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High-Tech RepoMan 452

Posted by samzenpus
from the I'm-sorry-dave-I'm-afraid-I-can't-let-you-drive dept.
PlayfullyClever writes "A new gizmo is upping the odds that even the most hard-knock customer will come up with the car payment. Hooked into the ignition system, the gadget comes in a handful of versions with one common conclusion: No pay, no start. It's worked wonders at Norfolk's Patriot Auto Sales, where nearly every car that drives off the lot is outfitted with a PayTeck Smart Box, a system that hands over a five-digit code in exchange for each payment. Come due date, the car won't crank until the customer punches the code into a palm-size keypad wired into the dash. I would think this "Smart Box" would get hacked way too easily, leaving car companies without their money."
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High-Tech RepoMan

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  • Like requiring a breathalyzer on board each car, or a GPS system, this assumes too much in the way of wrongdoing on my part for me to like it.

    Of course, with my good credit and automatic payments, I'm not likely to get behind on payments, such that the system might cost more than it's worth. I hope the keypad can be used for other things as well.

    For somebody with shady credit, though, it might be an option, though like what was stated, it'd probably be pretty easy to bypass if you know what you're doing.
    • You would buy it (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Filthysock (557067)
      If the company using it saved money overall and could give you a better price than the competition.
    • This is only targeted at those with poor credit. For one thing you are right, that for people with good credit it's an unnecessary cost (good credit means, by definition, a person that generally repays debts on time and in full). However the bigger reason is that this pisses people off and if you have good credit, you have options. If a dealership wanted to do this you could simply go to your bank, get a loan form them with the car as colleratal and go buy the car straight cash from the dealer, in which cas
    • Like requiring a breathalyzer on board each car, or a GPS system, this assumes too much in the way of wrongdoing

      I'm not familiar with instances where a GPS-equipped tracking device was required, but in the case of the "monthly activation" and breathalyzer, I don't see where any assumption at all is being made. The breathalyzer is sometimes a requirement imposed as part of a sentence for someone who has been repeatedly convicted of DUI. Likewise, this device is something that's required of someone who ha
  • Hmmm.... (Score:5, Informative)

    by 8127972 (73495) on Wednesday November 30, 2005 @10:26PM (#14153039)
    "I would think this "Smart Box" would get hacked way too easily, leaving car companies without their money."

    From TFA:

    "Buyers sign forms acknowledging the Smart Box, agreeing not to tamper with it and promising to return to the dealership for a free removal after the last payment is made."

    That implies that screwing with it in any way will get you into trouble if you get caught. That's not to say that somebody won't try, but it also implies that they have a means of catching you.
    • Re:Hmmm.... (Score:3, Interesting)

      by cowscows (103644)
      Yeah, and even if they do hack it or whatever, what ends up happening? The same thing that happens with a normal car nowadays. If the Smart Box became standard on all cars tomorrow, all the old ways of tracking down vehicles and non-payers would still exist.

      You can break through a window and unlock the front door of my house from the inside easily enough, but that doesn't mean that putting installing a deadbolt was a bad or worthless idea.
    • "I would think this "Smart Box" would get hacked way too easily, leaving car companies without their money."

      This is not the reason that you have to make the payment... if you don't the Repo-man will come and get it. This just makes it much less likely that the repo-man would have to be called.

    • "Buyers sign forms acknowledging the Smart Box, agreeing not to tamper with it and promising to return to the dealership for a free removal after the last payment is made."

      Speaking of the legalese, I bet there's a whole bunch of weasel words saying they're not responsible for what happens if they don't get the code on time to the customer and Bad Things happen as a consequence. So what are the pro's to buying from this joint? Is this on of the 25% interest car places for people with bad credit (which make
  • by n76lima (455808) on Wednesday November 30, 2005 @10:28PM (#14153055)
    My brother runs a car lot in Memphis and has been using a device like this for years.

    Sure a saavy mechanic can find the ignition lock out and disable it, but its in the contract that people sign at purchase that they will not disturb it, and is a felony to tamper with it (at least in Tennessee).

