Late on your car loan payment? They won’t kill you, just your car
The credit squeeze that has helped put the brakes on the US economy is now stalling cars, as loan companies and automobile sellers install electronic repossession devices that kick in if a buyer misses a payment.
Lender Finance, a Michigan-based car loan company, installs the devices on all automobiles bought on tick by high credit-risk clients.
“It’s a great teacher for paying one’s bills,” said Lender Finance’s Richard VanDerport.
California-based Sekurus has equipped a quarter of a million cars with its “On Time” automatic repossession device, which flashes colored warning lights to the driver of a car bought on tick as loan payment day approaches.
“The light is green when you’re good; when your payment is due it turns yellow,” explained Mike Simon, chief executive of Sekurus.
If, despite the reminders from the “On Time,” the driver does not make a timely loan payment, the device will start beeping “all day so you know it’s the last day before shut-off and soon you’re not going to be able to start your car,” Simon said.
When a payment is made, the driver is given a code to type into the stalling device, and the car can be driven again.
“On Time” devices also include a Global Positioning System (GPS) component, which allows lending companies and banks to track and repossess a vehicle if the buyer defaults completely on a loan.
Sekurus saw “On Time” sales grow by 30 percent in the first quarter of the year, and is beginning to move into overseas markets, with distributors in Britain, China and Dubai, Simon said.
In Ohio, a company with a similar product has also seen sales skyrocket in the past year as the credit crunch bites US consumers hard.
“Last year and this year so far have been big growth years for us,” said James Krueger, president of Ohio-based PayTeck, which produces a disabling device that the credit company or car seller can activate remotely if the buyer is late with a payment.
Consumer groups are worried that the devices could put drivers in danger.
“Let’s say you’ve got a mother and child out in the middle of nowhere, maybe in a dangerous neighborhood. Suddenly the device kicks in — she has failed to make the payment, and she can’t start the car,” posited John Van Alst, staff attorney for the National Consumer Law Center.
But Sekurus said it has that eventuality covered.
“The car doesn’t stop while driving. It’s impossible to do that because we are on the starter, not on the ignition of the car,” said Simon.
“And if the driver didn’t make a payment and has to go the hospital, for example… we have an emergency code that they can use three times. It’s good for 24 hours,” he added.
Sekurus has plans to fit disablers on other big-ticket items, such as photocopiers or printers.
And that has the warning lights flashing at consumer advocate groups.
“It would be tragic if they began to do this with things like refrigerators, stoves, washing machines,” said Jack Gillis, spokesman for the Consumer Federation of America.
“It’s an extraordinary intrusion into your personal financial life.”