With consumer credit ratings plummeting, more American car owners could soon be driving around with an electronic Big Brother on board.
Business is booming for makers of shut-off devices, which turn engines off when car payments are late. Sales at one manufacturer, Littleton, Colo.-based Passtime, are up 33 percent over last year. CEO Stan Schwarz says the company is cranking up production to meet the demand.
"Right now, we are moving about 2,000 units a month into the marketplace," Schwarz says. "I fully expect by the end of the year we will be up to 14,000 to 15,000 a month,"
While the devices have mostly been used in the subprime auto loan market, other lenders are looking closely at the technology, manufacturers say. It's no mystery why interest in the gadgets soaring: the creditworthiness of American consumers is declining as they lose jobs in record numbers and find it harder to tap into home equity.
Financially stretched consumers have to figure out what bills they are going to pay -- and what payments they have to postpone. And car dealers and lenders want to make sure it's not loan payments that fall to the bottom of the pile.