Dealer or Buyer: Who Controls the Used Vehicle?


R. Scott King, BSME, CFEI, Principal Automotive/Mechanical Engineer
Are you in the market for a used vehicle? If so, and if you’re thinking of financing that purchase, you may want to continue reading. What you learn here could stop you in your tracks.
In lecturing and authoring on the topic of onboard crash data recording technology for over twenty years, I have come to learn that many people simply do not welcome the concept of their vehicle recording and storing data describing their driving habits and actions – the “Big Brother Bristle,” I have come to call it. However, more recent vehicle technologies do nothing to assuage those concerns. This is because most new vehicles can now facilitate two-way, remote communications between the vehicle and, frankly, anyone that’s listening.
Telematics: In very broad terms relates to the ability for onboard vehicle technologies to send and receive data anywhere, anytime. First used routinely by trucking companies to assist with GPS routing, load procurement, and driver communications, telematics provided improved efficiencies, safety, and customer satisfaction. Although originally installed as after-market solutions, truck chassis manufacturers soon incorporated telematics into their original build configurations, providing new opportunities for real-time vehicle diagnostics, crash data transmission, and more. Since then, the use of telematics has expanded into the passenger vehicle segment, providing similar capabilities, among the most remarkable of them is the ability to control a vehicle remotely.
GM’s OnStar system provided the first mass-produced “telematically controlled” vehicle. To be precise, the potential control that the OnStar system had on a vehicle was limited. Specifically, the system could limit a vehicle’s speed by taking control of its computerized fuel and ignition systems. The benefit here was for law enforcement, assisting with stolen vehicle investigations and child abductions. Most recently, however, used vehicle finance companies have begun using telematic technology to help combat payment delinquency and loan defaults. Here is how it works:
A used vehicle is purchased and financed, typically by subprime lender. As part of the finance agreement, the purchaser consents to the installation of a telematic device that can not only track and pinpoint the vehicle’s location but can disable its starter as well. Systems vary on functionality. For example, most vehicles provide warnings of varying duration, and the scope and resolution of GPS data collected can vary. However, those are the essentials: default on a loan and the car will not start. Where and when a planned disablement occurs is not certain nor is the workmanship involved in the system’s installation. Deficiencies in either could lead to unintended consequences and unique forensic investigative strategies can be deployed to evaluate their potential relevance to a specific circumstance.
R. Scott King, BSME, CFEI, Principal Automotive/Mechanical Engineer with DJS Associates, Inc., can be reached via email at or via phone at 215-659-2010.

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