Many of you in the repo and impound businesses are familiar with the term "hook-n-book."  There were many occasions over the years when I would arrive at the scene of an impound tow to find that the chance of getting away with the car was slim-to-none.  In some cases, you could hook up to a vehicle, and then if the owner showed up before you left, you could charge a "drop fee."  I was never a big fan of the drop fee.  I liked to get away with the car.  Most conflicts with vehicle owners occur on-scene, in those drop fee situations.  Releasing a vehicle in a storage facility is a much more secure situation.

On one occasion, I was looking for a repo, and I found the vehicle at the owner's address, in a trailer park.  It was a Honda, nosed into a carport, so the first problem was, is the vehicle in gear or in park?  The second problem was, a person, presumably the owner, was outside, about 20 feet away, installing a satellite dish on the carport roof.  The front door of the trailer was open, right next to the car.  He went in and out of the trailer a few times.  I watched him for about 20 minutes, trying to decide if it was worth trying.  I actually thought about just walking over to talk to him and ask him for the keys to the car.

Vehicle owners generally know that a repo is a possibility, when it is a possibility, and sometimes they don't care about losing the car.  Since this guy could get a satellite dish but not make his car payment, I thought the car might not be that important to him.

Finally, he went into the trailer and was gone for several minutes.  The door was still wide open.  I backed my truck up to the car, slid the claws around the rear tires, and got out to try to determine if the car was in gear or in park.  The passenger window of the car was open, so I reached in and shifted the tranny out of gear and gave the steering wheel a wiggle to lock it.  Then I got back in the truck, lifted the wheellift up, and eased the car out of the carport.  I was about a block away when I heard the yelling.

On another occasion, I was called to impound a vehicle from a restaurant parking lot.  We worked for a restaurant in a business district that had been there a long time and had a fairly big parking lot.  Another restaurant, one of a very popular national chain, opened on the same block, with a much smaller parking lot.  So restaurant B's patrons typically parked in restaurant A's parking lot and spent all of their money at restaurant B, which restaurant A didn't much like.  So restaurant A (after attempted negotiations with restaurant B) had us station a monitor in the lot, and he would note which cars were illegally parked, give the vehicle owner a 20-minute grace period, and then call in the tow.

When I arrived for this car, the monitor explained to me that the vehicle owner was sitting on the other side of the wood fence that separated the two properties.  Restaurant B had an outside seating area, so he was sitting about 10 feet from his car.  The fence was about 6 feet high, but you could see through the spaces between the boards, so there was very little chance of getting away unnoticed.  It was a VW Rabbit, nosed in, so the same front-wheel-drive problem was in play.

I backed up to the car, slid the claws around the rear tires, lifted up the wheellift, shifted into drive, and slowly let off the brake to see if there was any resistance from the car's transmission.  There was none—the car was out-of-gear.  I drove forward and out of the lot.  As I turned the corner onto the street, I saw the guy come over the fence.  He ran behind me down the street, and I pulled onto a side street about 2 blocks away when I saw one of his shoes fly off.  Kind of felt obligated to stop, since he was at a disadvantage with only one shoe, and he was clearly doing his best to catch me.  Turned out he was an employee of restaurant B, stopping by to get his paycheck and have a drink.  If anyone should have known about the parking policy, it was him.

Poetic justice.

Have a safe and profitable week.

Nick Kemper

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