By Harry Samler, Lindsey Basye

MARIETTA, Ga. (WGCL) — Imagine driving down the road, as it begins to get dark, you stop at a gas station to fill up. When you try to start your car to drive away, it won’t work. You are now stuck at night in a strange place.

This is what happened to Antonio Tigue just before Christmas. He was passing through Leeds, a small town in Alabama, on his way to his mother’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 find a hotel.

“I passed the panic. I just felt helpless you know. I’m a big man and all, but being in a weird place is pretty unnerving,” 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 dealers and lenders to guarantee repayment of loans.

The problem is that Tigue paid for his car two years prior with US Auto Sales, located in Marietta, Georgia. The technology was never removed from his vehicle, however. “I knew it was here, but I thought it was gone, unusable,” Tigue said.

“When you’re dealing with someone who has paid for their vehicle and owns it entirely, you can’t just turn off their vehicle, you can’t repossess their vehicle, you can’t take their vehicle without criminal liability and civilian,” 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. He did.

When CBS46’s Better Call Harry asked US Auto what happened, they responded by saying in part that the device had been “dormant” since Tigue had paid for the vehicle. They also claim it couldn’t have been a signal sent to the device preventing it from starting, but they would need their mechanics to inspect it to see why the failure occurred.

The manufacturer of the device – PassTime GPS – says it’s not something they’ve done. They claim to have sent a code disabling the device two years ago. They say that once disabled there is no way the device can stop the car from starting.

It doesn’t explain why once the mechanic removed the device from the car, it started.

For months, Tigue tried to get reimbursement from US Auto for the towing costs of $436, the mechanic and the hotel. After CBS46 called US Auto, a spokesperson apologized for the error, and Tigue received a check for the full amount.

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

Weatherington says there are no regulations for this device in Georgia, but he thinks there should be. “It can lead to incredibly dangerous situations, as long as the company knows that this man could have taken his wife to the hospital to give birth to a child, he could have responded to an emergency situation,” said Weatherington.

CBS46 found that several other states have passed bills regulating starter interrupt devices, including Nevada, Oklahoma and New Jersey. All three states include verbiage mandating “written consumer disclosure” before devices are installed. Nevada, for example, passed SB350 which included the following additional regulations.

Policyholders must wait 30 days after the loan maturity date.

PassTime responded to the bill in Nevada by saying that after the bill passed, delinquency rates on CAG loans in Nevada rose from 9% to 33%. They also say the bill designed to help protect consumers has caused major financial companies to pull out of the state and make it harder to get auto financing.

Is this device on your car? When the tow truck driver told Tigue that this might be causing the problems, Tigue called US Auto for help fixing it. Even if the customer service team wasn’t helping him, at least he knew who to call. But what if he sold the car to someone else after paying for it and he didn’t know the device was on the car?

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

The answer is not easy. A licensed mechanic can check for you, but they will need to remove your steering wheel’s lower access panel. Once they find the device, they must disconnect it and rewire the starter to complete the circuit.

United States Auto Sales We recognize that our customer service team did not handle this situation with the necessary urgency we seek when Mr. Tigue first requested assistance. We’re not going to apologize, multiple processes should have prevented this experience from happening in late December 2021 and January 2022. We’re glad the teams finally resolved this issue in early February after investigating this situation, resulting in a refund to Mr. Tigue for expenses incurred. We plan to use this situation to break down the events and reinforce with our teams the goal of preventing this type of customer experience from happening again in the future.

US Auto SpokespersonPassTime GPSThe device in question was disabled when the consumer paid for the car, so neither the dealer nor PassTime could have disabled the vehicle using the device (cellular communication is disabled). We understand that the dealer and the consumer have worked on a solution to help the consumer and will defer to them. We leave the collection to the dealer at the end of the contract. Dealers can leave the device on the vehicle and offer it to consumers as an anti-theft device.

Overall, device failures are extremely rare and usually easy to resolve. Once the device is disabled from the cellular network, there is no way for it to receive a message of any kind over the network.

PassTime GPS SpokespersonIf you would like CBS46’s Better Call Harry Consumer Investigator to review something, complete this submission form.

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