Consumer lawyers are beginning to take lenders to task for the practices, which, they argue, violate laws that require at least 30 days of non-payments before a vehicle is repossessed. For Ms. Bolender, the mother with the sick daughter, she was never past that point. But her car was shut down four times this year.


One such attorney told the Times he sees the system as unfairly penalizing lower-income people in a way that others are unlikely to experience.

"No middle-class person would ever be hounded for being a day late," said Robert Swearingen, a lawyer with Legal Services of Eastern Missouri, in St. Louis. "But for poor people, there is a debt collector right there in the car with them."