    He's had a few folks defeat it and stop making payments, but eventually something happens to get the car repo'd and the customer in hot water. He says he's lost a very tiny percentage of the hundreds of cars he's outfitted with the ignition lock out.

    --
    We don't NEED no stinkin' sig
    • Breaking your contract with the company is a felony? Should be a civil matter, not criminal.

      Yet another example of the government being in the pockets of corporations.
  • Bad logic (Score:2, Insightful)

    by katana (122232)
    "I would think this "Smart Box" would get hacked way too easily, leaving car companies without their money."

    Not really. It just means that they would fall back on the existing system, that is, physical repossession. In other words, it's no worse than the current system (from their perspective), and might encourage the non-hackers (eg almost everyone) to pay up.

  • Slight improvement (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Facekhan (445017) on Wednesday November 30, 2005 @10:31PM (#14153075)
    This is probably less expensive than having to go out and repo cars for late payments which usually results in exorbitant (300-500 dollars) charges in order to get the car back in addition to making all the late payments. At least this way, you call up, do an electronic payment and you can get your car back right away without being extorted for repo fees.
  • Wow! (Score:3, Funny)

    by Crouty (912387) on Wednesday November 30, 2005 @10:31PM (#14153076)
    Cool, you don't just get the car but also a nice keypad that comes with it. * hotwiring rental as usual *
  • by ReformedExCon (897248) <reformed.excon@gmail.com> on Wednesday November 30, 2005 @10:32PM (#14153081)
    Repo men, whatever you think about their profession, risk their lives daily in order to prevent auto theft, which in a way is what failing to pay car payments is.

    It isn't even like loan companies send out the repo man after your first failure to pay. You typically get several months of haggling and pleading before the loan company has no other alternative but to send someone out to repossess the automobile. And the repo man is frequently in danger from people who don't have enough money to pay the loan companies but usually enough to buy bullets.

    Using a technical measure to disable cars, making them useless to the owner, is a great idea. It works with drunk drivers and car thieves. Just kill the engine and the car isn't going anywhere. The loan company can then repossess the car at their leisure, along with adding extra pressure on the defaulting "owner" to pay.

    The real bottom line is not to over-extend your finances. Try to buy large items like cars with cash. The worst monetary investment you can make is to take out a loan to pay for a car you can't afford.
    • by Vellmont (569020) on Wednesday November 30, 2005 @11:26PM (#14153406)

      Repo men, whatever you think about their profession, risk their lives daily in order to prevent auto theft, which in a way is what failing to pay car payments is.

      Why is it everyone has to turn every crime that involves property into theft? If you fail to make house payments have you "stolen" the house? I have no problem with repo men and reposession in general, but failing to make payments isn't theft. Don't try to make repo men into some sort of heroes. They're nothing more than contract enforcers.
    • by jizmonkey (594430) on Thursday December 01, 2005 @05:44AM (#14155264)
      Repo men, whatever you think about their profession, risk their lives daily in order to prevent auto theft, which in a way is what failing to pay car payments is.

      You need to brush up on your secured credit law bucko. A car loan comes with a security interest in the car. The car belongs to the customer. In no way is failing to pay the loan back "theft," it is default on a loan or, at most, fraud if the person entered into the contract with scienter. It is no more theft than failing to pay one's credit card bill.

      The holder of a security interest (the car lender, here) has the right to "self help" in the event of default to satisfy the debt. (He also has the right to proceeds if the owner sells the car to someone else.) This is a difference from "unsecured credit," the best example being a credit card. No matter how much money someone owes on a credit card, the repo man can't come to his house and take some stuff to settle the debt.

      In other words, I would bet you five hundred dollars you could not find a single court case where someone was convicted of "theft" for failing to make his car payments. I'm glad you're a fan of the repo man, honorable work, blah blah blah, but like most slashdot posters you don't know much about the law.

