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I am renting a car and am told that if I take it out of the state that they will know and shut off the car. Is this possible?

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At best, this is an urban legend. Common sense would tell you that any automatic shutoff of a motor vehicle would be exceptionally dangerous and, if not illegal, subject the owner to massive liability. As for taking vehicles out of state, your rental agreement will determine whether it is permitted or not; you cannot generalize across a company or across the whole country. – choster May 1 '14 at 19:41
There is no automatic shut-off but cars enabled for OnStar can be shut off by the service: . So who told you that this will happen? – Karlson May 1 '14 at 19:47
@choster: That's really not true. It is quite trivial to enable such a device, and there are anti-theft devices that do exactly that. – Flimzy May 1 '14 at 20:31
it's not that dangerous to shut down a car in motion. It happens all the time if you run out of gas, and people don't usually die. But even so, it's possible to make such a device that only disables the starter, for instance. But more importantly to the question, this discussion is irrelevant :P – Flimzy May 1 '14 at 21:02
@Flimzy it's partially irrelevant. If doing so is illegal than I doubt the companies could do that. Anyway, shuting down the engine may mean being out of brakes. That is definitly dangerous. I know a few companies that keep track of their cars via GPS so breaking a rule may mean paying some extra on car delivery. – nsn May 2 '14 at 7:44
up vote 8 down vote accepted

This article from an auto rental trade journal quotes a rental operator who claims his cars are equipped with just such a system.

Al Llanes of Global Rental Car of South Florida Inc. restricts his renters to the state of Florida. He uses his tracking system to set up a virtual perimeter (or “geofence”) that alerts him when the state line is crossed. After disabling the vehicle, Llanes will often receive a call from the customer to complain that the car is inoperable.

Unless you doubt his veracity (in which case maybe Skeptics.SE is the place for this), I think we can conclude this is indeed possible and actually exists.

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To put this to rest. I asked this question after getting a rental from where I saw nothing about going out of state, went and got the car and was told that I could not leave the state and could not get a refund- so I took it out of state anyway and after making it through 3 states, the next morning my key did not work and had to call the car rental company to have them turn it back on. I was charged $0.25 per mile and $25 per state line that I crossed. It happens. If you are wondering which rental company? Nu aka Action Car Rentals in Orlando FL. – statsnewb May 10 '14 at 18:43
@statsnewb: That's pretty bad, that they didn't disclose the terms and then refused a refund. But thanks for sharing your story, and for naming and shaming the rental company in question. – Nate Eldredge May 10 '14 at 21:55

There are companies producing products for exactly this purpose, so it is indeed technically possible and even rather trivial to install such a device in a rental car.

I am not sure what common sense choster is talking about when he claims that it would be exceptionally dangerous to shutdown a moving vehicle. Vehicles fail and come to unwanted stops all the time and I can't remember ever to have heard of an accident caused by engine failure. Knowing how to deal with such a situation is probably part of basic driver training in most locations.

If used, such a remote shutdown system is probably not so dumb, that the car is automatically shutdown when crossing a state border. An IMHO reasonable implementation would be to warn the driver that the vehicle is leaving the authorized district and then, if the warnings are ignored, make sure that the car is shutdown in a safe location, e.g. when parked the next time.

If a device like this is installed at all in your rental car is of course impossible for anyone here to tell.

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Why the down-vote? – Tor-Einar Jarnbjo May 1 '14 at 23:01
"can't remember ever to have heard of an accident caused by engine failure" - You may want to look into the recent GM car recall related to an faulty ignition switch which caused the car to turn off unexpectedly. So far at least 13 deaths have been attributed to this fault. (yes, it's not engine failure, but I'm sure there are countless deaths that have been caused by engine failure as well. eg,…) – Doc May 2 '14 at 5:40
@Doc: In the last article you're linking to, the driver was killed because a truck ran into her from behind. Since that most likely would have happened if she decelerated for any other (even legitimate) reason, there is no reason to claim that the engine failure caused the accident unless you are an agitating journalist. It is hard to find any details around the 13 deaths linked to the faulty GM ignition switch, but the security aspect behind the recall seem to be that the airbags are disabled, not that the engine is shutting down. – Tor-Einar Jarnbjo May 2 '14 at 11:27

Sure, it's possible. The real question is whether it actually happens. Anecdotally I've rented cars and crossed state lines on several occasions in recent years and it's never been an issue. The only rules I've heard about where you may take rented cars concern driving out of the USA-- trips to Mexico are often prohibited, though apparently Canada is at least sometimes OK. Even then though, there's no mention of automatically disabling the vehicle.

I've used national chains (Budget, Hertz) and it never even occurred to me to ask whether I could cross state lines. But since Nate Eldredge found an example of a rental agency that disables cars like this, it plainly does happen in at least some cases. If in doubt, ask the company before renting.

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