days you have to miss before your loan goes into default.

4 consequences of defaulting on your car loan

Here’s what could happen if you fail to pay back your car loan:

  • Your credit score will take a hit.

    Just being late on your car loan repayment will likely lower your credit score. But going into default will add another negative mark to your credit report. If your car is repossessed, your account is sent to collections or your lender sues you, your credit score could take an even greater hit — dropping as much as 100 points in some cases.

  • Your car may be repossessed and sold.

    Your car can be repossessed once your loan goes into default. However, your lender is required to notify you beforehand and give you the chance to catch up on payments first. If you’re unable to get out of default, your lender will likely seize your car and sell it at a fair market price.

  • You may still owe your lender after your car is repossessed.

    If your lender sold your car for less than your outstanding loan balance, you’ll be on the hook to repay the difference — called the deficiency balance. You’ll also be responsible for paying any costs associated with repossessing your car.

  • Your remaining debt could be sent to collections.

    Fail to repay the deficiency balance? Your lender might sell your debt to a third-party collection agency, which tries to get you to pay up. If you don’t, there’s a chance the agency could sue you for repayment.

What is the statute of limitations on car loans?

The statute of limitations on car loans varies by province, ranging anywhere from 2 to 10 years. It applies only to unsecured debt, for example, if you got a unsecured personal loan to pay for your car. Once the statute of limitations on your loan passes, your lender no longer has the right to sue you for repayment. However, be aware that most car loans are considered a secured form of debt so the statute of limitations would not apply.

Will filing for bankruptcy discharge my car loan?

Probably not. In most cases, you’ll either need to surrender your car to your lender or continue to pay off your car loan according to a modified repayment plan.

How will defaulting on my car loan affect my cosigner?

If a family member or friend cosigned your car loan, they’re legally responsible for paying back your loan should you default. If they fail to do so, your cosigner will be hit with the same consequence you’re facing, including a lower credit score and the risk of being sued over an unpaid deficiency balance.

I defaulted on my car loan. What can I do?

If you received a notice from your lender that your car loan is in default, you still have a few options to prevent your car from being repossessed. These include:

  • Contact your lender to set up a new payment plan. Your lender may be willing to adjust your payment plan to make it more manageable — especially if you have proof of economic hardship. If you’re able to come to an agreement on a revised plan, make sure you get it in writing.
  • Refinance your car loan with another lender. If your credit score hasn’t taken a huge hit, you may be able to refinance your car loan with another lender. Even if you can’t qualify for a lower rate, extending the term can make for smaller monthly payments.
  • Sell your car and pay off your loan in full. This is ideal if you owe less than your car is worth — you may even be able to make a profit from the sale. However, this may not be the best choice if your car loan is upside down. Here’s what you should know before selling your car if you still owe on it.
  • Surrender your car to your lender. If repossession is on the horizon and you’ve exhausted all other options, you can voluntarily turn your car over to your lender. While this will still count as a repossession on your credit report, you won’t be responsible for paying repossession fees.

Compare car loan refinancing options

Name Product Loan Amount Interest Rate Loan Term Min. Credit Score Requirements Table description
CarsFast Car Loans
$500 - $75,000
4.90% - 29.90%
12 - 96 months
300
Min. income of $2,000 /month, 3+ months employed
Get a new or used vehicle delivered to your door.
Browse thousands of vehicles from dealers across Canada and get matched with financing that meets your needs.
Loans Canada Car Loans
$500 - $35,000
0% - 29.99%
3 - 96 months
300
Min. income of $1,800 /month, 3+ months employed
Compare rates from multiple lenders.
Complete a single application to get quotes from different lenders. Bad credit, CERB and EI borrowers considered.
AutoLoanProviders
$7,500 - $85,000
3.99% - 29.99%
12 - 96 months
300
Min. income of $1,800 /month, 1+ months employed
Available in Ontario only.
Apply online and get your new vehicle delivered to your door anywhere in Ontario free of charge. All credit scores considered.
Coast Capital Car Loan
$10,000 - No Max.
Varies
18 - 84 months
650
Able to service debt payment of $300/month
Competitive rates and flexible terms.
Finance new and used vehicles from one of Canada's largest credit unions. No credit union membership required. Available across Canada except SK, QC, NT, NU, YT.
Splash Auto Finance
$10,000 - $50,000
9.90% - 29.90%
24 - 84 months
300
Min. income of $2,200 /month, 3+ months employed
Apply with any credit score.
Get financing for a new or used car. Auto loans for borrowers with fair credit, bad credit, no credit or bankruptcy.
goPeer Car Loan
$1,000 - $25,000
8.00% - 31.00%
36 - 60 months
600
Min. income of $40,000 /year
P2P platform with competitive rates.
Canada's first regulated consumer peer-to-peer lending platform that connects creditworthy Canadians looking for a loan with Canadians looking to invest.
Carloans411 Car Loans
$500 - $50,000
1.90% - 19.99%
Up to 72 months
300
Min. income of $1,600 /month, 3+ months employed
High application approval rate.
Get connected with suitable lenders to finance your next car, van or truck. Check eligibility for this loan through LoanConnect.
Canada Auto Finance
$500 - $45,000
4.90% - 29.95%
3 - 96 months
300
Min. income of $1,500 /month, 3+ months employed
Get financing from partnered local lenders.
Financing for a new or used car is available for borrowers with bad credit, no credit, CERB, EI or bankruptcy.
LoanConnect Car Loans
$500 - $50,000
9.90% - 46.96%
3 - 120 months
550
No min. income requirement
Pre-approval in as little as 60 seconds.
Get access to 25+ lenders through this brokerage. Get your funds in as little as 24 hours.
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Compare up to 4 providers

Bottom line

At the very least, defaulting on your car loan will cause your credit score to take a hit. You could also end up losing your car — or worse, getting sued. If you’re worried about defaulting or already have, there are steps you can take to get your finances back on track.

You can learn more with our guide to improving your credit score and establishing better credit.

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