  • Smart Contracts (Score:3, Insightful)

    by SiliconEntity (448450) on Wednesday November 30, 2005 @10:32PM (#14153088)
    Security-expert-turned-law-prof Nick Szabo [vwh.net] predicted this kind of thing many years ago. He called it a Smart Contract [vwh.net]. The idea was to use technology to make contracts self-enforcing. Like many of Nick's ideas, he was and is way ahead of his time. These kinds of things are inevitable.
    • The idea was to use technology to make contracts self-enforcing. Like many of Nick's ideas, he was and is way ahead of his time. These kinds of things are inevitable.

      I hope not.

      If I read Lessig correctly, the problem with this is now people can enforce via mechanism provisions that the law might not allow them to enforce.

      There's a reason security systems are generally not allowed to injure intruders. There's a reason we get upset at the DMCA essentially killing fair use.
  • Problem (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Lord_Dweomer (648696) on Wednesday November 30, 2005 @10:33PM (#14153092) Homepage
    And what if the system malfunctions and you are unable to get to the hospital in time and someone dies?

    Yeah, worst case scenario, but a liability nonetheless. The reason this system won't be accepted is because the current system is one based on trust and legal consequences. You purchase/lease the car with the expectation that it starts whenever you want it to. Even if there is a problem with the billing system of your credit card company or bank, or with the company who maintains the payment records for your car.

    They are assuming some amount of risk by letting you make your payments over a period of time and in return they tend to get more money than if you paid it all up front. That is how the system has always worked, and thats how it will continue to work because not enough people will be stupid enough to lose their end of that bargain.

    • Re:Problem (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Dun Malg (230075)
      And what if the system malfunctions and you are unable to get to the hospital in time and someone dies? Yeah, worst case scenario, but a liability nonetheless.

      No, more like "no liability". You think there's not something in the contract about this already? Besides, as long as it's not willful, vehicular malfunction that doesn't directly contribute to the death or injury is unlikely to result in liability regardless of contract. Would Motorola be liable for you not being able to dial 911 on your cell bec

    • Re:Problem (Score:3, Informative)

      by heli0 (659560)
      "The reason this system won't be accepted..."

      http://www.ppsontime.com/news/inc3.gif [ppsontime.com]

      Seems this became a common practice long ago.
    • Since when did you have the right to commandeer a car you don't own for your personal transportation? A good samaritan may give you a lift if they so choose, but they don't have to.
      • The OP specifically said what if the system "malfunctions". That statement has nothing to do with late payments or anyone "comandeering" a car. It means what if your wife is having a heartattack and the system fucks up and the car won't start.

        The more complicated you make something, the more likely it is to break. That's why most gun owners are against the addition of umpteen "safety" features, along with most other people wanting to keep a lot of stuff out of products. It's the real world equivalent of
    • Or what if you piss off the dealer somehow?

      At Patriot, Madden says he's in the process of switching to a new Internet-based system that doesn't use codes. The system requires fewer staff to manage and will allow him to pick the moment when a car carrying one of his loans wont start. With one phone call, he can shut down a driver anywhere in the country for non- payment.
    • Or what if the system malfunctions and your SUV full of NUNS and PARAPLEGIC CHILDREN cuts out just as you're in the middle of a LEVEL CROSSING and a TRAIN is coming?????

      THINK THINGS THROUGH, PEOPLE!!!!!

    • Re:Problem (Score:3, Funny)

      by Minwee (522556)
      "And what if the system malfunctions and you are unable to get to the hospital in time and someone dies?"

      Yeah. There really ought to be a special phone number you can call to have someone pick you up and take you to the hospital if your car isn't working.

      Just to make it easy to remember it should be a short one, and maybe the same in all parts of the country. I think three digits starting with '9' would probably work well.

  • I dont think so... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by doctorjay (860762)
    Most of the people who are not making payments are poor people who cant afford to do so or con artists looking for a free ride (pun intended), not automotive electrical engineers who can bypass the elecronic ignition cutoff that this thing must be hooked to.

    Could the experienced person tinker with this and get away with the car? Perhaps. I think its a good system. Its meant to be more of a pain in the ass than anything. I know of some dealers who install GPS signals into the cars they sell to their "good cr
    • Car wiring is not rocket science. The only way offhand I can think of to make this too difficult for the average shadetree mechanic (which, people who can't afford car care quickly become or make friends with) is if it was wired into the ignition control module. That would require the manufacturers to make an interface for it.

      Most likely, it's just inline with the keyswitch. Ten minutes and a $10 cable tool and I'd have that out for you. And I'm not a mechanic.

      More effective would be to engage steering
  • as an aside.... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by know1 (854868)
    this kind of enter a pin number to start the car would stop a lot of car thefts probably. and maybe even drunk drivers (i know someone who had an unlock code for his phone that was ridiculously long so that he didn't make stupid calls when drunk, if he was so messed up he couldn't get it right he assumed it was a bad time to call)
  • Er.. (Score:2, Interesting)

    by NereusRen (811533)
    I fixed the summary for ya:

    "I would think this 'Smart Box' would get hacked way too easily, leaving car companies exactly where they are now."

    Surely it's not like this box makes it *easier* for someone to stop paying?
  • Michigan (Score:2, Interesting)

    by lababidi (879163)
    There are people in Michigan that leave their cars running during work. They do this because this device does not shut off your car in the middle of it being on. Too many accidents were caused by this. This is a normal thing among the Detroit area. Plus the sales lot that has this gizmo charges ubsurd interest rates and doesn't do a credit check and people still sign up!!
  • by CuriousGeorge113 (47122) on Wednesday November 30, 2005 @10:38PM (#14153119) Homepage
    Before we get too far into the comments going on and on about how we wouldn't accept these in our cars and yadda yadda, we have to stop and remember one thing.

    For the majority of people, you wouldn't need a system like this. Why? Because the majority of people, especially here, have reputable credit and can get a car loan, or have cash on hand to put a significant amount down.

    I have a good friend who works in auto sales, and things in the used car business have become so bad, in terms of financing, that they were getting customers on the lot, essentially 'sold' them the car, and then couldn't get any banks to finance them. So what were they left doing? Financing the sale themselves.

    Basically, you agree to pay the car dealership directly, instead of a bank. This puts a lot of pressure on the dealership, because instead of getting, say $12,000 upfront, in one payment from a bank, they are now getting monthly payments of $250 for the next 5 years or so. In doing this, they are really hanging their rear out, because if that customer makes two payments, and disapears off the face of the earth, that dealership has no way of tracking them, or their car, down.

    That's why these systems are catching on so quickly, not as another form of 'big brother', but as an alternative for someone out there who needs a car, and can make payments, but can't get financed through a bank. This way, a dealership can move cars off their lot, and still protect their investment.

    If you don't want a system like this in your car, the solution is simple, keep good credit. If you do that, then you'll be able to get bank financing, not get ripped off by a car dealership, and don't have to worry about 'big brother' in the passanger seat.
  • by FrankieBoy (452356) on Wednesday November 30, 2005 @10:40PM (#14153127)
    How about banner ads running across my dashboard to reduce my payment?
  • I know a lot of people are going to immediately hate this idea, but I personally like it. I imagine the net result is that dealerships will be able to offer better deals to people with damaged credit. As it stands, giving a loan to a guy with poor credit to buy a car is a big risk. If the money never comes through, then they need to send out an expensive repo man to get back a car that now isn't considered new and might even be damaged. With this system, the risk is substantially reduced to the dealersh
    • I know a lot of people are going to immediately hate this idea, but I personally like it. I imagine the net result is that dealerships will be able to offer better deals to people with damaged credit.

      The kinds of dealerships using these aren't going to pass along any savings in their repo costs or bad loans. But this is good technology nonetheless. It's also made possible Flexcar [flexcarnetwork.com], which is a fantastic service. I live in a major city and use them all the time. It's the same deal -- I enter a PIN in the das

    • Yea, this is a great idea. Now my dealership can sell more cars to less qualified people and not have ot worry about them racking miles up on them after they can't make the payment that NO OTHER LENDER thought they could make. Now we can jusr colect the downpayments, a few weeks or months payments and then repo a car that isn't racking a bunch of miles up.

      A problem i have is that this allows dealerships to further presure people who cannot afford to drive or own a car inot buying one. people need to live wi
  • by codepunk (167897) on Wednesday November 30, 2005 @10:52PM (#14153206)
    I was in the navy and yes I was stationed in Norfolk, VA. Most of these used car dealerships in Norfolk area are some of the most sleazy joints I have ever encountered. I have seen some of them sell poor newbie sailors crap like a 500 dollar beat up pinto for tens of thousands of dollars. Hell I used to be a mechanic in the area and some of the patch jobs I did on engines and stuff for some of these sleazy dealerships was simply scary. They used to bring me stuff that had rings so shot that the cars looked like a mosquito fogger going down the road. I would swap out the oil with some good ole synthetic (does not smoke when burning) and shoot it down the road. The dealership would sell it to some fool with a 30 day warranty on the engine and laugh their way to the bank.

    The state could step up and do something about it by applying reasonable intrest rate caps like a bunch of states do.

  • Actually, these aren't all that new. A couple years ago a Ford Dealer in the Detroit area, Mel Farr (a former Detroit Lions Football player in addition to sleezy used car salesman archtype) drew some heat for installing similar devices in the vehicles of his, ahem, "higher risk" clients. The story hit the papers and caused a bit of a stir (and the link / story I submitted were rejected. I was heartbroken.)

    As an aside, Mel Farr was run out of business by Ford after racking up close to 30 million dollars in d
  • I'd have thought a system like this would be better implemented on rental vehicles rather than HP vehicles.

    Of course there are all manor of comedy alternatives you could use this idea for ...

    Missed a mortage payment? Your door doesn't open anymore.
    Didn't pay your income tax this year? Your ATM card doesn't work anymore.

    And the all time #1 idea ...
    Please enter the five digit code so your heart can beat for this month.
  • by John Murdoch (102085) on Wednesday November 30, 2005 @11:05PM (#14153279) Homepage Journal

    A few years ago I developed a GPS-based system for tracking vehicles. Long story, but the client's original business plan didn't work--but his sales manager cottoned on to the idea of installing the units in cars at buy-here, pay-here car lots.

    I bitched and moaned, and eventually dropped the client--in part because of the liability exposure, and in part because of the general sleaze. But I learned a bunch along the way.

    How buy-here, pay-here car lots can do this:
    It's simple: when you "purchase" a car from a buy-here, pay-here car lot, you're not buying the car. What you're doing is technically signing a "lease-purchase" contract: you're leasing the car until the final payment is made. That means the car dealer doesn't have a secured interest in the car--he OWNS the car. If you miss a payment, he picks up the car--and you have nothing.

    That's dramatically different from a typical car purchase. If you buy a car from a new car dealer--or a reputable used-car lot--you will almost always finance the car. If you finance the car at the dealer (generally not a good idea) you'll sign something that looks like a loan agreement, but is technically called a Retail Installment Sales Contract (RISC). It is a contract to pay for the car over a certain period of time. The dealer then sells that contract to a bank or finance company. Key point: you are buying the car, and signing a contract to pay a loan--securing the loan with the car's title. Suppose you buy a $25,000 car, and put down $5,000 in cash and trade-in on your old car. Suppose you lose your job two weeks later, and can't pay the loan. You tell the bank--they'll be perfectly willing to take the car, liquidate the loan (by selling the car at auction), and give you the difference between what they sell the car for, and the balance on your loan.

    With a lease-purchase agreement, it doesn't work that way. The car belongs to the dealer, not to you. If the dealer suckers you into putting money down, you have only the contract language (if any) to guarantee that you'll get anything back if the car is repossessed.

    Buy-here, pay-here is a very bad deal
    Bottom line: if your credit is so bad that you have to agree to install any kind of automated device to track you or force you to pay, you shouldn't be buying a car. First, you clearly are going to have trouble affording the car. Second, the cars the buy-here, pay-here crooks sell are typically heaps of junk: the cars left over at the auction that nobody wants to buy. A 1992 Ford with 150,000 miles on it isn't just going to require a monthly (or weekly) payment to the dealer--it's going to require a steady stream of parts and repair bills to keep rolling. Your chances of keeping that heap rolling for the two or three years of the "loan" are slim: and if the heap dies, you're still stuck paying credit card interest rates, and you don't have wheels.

