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Main Character of the Week: Woman whose car was disabled by a dealership at a Planet Fitness

The internet was collectively shook this week when it realized that car dealerships could disable vehicles when owners got behind on their monthly payments.


Ramon Ramirez


Posted on Apr 20, 2024   Updated on Apr 19, 2024, 12:18 pm CDT

Main Character of the Week is a weekly column that tells you the most prominent “main character” online (good or bad). It runs on Fridays in the Daily Dot’s web_crawlr newsletter. If you want to get this column a day before we publish it, subscribe to web_crawlr, where you’ll get the daily scoop of internet culture delivered straight to your inbox.

The internet is a stage, and someone unwillingly stumbles onto it weekly. This makes them the “main character” online. Sometimes their story is heartwarming, like the guy who backed down to a “woke mob” after saying he’d never back down to a “woke mob, usually it’s a gaffe. In any case, that main character energy flows through the news cycle and turbo-charges debate for several business days.

Here’s the 
Trending team’s main character of the week.

It’s the woman whose car was disabled in the Planet Fitness parking lot by the dealership after she allegedly missed one car payment.

Wait… they can do that?

The internet was collectively shook this week when it realized that car dealerships could disable vehicles when owners got behind on their monthly payments. It’s the most dystopian thing we learned this week.

In this case, a woman was unable to start her car in the Planet Fitness parking lot after her workout. She called her dealership which ultimately allowed her to drive home… before re-locking her vehicle.

As TikToker Legacyyy (@legacy.jai) explained: “My car note isn’t even a week late,” she said. “It is due on the 4th of April. Today is the 9th. I told them I’m going to pay it this Friday. Not even a week late. They cut my car off.”

As Daily Dot reporter Parks Kugle wrote, this technology has been quietly on the rise for some time.

CBS reports that lenders began to install these devices in the early 2010s. Known as starter interrupters (SID) and GPS trackers, these devices are hidden under the dash, hood, or trunk of the car. Gaining popularity during the subprime auto loan boom 10 years ago, dealers used these devices for loans given to a consumer with a credit score below 640. By 2015, approximately 2 million vehicles—a third of all auto loans—had payment assurance devices installed. Though proponents argued that these devices allow consumers access to vehicles they may not be able to obtain otherwise, there have been claims of vehicles being shut off while they were idling or driving on the freeway.

A starter interrupter, according to 
Shabana Motors, is hardware embedded into the circuitry of a vehicle. Connected to the engine, the switch is turned off when a code is entered either remotely or by the car owner. However, if a payment is missed, then the device turns on, disrupting electrical currents in the engine and stopping proper combustion. Usually, car owners receive warnings about their vehicles being turned off unless a payment is made. Shabana Motors also noted that a properly installed SID will never shut off when a car is in motion.”

I did not know that this was a potential consequence until I saw the viral TikTok. And ever since President Dwight Eisenhower insisted that American highways slice through the heart of American cities such as Minneapolis (which decimated the population in the process) we’ve been obsessed with freedom on the open roads. Jack Kerouac wrote a book about it that is buried in our psyche.

Sal, we gotta go and never stop going ’till we get there.”

Some of this is about projecting our ideals, but a lot of it is the last-resort escapism that we find in cars. The land is vast. We have the spirit of transplants in our blood, for better or worse. As the song goes: Don’t fence me in.

As automobiles become more connected to technology, we lose touch with the fantasy of escaping; of driving into a dwindling horizon or up a lost coastline. Packing up your stuff and leaving your troubles behind is the most romanticized gesture in the American playbook. 

Have you ever been to Alaska? I have. Everyone up there will tell you, “Yeah man I had a bad breakup so I rode my Harley here from Buffalo, New York.”

And with reports that futuristic cars made by Tesla can lock you in your car while the dang OS updates like it’s a phone, or that mechanics can no longer work on your car because of the proprietary technology that tethers it to your dealership, well, let’s just say it’s enough to make me committed to keeping my 2007 Chevrolet Cobalt in playing condition.

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*First Published: Apr 20, 2024, 6:00 am CDT