Dealer’s GPS disabler leaves driver stranded two years after paying off car
MARIETTA, Ga. (WGCL/Gray News) – Antonio Tigue was driving through a small town in Alabama on his way to his mom’s house in Mississippi just before Christmas when his car suddenly stopped working.
“I’m past freaking out. I just felt helpless you know. I’m a big man and everything, but being in a strange place is kind of nerve-racking,” Tigue told WGCL.
Without knowing why his car wouldn’t start, he had to call a tow truck and a mechanic. He also had to get a hotel.
The tow truck driver diagnosed the problem, explaining a “starter interrupt device” remotely shut down his car and prevented it from starting.
These devices, also called GPS disablers, are installed by dealerships and lenders in order to guarantee loan payments.
Tigue, however, paid off his car two years prior with U.S. Auto Sales, located in Marietta, Georgia, but the technology was never removed from his vehicle.
“I knew it was in here, but I thought it was gone, inoperable,” Tigue said.
“When you are dealing with someone who has paid off their vehicle and has complete ownership, you can’t just turn off their vehicle, you can’t repossess their vehicle, you can’t take their vehicle without criminal and civil liability,” attorney Matt Weatherington said.
Ron’s Automotive in Alabama removed the starter interrupt device from Tigue’s car, but only after Tigue promised to send a copy of the title.
U.S. Auto claimed the device had been “dormant” since Tigue paid off the vehicle. They also said it couldn’t have been a signal sent to the device preventing it from starting but would need their mechanics to inspect it to see why the failure occurred.
The manufacturer of the device - PassTime GPS - claims a code to deactivate the device was sent two years ago. They say once deactivated, there is no way the device could prevent the car from starting.
Neither explanation explains why Tigue’s car started once the mechanic removed the device.
He tried for months to get reimbursed from U.S. Auto for the $436 tow fee, mechanic and hotel. A company spokesman apologized for the error and issued Tigue a check for the full amount after being contacted by WGCL.
Weatherington says there’s no regulation for this device in Georgia, but he believes there should be.
“It can lead to incredibly dangerous situations, for all that company knows this man could have been taking his wife to the hospital to give birth to a child, he could have been responding to an emergency situation,” Weatherington said.
Several states have passed bills regulating starter interrupt devices, including Nevada, Oklahoma, and New Jersey.
All three states include verbiage making it mandatory for “written consumer disclosure” before devices are installed.
Nevada, for example, passed SB350 that included the following additional regulations.
- Contract holders have to wait 30 days past the loan due date
- Give at least 48-hour notice before disablement
- Provide 24-hour overrides in case of emergency
- Installers have to be state-certified
- Customers can’t be charged for installation or use of the device
Restrictions on data collection and retention
PassTime responded to the bill in Nevada by claiming after the bill passed, the delinquency rates on CAG’s loans in Nevada went from 9% to 33%.
For people wondering if they have the device on their car - the answer isn’t easy. A licensed mechanic can check for you, but it takes them removing your steering wheel lower access panel. Once they find the device, they have to disconnect it, and rewire the starter to close the circuit.
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