Remotely immobilising cars 'unethical'

Remotely immobilising cars 'unethical'

Imagine driving around with Big Brother in your dashboard. That's the reality for New Zealanders who are buying cars from some high-interest-rate lenders.

The lenders can immobilise the cars remotely, but some say it's unethical.

Debtor Mel's car now sits idle in the driveway, shut down – not due to mechanical failure, but her finance company.

"It's definitely not what I signed up for," she says.

The Auckland woman bought the car in 2012 from car financier Aqua Cars, now known as Go Car Finance. It came with an immobiliser, fitted behind the dashboard..

"They sold it as if it got stolen they could track the car, but really they track you and they can use that system to demobilise your car," she says.

Miss a repayment and the car is rendered useless. Mel did that twice, but she says even when she caught up on her payments, it kept happening.

"Generally it's been when I've been out in the shop or I've just finished work, gone and hopped in my car quickly, pick up the kids in time.

"They don't know about the situation and why they can't get to their rugby game, which is three suburbs over, or their friends' birthday parties."

Immobilisers are common in what's known as the sub-prime or high-interest-rate market, which sells car finance to those with bad credit histories.

While the technology may not be illegal, budget advisors say it's probably immoral. But Go Car Finance says there is full disclosure. If it didn't use immobilisers it simply wouldn't be in business.

Go Car Finance CEO Roy Gormley says the technology puts control of the asset back into the company's hands.

"Before we used the immobilisers actually we lost in two years 180 cars," says Mr Gormley.

Go Car Finance has 2300 car buyers on its books, and one in five of them will at some time have their cars disabled.

"It's like your power account or your mobile phone account; if you don't pay your account you don't get to keep your phone. It gets disabled."

Mel has learned that lesson the hard way. She has now surrendered her car. She says she's paid $25,000 towards it, but doubts it's now worth more than $1000.

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