No Car Payment? Sorry Your Car Won’t Start

”People come in the door and can’t get a car loan and can’t get a cosigner,” Doucette said. ”What do I tell them, to go get a bus pass? We’re in a tough economy. People don’t have a lot of money. They need cars.” Doucette was explaining a new device that shuts off the engines of cars whose owners are late with their payments.

Payment Protection Systems Inc., the privately held company in Temecula, Calif., that manufactures the engine-shutoff devices, says it has sold more than 200,000 of them since 1999, and sales are growing 40 percent a year.

More than 1,500 dealerships across the nation are using the On Time devices, including eight in Massachusetts and 10 throughout the rest of New England, the company said.

Mike Simon, chief executive of Payment Protection Systems, said the device isn’t meant to be punitive. He said drivers unable to obtain financing or forced to pay astronomical rates for a loan are often able to strike a much better deal if they agree to have the shutoff device installed in their cars.

”We’re here to help you, not to shut you down,” Simon said. ”We help people continue driving and help them get better interest rates and cars.”

Simon said his On Time device has been installed in everything from a Mercedes-Benz to a Ford Taurus. He said drivers aren’t stigmatized by the units.

”These people know they’ve had financial trouble,” he said. ”It’s not a secret to them.”

The device, which costs about $250, is typically installed just under the steering column. The keypad on the device flashes the number 3 three days before the next car payment is due and then the number 2 two days out. On the last day before payment is due, the number 1 flashes and a beep sounds.

At the end of the third day, if a payment is not made, the engine is disabled. It won’t shut off while driving, but once the vehicle is turned off it won’t restart. Codes are available in case a payment is not made but the vehicle owner has a temporary emergency requiring the use of the car.