Car Possession being threatened by Signer

Did the police come, what did they say? How is the car titled? In their name only? How is the loan, in their name only?

If the car is financed and titled, in their name, then they own the car. It probably does not matter if you made the payments or down payment. Following the advice of a car salesman is often a detriment to one's financial well being.

Will it bother them if you threaten to stop making payments? If so you may have some negotiating room there, but otherwise you probably have no choice but to hand over the keys.

On the slightly positive note, that despite significant investment into this car (10K plus payments), it is unlikely to have retained much value. Cars depreciate in value quickly unless they are about 10 years old.

You can try small claims court, but typically they are for amounts less than 5K or lower. The other thing you can do is consult with a lawyer as your particular jurisdiction may address this kind of thing.

As adults, when we make mistakes, it costs us money. This is a mistake that you made, that will probably cost you a lot but you will recover. It helps us remember to not make the same mistake again. Since you seem to have some cash (you can pay off the car). You are probably best to cut your losses, hand over the keys, and purchase something using cash.

There is little you can do yourself in terms of getting the car immediately. Because the car is registered in his name, it is his, and he can do whatever he wants with it. The fact that you have been making the payments is unfortunately irrelevant.

The salesman advised you wrongly by the way. The best way (from your point of view) would have been to have the car in your name and have your SO co-sign the loan. The car would have been yours and you would have got the same loan rate (and he would have been obligated to make payments if you didn't, which is why from his point of view it would have been a bad deal).

However if you are going through a separation, whether you are legally married or not, you will need to come to some agreement over division of shared assets, which includes the car. If you made the payments on it, it is likely that you could get the car in the separation agreement. The bad news is that will take probably a lot of time, and a lawyer is probably going to be involved. Since you are going through such a separation, getting a lawyer involved now is probably a good idea, and they may have a legal way of getting you what you want now.

I get you're driven by emotions of possession and loss right now. But let's step back and look at the financial science here.

The two numbers you are interested in

  • The amount of money still owing on the car; i.e. the amount to pay it off.
  • The Kelly Blue-Book value; that is to say, the money you could get for the car if you sold it right now either privately or to a dealer (different numbers, those two).

Based on this, you either have equity in the car, or the car is upside-down.

Do not use this information in an argument. Keep it secret.

If you have serious equity

Then it's time to lawyer up. However you really sunk yourself by the arrangement you did. This is a tough one, prepare to lose the car. It'll come down to subtle legal arguments about community property in your particular state.

If you are upside-down (or just sick of it)

You don't want the car. It's a money-loser. Wouldn't it be nice to be able to get out of that arrangement scot-free? Well, you can, because of that stupid arrangement you shouldn't have done.

As a deception strategy, keep making it sound like you really want to keep the car, and are angry and hurt by your partner wanting to take it back. Act like you are "over a barrel". Make it sound like you're giving it back because you really believe you don't have a choice, act horribly hurt, and tearfully hand over the keys, in whatever style would be believable.

  • As soon as you're out of visibility range, laugh yourself all the way to the bank. You just unloaded a huge liability. Now they are stuck with it, because it's in their name.

Then go buy the same make and model and year of used car. That will destroy any belief that you have sentimental value in that car, and sends a clear message "I don't want it back, bucko! You wanted it, you're stuck with it!"

Is this fair play? Turnabout is fair play. Your partner is trying to unfairly violate the verbal agreement, for the purpose of hurting you and causing you deprivation. (most places in the US, having no car is deprivation). You would've never done this maliciously out of the blue, right? But flip it back around - absolutely.