ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
We've heard a lot about the hit that energy companies are taking because of low oil prices. The repo business, though, is on fire. We're going to go to Texas now where people who've been working during the drilling boom are now unable to hold onto their expensive, heavy-duty pickup trucks. Mose Buchele sent this report from member station KUT in Austin.
MOSE BUCHELE, BYLINE: Walk around Ryan Peck's impound lot on the south side of Corpus Christi, and it's easy to see he's busy.
RYAN PECK: We just got a few pickup trucks, a couple of brand-new trucks - 2015s, a couple work trucks. These are all vehicles that are not getting redeemed, that are fixing to go to the auction.
BUCHELE: Peck is not a car salesman. He's a repo man, and he's been repossessing a lot of trucks lately, so many that it's even caught his attention.
PECK: In our business, there's trucks that we normally don't pick up - you know, those three-quarter-ton diesel trucks, one-ton trucks.
BUCHELE: So where are they coming from?
PECK: Actually, this truck right here, if you want to look at the back of it, it's got tons of oilfield equipment - you know, tools and wrenches and things like that that they would use in the oilfield.
BUCHELE: Peck says during the drilling boom that started around 2009, oil workers bought a lot of these expense of trucks. Now the boom's over, and they can't make payments. So he's doing plenty of work in a nearby oil town of Alice.
PECK: Alice would be probably my first stop to find out what's going on, what's about to happen. How do you all do that?
BUCHELE: There are streets in Alice with names like Energy Avenue and Industrial Boulevard. These are where big oilfield service companies brought jobs during the boom. When the bus came, the ones hit hardest were the workers.
JAVIER GAMEZ: Basically they'll tell you there's no work right now, and we'll call you when we need you.
BUCHELE: It's been over three months since Alice resident Javier Gamez heard those words. He says he used to make up to $6,000 a month in the oil fields. Now he's lucky to pull in $600 doing construction work.
GAMEZ: That's how it goes. You're accustomed to getting pretty good money. And you have a nice truck, and you have a nice home. And you have to start downgrading, letting things go.
BUCHELE: Yeah, he bought a truck. He doesn't have it anymore. He says a lot of his buddies lost their trucks too. They ignored the warnings of old-timers who lived through booms and busts before.
GAMEZ: They tell us you know, you need to prepare. You need to save. You need to save. And us being young, we're like, aw, heck, I'm buying a new truck; you know, I can afford it. And they're like, don't do it. And us being young and not dumb, but unprepared, we do it.
BUCHELE: It might sound shortsighted, but a lot of people thought the good times would last. So did the local governments who are grappling with a big drop in tax revenue.
GAMEZ: That snowball effect happens where we don't have any money because we're not working, so we don't go spend at the restaurants. So now the poor lady at the restaurant loses hours, so it just goes down the line.
BUCHELE: All the way back to the car dealership.
JACOB LOPEZ: My name is Jacob Lopez. I'm the owner of Coyote Auto Sales in Alice, Texas.
BUCHELE: Sitting at his desk beneath a rumbling AC window unit, Lopez remembers when the trucks used to fly off the lot.
LOPEZ: Seventy percent of our business was heavy-duty trucks, lifted, diesel 4x4. And now I just don't have the demand anymore.
BUCHELE: Now he sells more affordable, fuel-efficient cars, but really, most people aren't buying any cars at all.
LOPEZ: I saw the business drop off after the spring when you started seeing the rigs being shut down.
BUCHELE: That reminded me of something Ryan Peck, the repo man, told me back in Corpus Christi. He says if the downturn continues, car loans will be harder to get. Fewer people will buy cars, and so fewer people will default on their loans. That means eventually, his business will take a hit.
PECK: If nobody's paying for cars, then nobody is buying cars as well.
BUCHELE: So in a way, you got to watch out for that same cycle.
PECK: Yeah. I mean, it comes back to get everybody. Nobody's safe from it.
BUCHELE: But don't worry about Peck. He says he's saving his money in case the repo bubble becomes a repo bust. For NPR News, I'm Mose Buchele in Austin, Texas.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.