Auto sales are booming as Americans take advantage of loosening credit to replace aging cars. But many consumers didn't make it out of the recession with their credit scores intact. Subprime borrowers now make up a quarter of all new car loans and account for $46.2 billion in outstanding auto lending debt. Some creditors are taking controversial steps to make sure those bills are paid on time.

Unlike a house, where it can take months or years to evict owners behind on their payments, some subprime lenders can now simply switch off their late borrower's cars, The New York Times reported. Starter interrupt devices have been installed on nearly 2 million cars to date. Technology allows an officer of the bank to disable the ignition of cars and track a car's movements. These devices are installed on cars of those with the worst credit before they can drive off dealer's lots.

Lenders say they have strict guidelines in place to prevent abuse, but use of the device or the data it gathers is completely unregulated at both state and federal levels. Cars outfitted with starter interrupt devices also come with GPS tracking, spurring privacy concerns. One feature, known as geofencing, gives lenders a peek into their customer's private lives by alerting banks if a driver changes their daily routine, such as no longer driving to work every day.

Shut-offs can happen anywhere and may even put lives at risk. A Las Vegas woman told the Times she had her car die while speeding down a freeway when she was late on her payment. Another borrower had her car disabled after being only three days late with her payment. She was unable to get her sick children to medical care without immediately making a payment.

Read more of the New York Times investigation into subprime auto loans here.

Share This Photo X