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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
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    There is no automatic shut-off but cars enabled for OnStar can be shut off by the service: onstar.com/web/portal/securityexplore?tab=3&g=1 . So who told you that this will happen? – Karlson May 1 '14 at 19:47
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    @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
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    @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
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    @nsn: That's not true. Most cars have power-assisted breaking. And without the engine, you don't get the power assistance, but you still have breaks. I suspect that losing breaking entirely in the case of engine failure would be illegal in any advanced country. – Flimzy Apr 29 '16 at 15:02
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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 carrentals.com 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
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    @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
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    @statsnewb If that's a complete and accurate representation, consider filing a lawsuit in small claims. – Panzercrisis Jul 16 '18 at 23:17
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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
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    "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, drive.com.au/motor-news/…) – Doc May 2 '14 at 5:40
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    @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
  • It's safe to prevent it from starting when you put the key in, but you will never be able to account for all situations somebody might be in while driving the vehicle. – Panzercrisis Jul 16 '18 at 23:22
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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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I just had this exact situation in St Louis. They said if I left their 8 bordering states the car would turn off unless I paid an additional $20 a day. This was with both Budget and Thrifty and they also said Enterprise did that. Did not sound like an urban legend to me when the ticket counter told it to my face just this last week.

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    Thrifty at the STL airport seems to be a franchise with pretty strict rules (I just checked). I'm actually surprised they're a franchise; most airports this size would be corporate-owned locations. Corporate Thifty locations allow driving throughout the US and Canada. Franchises often have more limited allowable areas because if something happens to the car too far away, they don't want to be stuck with a giant towing bill. I checked; Enterprise doesn't have the same restriction. They were more restrictive a decade ago, but since buying Alamo/National, they've adopted a more liberal policy. – jackal Jan 31 at 6:29
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Can they? As evidenced by other answers here, yes.

However, the common thread in all of the reports of this happening is that the person rented from a low-end, discount-tier agency (e.g. "a company that allows cash rentals" or no-name brands like "Global Rental Car of South Florida," which--no surprise--appears to be out of business now) or, in some cases, a franchised location of one of the bigger brands (e.g. Thrifty in St. Louis, as one answer discussed, which is a licensee).

Having worked for two of those major brands and still working very closely with the rental industry for 16 years, my experience says that the likelihood of this happening is near zero if you're renting from a corporate-owned store with one of the eight major brands (Avis, Budget, Alamo, National, Enterprise, Hertz, Dollar, or Thrifty).

Corporate stores with these brands generally--with rare exceptions--publish their geographical limits as allowing driving throughout the United States and Canada. So even if their cars were equipped with GPS tracking and engine cut-off systems, the risk of having the engine die in the middle of a lane-change maneuver is nil. In fact, until very recently, it was the case that the three companies that own the eight brands listed above didn't even bother with GPS tracking, even though fleet tracking systems have been available for years. Even now, the rental companies prefer to integrate and use built-in systems like OnStar rather than an after-market solution, and so if you rent a make that doesn't offer any OnStar-like features, you're probably safe from being tracked, especially if you rent with Hertz (which, along with its sub-brands Dollar and Thrifty, is notoriously incompetent) and Enterprise (which is, along with its sub-brands, Alamo and National, notoriously parsimonious). (Avis Budget Group is the only company as of right now that's making any kind of concerted push towards a "connected car" ecosystem.)

Rent with one of the lower-end brands like Advantage, E-Z, Fox, or Payless or one of the no-name regional brands (there are a lot of them in Florida, like Executive and Royal and Easirent and the like, for some reason) and expect to have limits and strict enforcement of them. These companies, which are usually regionally-operated or individually franchised, are smaller businesses that tend to rent highly-discounted rates to a riskier rental crowd, and so they're more apt to protect their investment by keeping the cars close at hand. They're also looking to increase revenue by charging outsized fees and penalties where they can. As well, being smaller, localized operations, they don't have the infrastructure to provide support for cars long distances away from their bases--if your car breaks down, they'd rather not face a multi-thousand-dollar towing bill to bring the car back home from 15 states away. Franchised locations of the major brands, too, tend to have the same viewpoint; fortunately, most mid-size and major airport locations are corporate-owned, so the risk of running into this is not too high. (But always check the geographical restrictions when booking, just in case.)

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    And of course if they were to just disable the car while you're driving on the interstate doing 70mph they're liable for massive damages in the resulting lawsuits holding them responsible for the resulting accidents... If they do it at all they're more likely to ensure the car can't be restarted after it's next turned off. – jwenting Jan 31 at 7:39
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Yes they can! That exact thing happened to a group of us. We rented a car in Las Vegas from a company that allows cash rentals. The renter was told not to cross state lines beyond California until she paid the remaining balance of days up til that Sunday. She did not of course!!

They were calling to inform us that we had vilotaed their terms but bcuz we were in the mountains we had no signal. As soon as we were in a clear range coming out of the mountains and onto a state highway in Oregon, the car began to stall. We thought we were out of gas so we had a tow truck pick us up.

Finaly, all of the messages & alerts came through and we learned what had happened. The following morning we were instructed to get as close to a Verizon cell tower in order for them to restart the car for us. It was all done via computer and took 5 mins or less for us to get back on the road.

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