Having a bad credit report means your car can come with a little something extra: a GPS-enabled “starter interrupt device” that allows a dealer to trigger angry noises in your car, keep a keep an eye on where you’re going and shut down your broken down car if you miss a payment. The New York Times tell about people’s misfortunes who have had their car disabled at inopportune times, including a woman who says her car was pulled over while on a Nevada highway, causing it to crash.
“We can disable the ignition, but not while you’re driving,” says Melanie Boudreau, spokesperson for IMETRIK, a Canadian manufacturer of start-stop devices. “We don’t want to kill you.”
IMETRIK has sold over 800,000 devices in the US, but the market leaders are Passtime and the ominously named Skypatrol. skypatrol Defender 2.0 not only provides on-demand location, but location history so that “you know where the vehicle was and, more importantly, where it will be”. Kind of like with hire-purchase computers, not being able to pay for a product in advance results in a privacy tax.
The devices have been around for a decade, used mostly by “Buy Here, Pay Here” used-car dealerships that provide high-interest loans to car buyers with terrible credit. The devices can trigger a beep in the car when someone has missed a payment, can be used to create a geofence so a dealership can get an alert if someone is leaving town, and of course can activate the circuit breaker, which renders the car unusable.
“Some dealers will geolocate the mechanical centers that will remove the devices,” explains Boudreau. Yes, an industry has sprung up to remove devices from people’s cars; this man offers to show people how to remove the devices for $50 apiece, while demonstrating the removal of an IMETRIK device.
“But our devices will send an alert to the dealer if it’s tampered with,” says Boudreau. I’m surprised the dealerships haven’t sued these creative mechanics to “hack” the cars.
As for the law’s opinion of the devices themselves, “courts have been silent on the legality of payment assurance devices” according to Wolters Kluwer Financial Services, which warns dealers to “proceed with caution.” Thomas Hudson, a Maryland attorney who co-authored one of the first legal papers on the devices in 2006, writing that the devices appeared on lawyers’ radars in the 1990s after consumers sued a Detroit dealership, alleging it turned off cars while they were driving. “Some state authorities really don’t like the devices and have issued letters saying it’s illegal to use them in their states,” he wrote. “Other state authorities have determined that dealers can use the devices legally if certain warranties are met.” A handful of states criminalize the use of tracking devices without the owner’s consent, so the rule of thumb for dealers is to include an acknowledgment of the device’s installation and the location of the device. their car among the documents they sign. Like much of privacy in the United States, you are allowed to do this as long as you tell people you are doing it.
Hudson’s co-author on the 2006 article, Daniel Laudicina, a Hudson Cook partner who represents the companies that make the devices, says he recommends dealers who turn on the kill switch consider it a electronic repossession of the car and to follow the rules required for this in a given state; states often require notice to be given to the consumer and an opportunity to make payment. Device that beeps before bricking may be “more degrading than helpful”, according to the Time.
“No middle-class person would ever be harassed for being a day late,” said Robert Swearingen, an attorney with Eastern Missouri Legal Services in St. Louis. “But for the poor, there’s a debt collector right there in the car with them.”
“We thought the devices would get a lot more attention 10 years ago, but the attention has only come in the last two years,” says Laudicina. It may be because there are more people with bad credit after the financial crisis, and therefore more of these devices on cars. “The devices have come under scrutiny. But I like to point out that it gives people who otherwise wouldn’t be able to get credit, the chance to get a car, because it gives the dealership the assurance of being able to repossess the car.”
Unless those car shoppers call Stereoman whose videos about his starter interrupt device removal services dominate YouTube searches. In this video, he defends himself against ‘haters’ who think he helps people steal cars by saying it makes no sense for a car dealership to get paid to turn off someone’s car. so that he cannot go to work: