November 6, 2014
By Glen Meek, I-Team Reporter
Channel 8 News

LAS VEGAS -- Imagine having your car shut off while you're driving at highway speeds. That's what several local women say happened to them because of a device installed on their car by the finance company.

It's a payment collection practice that consumer advocates call "dangerous and unlawful." It's sometimes referred to as "repo by remote."

In order to qualify for auto financing, some people are being required to have remote control shut-off devices on their cars. The idea is to deny the owners use of the car when they've missed a payment.

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LAS VEGAS -- Imagine having your car shut off while you're driving at highway speeds. That's what several local women say happened to them because of a device installed on their car by the finance company.

It's a payment collection practice that consumer advocates call "dangerous and unlawful." It's sometimes referred to as "repo by remote."

In order to qualify for auto financing, some people are being required to have remote control shut-off devices on their cars. The idea is to deny the owners use of the car when they've missed a payment.

Legal aid lawyers say the practice is putting drivers -- and those around them -- at risk while violating Nevada law.

"I don't want anybody else to go through what I did because it was a nightmare," said Rita Torres.

She recalls the evening in August when her car died while she was driving along US 95 at night.

"I had no warning, you know? And I was scared. I was scared I could be in an accident and I felt like it would be my fault because it was my vehicle," Torres said.

She was able to limp her car off the road and have it towed. She says she later learned the car had been remotely disabled by something called a PassTime device installed at the direction of her finance company. It will prevent a vehicle from starting if payments are three days late.

"They never said anything to me about it would shut off. They just told me it was for my protection," she said.

Torres said she was current on her payments. She says somebody in finance goofed and entered the wrong code into a computer.

"How do I know this isn't going to happen again? Now, every time I leave to go anywhere, even though I've made my payment, I'm going to be worried that it could shut off at any time."

"These devices are dangerous, not only to people who have the devices installed in their cars, but also to everybody else sharing the road with them," said Sophia Medina, an attorney with Legal Aid of Southern Nevada.

She has filed a class action lawsuit against the finance company that installed the PassTime device in Torres' car and many others.

Medina says what the company is doing amounts to repossession by remote control and is in violation of Nevada law.

"In Nevada, default is defined by the contract as 30 days late on a payment. What they're doing is denying people access to their vehicle after they're three days late with a payment," Medina said.

"My first time my car was ever shut off was when I was on the I-15 going to work," said Candace Smith.

She testified before the Nevada Legislature last year about her experience which mirrors that of Rita Torres.

"My vehicle was shut off twice while in traffic so that I could not control my car. This means that it wasn't just dangerous to me, but everyone else around me," Smith said.

Smith sued the finance company, as well, but reached an out of court settlement.

"As a subprime finance company, when we're looking at an individual's request for credit, it's very easy to find at least one reason to say no to lending that person money. PassTime makes it easier to take a higher risk and say yes," said Christine Hennick, C.A.G. Acceptance Corp.
The finance company has maintained that -- properly installed -- starter interrupt devices cannot shut down a car that's already in motion. Executives say PassTime units have allowed them to give more loans to people with troubled credit.

"In conclusion, these devices were developed to help consumers rebuild their credit. They should be seen as a tool to help customers get back on their feet," said Corinne Kirkendahl, PassTime USA said.


"This is not a customer service. These consumers are not getting a break on their interest rate. They're still paying high interest rates for these vehicles. These devices are not bargained for up front. It's often after the contract is signed and after the down payment has been signed before the customer is even told about these devices," Medina said.

A bill was introduced in the Nevada Legislature back in 2013 to make it easier for these PassTime devices to be used without running afoul of state law, but the bill was withdrawn.

According to the lawsuit filed by Legal Aid Center of Southern Nevada, C.A.G. Acceptance Corporation, the finance company involved, has about 2,000 loans on cars in Nevada with these devices.

The I-Team contacted the company twice, but has yet to hear back from a spokesperson