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Auto repossession business booming

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  • Auto repossession business booming

    Auto repossession business booming

    TOWN OF WALLKILL — Financial ruin sits in Shawn Matuszewski's large gravel lot, set back from Route 211 beyond the Galleria at Crystal Run.

    It takes the form of sedans, SUVs, even campers: emptied, stripped of their license plates and awaiting transport to an auto auction.

    Matuszewski is in the repossession business. With a small group of trucks, he recovers the cars of owners who have defaulted on payments, from Kingston to the New Jersey line, Poughkeepsie to northern Westchester County.

    And business is growing.

    "Within the last 12 months, I've noticed an increase in work," Matuszewski says.

    Nationally, car repossession rates rose 10 percent in 2007, says Tom Webb, chief economist for Atlanta's Manheim Consulting, the nation's largest car-auction company. As the economy continues to sag, Webb says repossession rates could rise another 10 percent this year, although he predicts they will level off due to auto lenders and banks tightening their lending standards.

    Webb says many lenders start the reclamation process after 90 days of delinquent payments. Which leads to Matuszewski, who says his clients are usually banks. They'll send him the information on the car and the owner. He'll trace the owner's address and locate the car, then send one of his drivers out at night to recover it.

    Matuszewski wouldn't disclose his fees, but says it's a few hundred dollars per car.

    Matuszewski's instructions for his drivers are simple: Find the car quickly, grab it and get out. Avoid contact with the owners. And whatever you do, don't go into their house. "I'm paranoid; I don't even want them going on the grass," Matuszewski says.

    These are lessons learned when he used to recover cars himself. Once, a man jumped through a window of a Rockland County home to get at him. He says a Marine in Plattekill threatened him with a shotgun. "I took a picture of him chasing me," Matuszewski says.

    Not an easy gig — profiting on the financial misfortune of others. "It's a tough thing, but we're paid to pick it up," Matuszewski says. "If we don't do it, someone else is going to do it."

    Especially now. "Everyone with a tow truck is trying to do it," he says.

    On average, there are about 25 cars in Matuzsewski's lot. It could be a lot more. Job requests are coming in so frequently, he says he could send out a truck every night, all over the region, searching for cars.

    Instead, Matuszewski tells his drivers to hit just one area and get at least a couple of cars before heading back. He says he couldn't make it financially picking up just one car a night. Those repo trucks need fuel, he says. And diesel is $5 a gallon.