Special Report: Car loans and the electronic kill switch

Special Report: Car loans and the electronic kill switch

(WXTX) - It's an electronic repo man, hidden in the dash of your car and a constant worry for Columbus woman and mother of two, Taria Jones.

"It's more of a hassle than a good thing," Jones said.

Jones financed her car from a dealer in Columbus, who uses an electronic kill switch. The gadget is being installed in more than one million vehicles in the country and it enables the lender to shut off the car starter if their customers were to miss a payment.

"As I was signing the paperwork, the guy gives me a little thing that looks like a remote. I asked what it was and he said if you don't pay your car loan on time, we'll turn your car off and you'll have to call us to get a code to get it turned back on," explains Jones.

A few months later Jones was laid off her job and started to miss payments.

Having her car turned off has caused her children to miss school and now always leaves her in fear of the "what ifs."

"My biggest worry is what if I'm somewhere far out, don't have a phone signal and I'm with my children? That's not their issue as long as their car gets paid," explains Jones.

Harold White of White's Automotive Center in Columbus uses the starter interrupter in his rental cars. A different brand, the device has GPS technology allowing him to track his costumers and repossess the car.

"If I send the command out to cut the vehicle off, it disables the starter," explains White.

Contrary to popular belief, manufacturers of the devices say if it is cut off, it won't affect the vehicle while you are on the road.

"Once you stop, turn it off, it may not restart again and that is what allows me to locate the vehicle and retrieve the vehicle as needed," says White.

Jones says that the device gives her a four day warning before a payment is due in the form of a beep. If she misses the payment there is a two day grace period before the kill switch is activated.

"They don't care about your circumstance. Once I get it turned back on they say it will extend the code for 24 hours, so then in 24 hours, it's like cycle it starts all over again," says Jones.

A benefit of the electronic kill switch, both Jones and White agree on, is it can be used to recover stolen vehicles.

White has helped police solve a crime his customer was involved in.

"I ended up locating the vehicle and found it in an impound lot. The police department had pieced together an accident where the customer had left the scene of a crime," explains White.

"If it gets stolen, it can be tracked. So that is a good thing," agreed Jones.

Is it a tough love approach or Big Brother watching over your shoulder?

"It's a smart business practice and it also allows people to rebuild credit. It allows that company to say OK, I'll take the chance because their protected," explains White.

For Jones, her car will be gone come April.

"When income tax time comes, I'm going to get rid of it because it's too much of a hassle," says Jones.

If the car is disabled, the device does have an emergency feature. Entering a specific code will allow you to drive for 24 hours before it shuts off again.

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