John Oliver on subprime auto-lending and its killswitches

We've been following the trade in remote kill-switches for cars sold to subprime borrowers since 2009, and watched in dismay as they got worse and worse: though John Oliver's report on the billions inflating the subprime auto-lending bubble touches on these, he focuses on the economic factors — sleaze, corruption, moral hazard — driving the tech.

It's a kind of re-run of the 2008 subprime mortgage crisis, albeit with smaller stakes — and more Orwellian tech.

Oliver pointed to the saga of just one car, a 2003 Kia Optima that the LA Times had traced the provenance of. The history goes something like this:

April, 2008: valued at $5350, sold for $11,000

Later 2008: repossessed

August, 2008: Sold again

Dec, 2008: Repossessed again

Jan, 2009: Sold again

2009: Repossessed again

May, 2009: Sold again, but the buyer complained about the transmission so the dealer took it back

May, 2009: Sold again to another buyer

2009: Repossessed again, owner declared bankruptcy "thanks in part to payments he owed on this piece of sh*t demon car."

Dec, 2009: Sold again

2010: Repossessed again

May, 2010: Sold again

2010: Repossessed again, "even though the owner, a mother of four, claims she made every payment"

Feb: 2011: Sold again

March, 2011: Repossessed again

"That one car changed hands eight times in three years, each time at a price double or even triple its Blue Book value," Oliver said. "At which point you almost feel bad for the car, which presumably needed two sessions of therapy a week just to be able to start its crappy engine again."

The LA Times story stopped in 2011, but Oliver's team tracked down the fate of the car after that. It was sold, repossessed, and sold again before finally being stolen. "And I really hope whoever did that drove it straight off a f*cking cliff," Oliver added, "Although I am guessing even then some sleazy lobster ended up selling it to some poor, unsuspecting fish."

John Oliver, Keegan-Michael Key Explain Why Subprime Car Loans Are So Awful
[Kate Cox/The Consumerist]