Previously in my post titled “Repo man – First Blood” I shared one of my stories as a Repo Man during my first two years out of college working for a major Northwest bank. I had been doing this job for several months and had become fairly confident in role as an Outside Collector. Normally the job required me to make contact with delinquent car loan debtors during the day or early evening hours. The tougher cases, where my goal was to repossess the vehicle without customer contact, usually took place under darkness of night during the late evening to early morning hours.
This night was one such case. The debtor had been contacted previously and had not made good on their promise to bring the account current – upon being located, the collateral would be taken on sight. For most of these vehicles the bank had access to the manufacturer’s “key code”. With the code, it was a simple process to have a locksmith make a duplicate set of keys.
This night appeared like it would be just another routine repossession. I cruised the apartment complex were the delinquent debtor lived and quickly located the vehicle. Parking my bank car on the street, I quietly made my way to the collateral, slipped the key into the door, opened it and got in. Now before I would “steal” a car, I would lie down in the driver’s seat so as to not be observed then take a moment to familiarize myself with the controls so I could quickly get away without fumbling. For example, on stick shift vehicles, Reverse would be in different positions on the pattern depending on whether it was an American, Japanese or German car. Once I was ready, I would fire the ignition, throw it into reverse and back out, exit the scene then turn on the headlights when safely away. This had to be done quickly.
Confident I had familiarized myself with the controls, I started the car, sat up, put it in reverse and…. HOOOONNNKKKKK, the horn blared with an incredible noise! Unfortunately, the vehicle had been parked right outside the debtor’s bedroom window – I saw their bedroom light go on as I backed out of their parking space.
Now throwing the shift into drive I turned the vehicle out toward the street. HONK HONKKKK again the horn blared. As I glanced in the rear view mirror I saw the silhouette of the owner looking out the window witnessing their car disappearing into the night.
In preparation as I did prior to any repossession, I had previously located a pay phone booth at a nearby convenience store. I stopped to phone in the repossession report to the local police – they told me owner had already reported that their car had been “stolen”. As I got back into the collateral and gripped the wheel to deliver it to the storage facility, the horn honked again… and continued to honk randomly and unpredictably all the way to the storage lot.
After securing the car safely in storage I realized what had happened. This particular vehicle had been manufactured with a “Rim Blow” horn feature – rather than honking the horn by pressing the center of the steering column, the horn could be honked simply by tightly gripping the steering wheel rim. The idea of the designers at the time was to not have to require a driver to move their hands from the wheel rim to honk the horn. It was a convenience thing. During the tension of my executing the repossession I had been gripping the steering wheel rim tightly enough, causing the horn to honk.
This feature was later abandoned by car manufacturers after it was discovered that a vehicle parked in the hot sun would cause the vinyl in the steering wheel rim to expand, thus setting off the horn. I could imagine hundreds of unoccupied parked cars in Arizona or Texas, their horns blaring away in the heat of Summer sun.
Fortunately, in spite of the blaring horn, I successfully executed the repossession without incident. However, not all repos I did were without confrontation – that story I will save for another time.