  • Not New (Score:5, Informative)

    by ChristopherEddie (935213) on Wednesday November 30, 2005 @11:14PM (#14153328)
    I own and operate a used car lot. The devices we use are by a company called Passtime. The type of operation we have is a buy-here-pay-here lot that attracts a lot customers with sub-prime credit, and we haven't had a single customer not buy a car because of the device. The fact is, if they won't agree to having the device on their car, they probably won't pay (keep in mind, these are sub-prime customers). We usually weed them about before they even come inside!

    The device is quite easy to "hack" if you would even call it that. Its just soldered to the wiring harness and can VERY easily be bypassed. Most customers don't question it because "its a little computer thingy" and its "very complex".

    Apart from all that, in the contract, the customer must sign about three pages of forms made up of about 15 signatures from both buyer and co-buyer agreeing to all the terms and conditions regarding the device. Again, our customers never have a problem signing their John Hancock on the line.

    About the operation of the device: Currently, the device we use utilizes a "code" system where the customer pays their payment, we give them a 9-digit code from Passtime's website. The code is only good for however many days we set it, then we can set warning days where it will beep upon starting to remind them that their payment is due, and each code has atleast two emergency days that they can use by pressing 999-999-999.

    Regardless, it'd be nice if Passtime would give me the freakin' code to generate the Passtime codes so I can integrate it into my software! They protect it quite well, thankfully!
    • Re:Not New (Score:3, Funny)

      by Mr2001 (90979)
      Regardless, it'd be nice if Passtime would give me the freakin' code to generate the Passtime codes so I can integrate it into my software!

      Please let me know if they come through; I'd also like to integrate that code into my software.

      Regards,
      A Car Thief
  • by davmoo (63521) on Wednesday November 30, 2005 @11:23PM (#14153380)
    Only on Slashdot could I find out about an article like this, about a device that only affects people who do NOT make their contracted car payment, and then find comment after comment after comment talking about how horrible this is. I guess its just terrible the way those bad old car lots expect people to actually follow their agreement and *pay* for their car.
  • and when you are stuck at some dangerous/crappy place because something goes wrong even if you paid, then you can sue the company and buy 3 cars ...

    not for me... I am really an electronic friendly person, but when it comes to a reliable vehicle it is all but lotsa electronics ...

    it's like if you go to siberia you want an ak47 not some spiffy hightech rambo gear from the latest installment of ghost recon or other near science fiction shooter

  • by dukeru (935218) on Wednesday November 30, 2005 @11:42PM (#14153532)
    Long time lurker here... I think I am qualified as an expert, having come from a family of car salesmen. I have been actively involved in the new and used car business for over 20 years. I currently work as internet sales manager at a medium sized Big 3 dealership. Like all other dealerships, we regularly run "come one, come all" types of sales. While these sales bring out several people with strong credit, it also drags in the absolute dregs of society. We make our living selling cars. Most of these scumbags are simply societal misfits. They are not people with "no credit". There are people with abysmal credit. We see Transunion scores under 500 on a regular basis. These people could not finance a pack of chewing gum without a 700+ score co-buyer. So where does that leave them? Why at the "b" lot "buy here-pay here" operation. I have a personal friend that is involved in this business. He is a small businessman with limited resources. He does not carry a large inventory, but the cars he does have are decent. He does his best to make sure that the cars he sells are in good running order, as he knows that if the car isn't running, the customer is not going to be paying. He charges exhorbitant interest rates, but he is the one taking all the risk. If the customer skips town with the car, he has the expense of trying to reclaim it. Most of his customers are pretty faithful in paying, but that is only because he is very selective about who he sells to. Why people think that profit is some kind of crime in the car business is beyond me. Nobody faults the factory worker building the car for pushing for bigger money and benefits. There is no union for salespeople in the car biz. Most dealers offer pretty poor benefit packages. This device is being used successfully by several dealers. They have invested in technology to protect their financial interests. How is this different than a tech guy investing in quality software to protect their property?

I'd rather just believe that it's done by little elves running around.

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