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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.