Dodging bullets made this Range Rover repo a nightmare

I’m Ethan. Nice to meet you. I sold drugs and did various other crimes as a young adult, but I let it go so I could sell cars to North Carolina’s finest criminals. That S550 on Forgiatos in front of a housing project? I sold it. Your weed man just pulled up in a $60,000 QX80? Money in my pocket. That 7-Series blowing out blue smoke near a luxury shopping mall? It was me. This is a deep game—and the game is sold, not told.

Episode 3: Bullets and Buybacks

Let me tell you a little secret about criminals: They tend to be credit criminals as well. Which means that normal banks won’t touch ‘em. The shark-like loan shops who helped us put the 520 FICO crowd in V-12 Benzes and the like extracted more than a pound of flesh for their assistance—plus plenty of extra conditions. The worst of those conditions? The buyback. If the customer defaulted on any one of the first three payments, the bank would send us a letter via fax informing us that we owed them the loan balance, payable immediately. Every time it happened, I was absolutely livid. The money set us back weeks at a time—but the hassle really came when we got tasked with repossessing the cars. People are creative when they don’t want to return something they can’t afford. I’ve already told the story of an easy repo with a more gullible customer, but today I’ll give you a couple of the truly difficult ones.

Travis was an interesting dude. Well-dressed guy, near 40 years old. His story with Best Coast Motorsports actually started off successfully with his purchase of a clean, low-mileage Land Rover LR4 in white. Travis owned this unit for a year driving around attending to his random “hustles” between Charlotte and Greensboro. The man was all about his hustles. But Travis was moving his way towards more legitimate business and with that change in latitude came a change in attitude: a white Range Rover with a cream- and jet-piped interior that he’d seen sitting in our showroom. The deal went by easy. Travis put down $5000 and traded in his LR4 to get into his new rig.

2010 Land Rover LR4
2010 Land Rover LR4 Land Rover

Now this was supposed to be a happy ending again for another year, but that fairy tale came to an end when Travis walked into my office sweating worse than Bobby Brown on a Saturday night:

“Hey man, I need to get out of this Rover ASAP.”

“What’s wrong with it?”

“I need more space, man. Hey—what’s up with that Escalade outside?”

“You want that instead? I can see if I can get it approved for you today. You might need some money—”

“I ain’t got s*** to put down, man. Can you do it without it?”

“I’ll see, man, I’ll have to work on that one for a while.”

He was wired, head bobbing left and right while his dilated eyes shook in their sockets. I didn’t think much of it at the time, but as you’ll see, there was plenty of reason for his frenzy. He left and I picked up the phone to try every way I could think of to trade him out of the Escalade. All the banks were still asking for money down and I couldn’t find a way to make it happen with nothing out of pocket. It sucked to lose the sale, but we can’t always turn previously bankrupt water into Escalade wine, you dig?

Travis called every few hours the next couple of days, becoming progressively more distraught as each bank turned us down. Saturday afternoon I finally gave up my search for a bank to buy the deal with no money. I called Travis and he seemed more than reasonably upset as I gave him the news that he couldn’t buy another car without a significant down payment—but I didn’t give it any more thought.

Monday morning I walked into the office ready to deal with the next piece of bad credit and/or bundle of smelly money to be thrown at me. What I got instead was a buyback order on the printer for the Range Rover. The room started to spin before my eyes as I realized what had really been going on. Travis had been behind on his payment and wanted to trade out so he didn’t have to face the repo man. Too late. Now he’d managed to put me in hock with the bank, which meant that I was going to have to deprive him of his ride, and the sooner the better.

The bank got their money out of me two days after I received the buyback letter, but my long-suffering repo man, Paris, was having a hard time even tracing where Travis was. I knew that he spent a large amount of his time in Greensboro (about an hour and a half away) plotting his next hustles, so I suggested that Paris check over there. Paris called me before dawn on a Sunday morning to tell me that one of his guys saw the Range Rover parked at an apartment complex and was en route to grab it.

Good deal. I was going to get my collateral back.

Paris arrived to pick up the Range Rover right before sunrise. Seeing a clear path, he backed his tow truck up towards the Range Rover at “let’s get this done” speed… but in the seconds it took him to line up, his tinted rear windshield shattered as two bullets ran through it. Paris immediately put the truck in drive and took off to safety. He told me it wasn’t the first time he had been shot at, but definitely the first time it had happened before he even hooked up to the vehicle.

Now, the average repo man would consider a car off limits after taking two shots to the back window but Paris was made of sterner stuff and he kept chasing Travis around, hoping for a moment when truck and owner would be separated by more than the effective range of a Desert Eagle pistol. The Range Rover was found many more times over the course of a year after that incident, but Paris could never get to it just in time. Every time it appeared outside a home or place of business, Travis or one of his hoods managed to either take off in the car before Paris could hook up—or they’d be loitering around the vehicle with intent to kill.

2014 Land Rover Range Rover profile
2014 Land Rover Range Rover Land Rover

This went on for eight whole months until one day Paris found the car in Rosewood, a decaying neighborhood in Greensboro, slightly damaged but in one piece. Best of all, it was unattended. You see, Travis had to be lucky every time, but Paris only had to be lucky once. Now I was back in possession of the Range Rover. Just how lucky that made me is a matter for spirited discussion.

But that wasn’t the only long term repo we had just that year. The next “customer” was named Derrick. I don’t remember much about him except he just seemed shady for some reason. I only saw him the day he made the deal with us, which was simple: a 2010 BMW M5 with 15k miles, a car that in 2014 was still worth about $60k to a member of our customer base. He walked in mid-afternoon on a weekday with a pay stub stating he made $10k a month—but he also had a credit score in the low 500s. As soon as he walked through the door I was told he had $15k to put down on the Teutonic missile. This would be easy, even for a low-FICO “stone.” So why was this dude acting so nervous? And why did he mumble at the ground every time I asked him about his career, or his life outside this particular moment?

After a credit application and a few phone calls, I ended up pulling the car off our front patio and into the parking lot. My partner Tom finally pulled me into his office and verbalized what I was thinking:

“That fool doesn’t make 10 grand a month, bro.”

“His pay stub looks legit and the numbers add up, man.”

“Whatever, bro, this one is completely on you.”

And damn, did this one fall completely on me. The funny thing was that he had a massive and brand new house, which I saw when I helped him get his old car back to it after he took delivery of the M5. The dude clearly had some finance behind him, so even though he still decided to never pay anybody on time, I expected him to at least make six months’ worth of payments before he’d become a problem.

Well, I was wrong. He handed us $15k in cash, all right, but he never made a single payment on the M5. Cue the chattering fax machine, the buyback paperwork, and the phone call to Paris. My man searched all over the city for that M5, but he couldn’t find it. Not at Derrick’s place of work, or his home, his family members’ homes. It was as if the Bimmer had completely disappeared. About 15 months after I left Best Coast Motorsports, I saw the M5, with Derrick behind the wheel, driving up Independence Boulevard right past me on my way to work. I was tempted to call Paris, but it wasn’t my responsibility any more. Let the man keep his car. After all, he’d worked hard for it— even if it wasn’t the kind of work that lifts your credit score out of purgatory. And it could have been worse; at least Derrick had chosen flight (from his creditors) over fight (it out with the repo man).

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