Vehicle Repossession And Towing Laws In Memphis

Posted: October 19, 2011 in Nitegator

Tennessee laws on secured transactions govern vehicle repossession laws in Tennessee. A secured transaction occurs where a consumer borrows money from a third-party creditor to finance a large purchase, such as a vehicle. The transaction is secure because the vehicle acts as collateral for the creditor’s loan pursuant to a sales contract. The creditor maintains an interest (or lien) on the vehicle that allows the creditor to repossess the vehicle in the event the consumer breaches the sales contract. The most common breach of the agreement occurs when the consumer stops making timely payments on the loan.


If a consumer stops making timely payments on his car loan, he is in default. Typically, a sales contract for the purchase of a vehicle provides that the creditor can repossess the vehicle if the consumer defaults. Vehicle repossession laws in Tennessee do not require the creditor to go to court and obtain a court order to repossess the vehicle. The creditor can simply send a tow truck to pick up the vehicle so long as the repo man does it without breaching the peace. That means the repo man cannot use force or the threat of force or violate trespassing laws when seizing the vehicle.


If the creditor repossesses the vehicle, the creditor may resell the item to recover the money it lost because the consumer defaulted on the loan. In fact, if the borrower paid 60 percent or more of the loan’s principal, Tennessee law requires that the creditor resell the vehicle at public or private auction. All aspects of the sale must be commercially reasonable. That means the time, place and manner of sale must be reasonable. In other words, the creditor cannot resell a $50,000 vehicle for $5,000. If the defaulted consumer can repay all monies owed as well as any reasonable expenses incurred by the creditor as a result of the default, the consumer can redeem the vehicle and recover it subject to the terms of the sales contract.

After a debtor’s default, a secured creditor may sell, lease or otherwise dispose of the collateral in a commercially reasonable manner, by public or private sale. Any time before the disposition of the collateral, a debtor may have a right to redeem the collateral by tendering full payment of the obligation owed and all reasonable expenses incurred by the creditor. (47-9-506.) Reasonable notice of the time and place of the sale is generally required to be given to other secured creditors and the debtor. (47-9-504(3).)

The State of Tennessee has granted most municipalities broad police powers over their streets, motor vehicles and traffic. That is true of the city as well. [your Municipal Charter , Article II, sections 1(12) and (1)(26); Tennessee Code Annotated , section 55-10-307. Also see Steil v. City of Chattanooga , 152 S.W.2d 624 (1941); Collier v. Baker, 27 S.W.2d 1085 (1930); Brimer v. Municipality of Jefferson City, 216 S.W.2d 1 (1948); Paris v. Paris-Henry County Utility District, 340 S.W.3d 885 (1960); Blackburn v. Dillon 255 S.W.2d 47 (1949).] There are also a number of general statutes in Tennessee dealing with wreckers and towing, some of which govern all non-consensual tows. Tennessee Code Annotated , section 55-16-101 et seq. contains detailed rules that law enforcement officers, private property owners, and businesses must follow with respect to the towing and storage of unclaimed and abandoned motor vehicles. A number of other state statutes govern the towing of vehicles in handicapped parking spaces [Tennessee Code Annotated , section 55-21-108], and the towing and storage of stolen vehicles [ Tennessee Code Annotated , section 55-5-101]. All of those statutes expressly or impliedly authorize municipalities to tow motor vehicles. However, as far as I can determine, none of the statutes prescribe how wrecker and towing services will be dispatched or how such services will be administered at the scene of emergencies by police officers.

Tennessee Code, Sec. 66-28-518. Towing of unauthorized vehicles.
(a) A landlord may have an unauthorized vehicle towed or otherwise removed from real property leased or rented by such landlord for residential purposes, upon giving ten (10) days written notice by posting the same upon the subject vehicle.

(b) A landlord may have a tenant’s, occupant’s, tenant’s guest’s, or trespasser’s vehicle immediately towed or otherwise removed from such real property, without notice, if and when such person fails to comply with the landlord’s permit parking policy as defined in the landlord’s posted signage.

(c) A landlord may have a tenant’s, occupant’s, tenant’s guest’s, or trespasser’s vehicle immediately towed or otherwise removed from such real property, without notice, for such person’s failure to comply with the landlord’s posted signage relative to traffic and parking restrictions, including, but not limited to, traffic lanes, fire lanes, fire hydrants, handicapped areas, and/or the blocking of trash receptacles.

(d) The owner or lessee of a vehicle that has been removed pursuant to this section may make application to take possession of such vehicle and remove such vehicle from the place to which it has been removed or stored by paying the costs of removing such vehicle, plus the accrued towing and storage charges.

Per Tennessee Code Annotated Section 55-16-103(1), an abandoned motor vehicle is any motor vehicle that:

1. Is over four years old and is left unattended on public property for more than ten days;
2. Is in obvious state of disrepair and is left unattended on public property for more than three days;
3. Has remained illegally on public property for a period of more than 48 hours;
4. Has remained on private property without the consent of the owner or person in control of the property for more than 48 hours; or
5. Has been stored, parked or left in a garage, trailer park, or any type of storage or parking lot for more than 30 consecutive days.

Tennessee Code Annotated Section 55-16-103(3) defines an immobile vehicle as:

* Any motor vehicle , trailer, semitrailer, or combination or part of a motor vehicle, trailer, or semitrailer that is immobilized and incapable of moving under its own power due to an accident, mechanical breakdown, weather conditions or other emergency situation.

Under Tennessee Code Annotated Section 55-16-103(7) unattended motor vehicles are:

* Any motor vehicle, trailer, semitrailer, or combination or part of a motor vehicle, trailer, or semitrailer that is on public or private property, unattended by the owner or authorized driver, and interferes with or impedes the orderly flow of traffic, or a motor vehicle that is unattended by reason of the arrest of the driver of such motor vehicle.

2010 Tennessee Code Title 55 – Motor and Other Vehicles Chapter 16 – Unclaimed or Abandoned Vehicles

55-16-111 – Restrictions on towing of vehicles.

Notwithstanding any law to the contrary, a vehicle may not be towed without authorization by the owner of the vehicle until twelve (12) hours have elapsed since it was first observed to be immobile or unattended unless the vehicle is creating a hazard, blocking access to public or private property, or parked illegally.

[Acts 1996, ch. 868, § 7.]
Disclaimer: These codes may not be the most recent version. Tennessee may have more current or accurate information. We make no warranties or guarantees about the accuracy, completeness, or adequacy of the information contained on this site or the information linked to on the state site. Please check official sources.

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