If you have a low opinion of "buy here, pay here" car dealerships thanks to their 20 percent interest loans, bi-monthly payment requirements and aggressive repossession tactics, wait until you hear about their latest strategy for getting cars back from owners who fall behind on payments.

Flordia's Tampa Bay Times reports that car dealers, particularly ones who cater to customers with bad credit, are increasingly turning to GPS devices on the cars they sell. Not to give the drivers maps, mind you, but give themselves an easier time repossessing the cars. GPS-based electronic locators are planted on the cars, giving dealerships knowledge of their whereabouts at all times.

Did I mention they aren't telling the customers about this? From the story:

These devices aren't the kind you mount on the dashboard to navigate city streets. They're electronic locators, designed to help the repo man find your car if you stop paying. Some devices can even render the car inoperable until you pay up.

In the cat-and-mouse game between the late-paying car customer and the buy-here, pay-here dealer, the GPS locator is a new weapon. The trouble comes when it's kept secret.

"They don't want the customer to know that if they don't pay, they can come find it," said Duane Overholt, an industry critic who runs the website stopautofraud.com.

One dealership in St. Petersburg has been hit with three lawsuits over the secret placement of the devices, the story says. Those suits say that the dealership never told the customers about the cars, and only removed them after they paid the vehicles off and then brought them back for a "safety check."

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Placing a GPS device on a car has become so widespread that the technology has its own trade association, but they recommend always telling the customer that the device is there.

And that, I see it, is the issue here. A car doesn't belong to you if it's not paid off in full; if dealerships have to repo it (which unfortunately is the core of the "buy here pay here" business model), well, that sucks, but it happens.

But placing a tracking device on a car without telling people it's there? That's shady as all hell, and it doesn't make these kinds of dealers seem like honest businesses at all. It's tantamount to spying and stalking customers, and they don't have any right to do that.

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This is just one more reason to avoid the "buy here, pay here" dealers. How screwed are you willing to get just to own a car?

Photo credit Shutterstock

Hat tip to Zing!