We value our editorial independence, basing our comparison results, content and reviews on objective analysis without bias. But we may receive compensation when you click links on our site. Learn more about how we make money from our partners.
What happens when you default on a car loan
And steps you can take to avoid repossession.
How do I know if my car loan is in default?
Your car loan could be considered in default after just one missed payment, though it varies by providers. Typically, most lenders won’t take steps to repossess your car until your 90 days late on a repayment. Your loan agreement should detail how many days you have to miss before your loan to go into default.
4 consequences of defaulting on your car loan
From tanking your credit score to losing your car, here’s what could happen if you fail to pay back your car loan:
1. 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.
2. Your car may be repossessed and sold.
In most states, 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.
What to do if your car is repossessed
3. 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.
4. 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 state, ranging anywhere from three to 15 years. It all depends on whether your state considers your car loan contract to be a promissory note or written contract. Once the statute of limitations on your car loan passes, your lender no longer has the right to sue you for repayment.
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. You can learn more about how it works with our guide to filing for bankruptcy.
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.
- 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
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 about your options with our guide to car loan refinancing.
Frequently asked questions
Ask an Expert