How Repo Trucks Work

Safety and Stealth
This ordinary looking pickup truck is really a heavy-duty stealth repo truck.
This ordinary looking pickup truck is really a heavy-duty stealth repo truck.
East Coast Truck and Trailer Sales

There are some people who genuinely run into financial problems and fail to make car payments, and while an owner may be upset when their car is repossessed, they don't get violent about it. But a certain percentage of people who have evaded their loan payment responsibilities are not exactly upstanding citizens. A search of Internet news sites will bring up dozens of stories about repo men whose trucks are damaged or who are themselves assaulted, injured and sometimes even murdered by irate car owners. In the United States, one or two repo men are killed each year while on the job. It's easy to see why they want to make a repo as quickly as possible, and avoid getting out of the tow truck if they can.

In some states, making a clean, quiet repo isn't just a safety matter, it's a legal necessity. Some state laws require that all repos happen without creating a "breach of the peace." That means that if the owner notices the repo in progress and comes out of the house yelling and screaming, the repo agent can't legally repossess the car. Of course, it's in the repo man's best interest to avoid a scene like this, but how?

The first type of stealth towing system is a basic tow truck equipped with an automated hookup system, such as the stinger wheel-lift system we described earlier. These repos rely more on speed than stealth. The repo agent will usually park the truck out of sight while he or she checks the VIN to determine if the vehicle is front- or rear-wheel drive. When all is ready, the agent approaches the vehicle with the tow truck and deploys the stinger, controlling it with a hydraulic control box inside the truck's cab. If the car is parallel parked, the stinger can be turned sideways and slid into position from the side. The entire operation can be completed in roughly 10 seconds.

An even craftier method of vehicle repossession involves a truck that's more than it appears to be. A true stealth repo truck looks like an ordinary pickup truck. It's usually a heavy-duty truck with a powerful diesel engine and dual rear wheels, but it doesn't appear to be a towing vehicle in any way. In stealth mode, the repo man can scout the target vehicle, check the VIN and determine the whereabouts of the owner without drawing unwanted attention. When it's time to tow the target vehicle, the stealth truck undergoes a remarkable transformation.

The stinger arm on this stealth repo truck folds up to look like a trailer hitch. It's actually part of the telescoping towing apparatus mounted beneath the truck.
East Coast Truck and Trailer Sales

One version of a stealth repo truck has a towing mechanism hidden in the enclosed bed of the pickup. The mechanism unfolds under hydraulic power with the push of a button. The stinger then extends under the target car and functions just like a regular tow truck. When the repo is complete and the car is stored safely in a secure lot, the towing mechanism folds back into the bed, out of sight.

Another stealth repo truck design stows the stinger beneath the truck. In stealth mode, the tire cradles are folded up and appear to be some kind of straight metal attachment parallel to the truck's rear bumper. The folded metal cradles look like some kind of trailer hitch assembly -- not at all like any kind of towing apparatus. When it goes into action, the stinger telescopes out from beneath the truck, unfolds and then functions like a regular tow truck. A typical stealth repo truck can tow a vehicle weighing up to 7,000 pounds (3,175 kg), which means you can stealth repo all cars and all but the heaviest of pickup trucks.

A stealth lifter can be installed on a typical pickup truck; however, the truck is then subjected to some serious stress as it lifts and tows. For that reason, most manufacturers recommend using a heavy-duty pickup and adding frame stiffeners. For example, it's suggested that vehicles with a gross weight of less than 15,000 pounds (6,804 kg) use frame reinforcements before the stealth lifter is installed [source: Dynamic Equipment and Manufacturing].

That stealth gear doesn't come cheap -- a full system, including frame stiffening and suspension modifications, will cost about $15,000 installed. That doesn't include the price of the truck itself. A 2008 Ford F-350 with a stealth system already installed will cost just over $55,000 [source: East Coast Truck and Trailer Sales].

To find out more about repossession equipment, hydraulics and other related topics, follow the links below. They'll provide you with a lot more information.

Related HowStuffWorks Articles

More Great Links


  • Condor Motorcycle Products. "Self Loader."
  • Cramer, Maria. "Repo men, interrupted: Brothers arrested after allegedly taking their job too far." Boston Globe. May 23, 2007.
  • Dynamic Equipment and Manufacturing. "Stealth Brochure."
  • Lambert, Andy. "A Condensed History of Vehicle Recovery in the UK."
  • Meeks, Dan. "I Want To Be a Repoman…." Sept. 14, 2007.
  • Meeks, Dan. "Private Party Repossessions." Sept. 14, 2007.
  • Verhovek, Sam Howe. "In Killing of Repo Man, Law Shields the Killer." New York Times. March 8, 1994. 5750C0A962958260
  • West Volusia News Journal. "Man charged with assault after confronting repo man." July 10, 2008. wvlWEST01071008.htm