This ruthless repo man loves kitties and puppies, and he keeps a guardian angel medallion clipped to the visor in his truck.
The ruthless repo man loves kitties and puppies, and he keeps a guardian angel medallion clipped to the visor in his truck.
Chad Schlernitzauer is 28 years old with a boyish smile. He’s a former football player who listens to country music and chain-drinks flavored waters. He drives 50,000 miles a year in search of trucks and cars to repossess for lenders.
Sometimes, he can find a car in a day or two.
Other times, well ...
“People ask me how it can possibly ever take a year to find a car, and I’m here to tell you that it does happen,” he said.
Schlernitzauer works for Central Ohio Recovery, a Canton, Ohio, business that repossesses everything from cars to cranes. When a borrower can’t or won’t make payments on a loan, a lender turns the problem over to a company such as Central Ohio. Its job is to find, confiscate and return the item.
When Bob Nicewander started his company in 1991, he didn’t even have his own truck. He’d find a car for $50, then split the cash with a tow truck driver he called to haul it.
“I remember thinking if I made $100 a day, I’d be set for life,” he recalled.
Through the years, Central Ohio has recovered airplanes, office equipment, bedroom furniture, trucks, trailers and construction equipment. It has clients in more than 30 states. Now, Nicewander owns five tow trucks.
“You’ve got to have compassion,” he said.
His employees deal with people who may be at the lowest points in their lives. Having a car or truck taken from you at home or work can be embarrassing, heartbreaking and maddening. Often, their pride is hurt.
On the prowl
Schlernitzauer, one of the company’s repo men, headed west on U.S. Route 30 one recent morning. His destination was a BP gas station in Wooster, Ohio, in search of a red 1999 Pontiac Grand Am. He turned his Chevy Silverado pickup/tow truck down a nearby side road and circled around behind the gas station for a closer look.
Like a cheetah surveying the plain, he spotted his prey.
The Grand Am was parked in the BP parking lot.
He turned his truck into that lot, curled around, flipped it into reverse, and backed up to the car. With the touch of a few buttons on a hand-held controller, he slipped a hydraulic lifter beneath the rear of the car and raised its back end.
The entire process took less than 10 seconds.
Paula Dravenstott peeked out the back door of the station, then came out for a closer look. Schlernitzauer allowed her to remove some personal items, including a purse from her car.
“Now, how do I get my plates back?” she asked.
“You can have them right now,” he replied.
He removed them for her.
After matching the unique Vehicle Identification Number with his work order, he ratcheted a pair of straps on both back wheels.
“Where can I pick up the Bonneville today?” he asked.
“Probably around 8 tonight, it will be there,” she said.
She handed him the keys to the Grand Am.
A Pontiac Bonneville, owned by the same couple, was among a pile of more than 50 repossession orders stacked inside Schlernitzauer’s truck. A couple of minutes later, he was on his way to a nearby parking lot where he has permission to temporarily stack vehicles, so a larger truck from the home office can collect them.
Ultimately, many are sold at Central’s auction on the first Wednesday of the month.
“I could work 24 hours a day, and I’d be busy the whole time,” he said.
Home foreclosures aren’t the only sign of the sagging economy. A variety of lending and auto industry experts recently estimated that 1.9 million cars were repossessed in the U.S. last year — a record.
A tough job
Through the years, Schlernitzauer has been cussed and cursed at. He’s been offered bribes to look the other way. He’s watched people cry. He’s had guns pulled on him twice. And, he said, a woman hit him on the head a couple weeks ago.
“You name it, any reaction you can imagine,” he said.
Schlernitzauer is married to Debbi, a veterinary technician. They love animals and have a cat and a bull mastiff. He’d like to add a smaller dog, maybe a chihuahua. His extended family, though, worries about him on the job.
The work can be dangerous.
The blow to his head came from a North Canton, Ohio, woman he said he’d been chasing for months. Twice before, he said, Central Ohio nearly had recovered her car, only to have her jump inside and drive it away before it was hooked to the truck.
Schlernitzauer filed a report with police, who referred the matter to the Canton prosecutor’s office.
Like others in the field, he gets paid by the piece. He did not want to disclose the going rate, but said most companies are within a few dollars of each other. In his most successful week, he found and collected 32 vehicles. In his worst week, he collected only three. He once had an order to get back a $400,000 Rolls-Royce, but the case got tied up in bankruptcy court before he ever found the car.
His job is mostly that of a private investigator. He knocks on doors and calls borrowers, their friends and their family. Usually, a vehicle can be found at the home or workplace of a borrower.
Plenty like to play cat and mouse — loaning a car to others, storing it in garages, moving it from one location to the next.
“I don’t particularly like that you’re taking away part of somebody’s life, the transportation for their family and kids,” he said, though he realizes if he weren’t doing it, someone else would. “I try to be polite. You can’t be short-tempered. If it has to happen, I’m at least one person who’s going to make it a little better on you.”
The Repository (Canton, Ohio)