Ga. man stranded after he says dealer’s GPS device disabled his car

Starter interrupt devices are used by dealerships to guarantee payments for auto loans. Investigation found Georgia doesn’t regulate this like other states.
Published: Mar. 14, 2022 at 11:50 AM EDT
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MARIETTA, Ga. (CBS46) - Imagine driving down the road, as it’s getting dark, you pull over at a gas station to fill up. When you try to start your car to leave, it won’t work. You are now stranded at night in a strange place.

That’s what happened to Antonio Tigue just before Christmas. He was going through Leeds, a small town in Alabama, on his way to his mom’s house in Mississippi. 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.

“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 explained.

The tow truck driver diagnosed the problem. He says it was a “starter interrupt device” that remotely shuts down your car and prevents it from starting. These devices are installed by dealerships and lenders in order to guarantee loan payments.

The problem is, Tigue paid off his car two years prior with U.S. Auto Sales, located in Marietta, Georgia. The technology was never removed from his vehicle though. “I knew it was in here, but I thought it was gone, inoperable,” Tigue said.

He was stranded on the side of the road, until a mechanic took the GPS device off his car.
He was stranded on the side of the road, until a mechanic took the GPS device off his car.(CBS46)

“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 Wetherington 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. He did.

When CBS46′s Better Call Harry questioned U.S. Auto about what happened, they responded saying in part that the device had been “dormant” since Tigue paid the vehicle off. They also claim 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 - says it wasn’t anything they did. They claim they sent a code deactivating the device two years ago. They say once deactivated, there is no way the device could prevent the car from starting.

That doesn’t explain why once the mechanic took the device off the car, it started.

For months, Tigue tried to get reimbursed from U.S. Auto to pay the $436 tow fee, mechanic and hotel. After CBS46 called U.S. Auto, a spokesman apologized for the error and Tigue was given a check for the full amount.

No Regulation in Georgia

But should the device still have been on his car after he paid it off? Who is responsible for removing it?

Wetherington 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,” Weweathertherington said.

CBS46 found that multiple other 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 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 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-percent to 33-percent. They also say the bill designed to help protect consumers resulted in major finance companies pulling out of the state and it becoming more difficult to get vehicle financing.

Is this device on your car?

When the tow truck driver told Tigue that it could be this device causing the problems, Tigue called U.S. Auto to get help fixing it. Even though the customer service team wouldn’t help him, at least he knew who to call. But, what if he sold the car to someone else after paying it off and they had no idea that device was on the car?

CBS46 started calling mechanics to see if there is anyway to find out if your car has this device.

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.

U.S. Auto Sales

PassTime GPS

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