About a decade ago, Erin Hayes bought a used car with a subprime loan from one of those "buy here, pay here" car lots close to her home. One day in 2013, having forgotten to make her payment, she got into her 2006 Kia Optima at work and turned the key. Instead of starting, the car made a loud beeping noise and wouldn't go anywhere. The lender, without her knowledge, had installed a "kill switch" and triggered it remotely after Hayes missed a payment.

Rudimentary kill switches have long been sold to the public as anti-theft devices for less than $50 apiece. But many subprime auto lenders across the country are using more sophisticated versions to ensure that car buyers make their payments.

In recent years, though, amid consumer horror stories ranging from inconvenience to outright danger, a few states are restricting or banning the kill-switch tactic as unfair and potentially unsafe.

"They do serve a purpose, and there are benefits to them," said Michael R. Guerrero, a consumer finance attorney at Ballard Spahr. "They reduce repossession costs, and they permit the consumer to cure the default and restart the vehicle when it's cured. They also give some consumers access to credit who otherwise might not qualify."

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