GPS Keeping Tabs On Car Rentals

Acura MDX suv dashboard with GPS navigation system and cellular internet access
Travelers renting a car from a California company called Pay Less might well expect to pay less. Ron Lee, however, paid more — a whole lot more.

"At the very end he just slipped me the bill and said you were charged an additional $1,400," says Lee.

The car was supposed to cost $150 with free unlimited mileage. Instead, the company charged Lee a dollar a mile.

Ron Less tells CBS News Correspondent John Blackstone that the total went from $150 to more than $1700. Pay Less said Lee was charged extra because he violated the contract by taking the car out of California — fine print he missed when he signed the car out.

Lee drove from San Francisco to Las Vegas, then to Los Angeles and back home. But how did Pay Less know his exact route?

The car was fitted with an electronic tracking device, using GPS, the Global Positioning System.

Pay Less says it discloses that vehicles may be equipped with a tracking device. The car rental company would not give an interview on camera but the branch manager showed CBS News the contract that advises customers they may be followed by satellite. Altogether the contract is three pages long, with so much fine print that it's best to have a pair of glasses and plenty of time.

Undoubtedly, many renters are never that careful. Lee claims he had no idea he couldn't leave California and never imagined he was being tracked.

"It does feel as though you've been spied on," he says.

Payless isn't alone. Other car rental companies have used GPS to add charges for crossing state boundaries and even for speeding.

Marianne Sullivan, President of the Association for Car and Truck Independents and Franchisees, says "A number of rental car companies have put GPS tracking systems in their vehicles. And that's mostly to protect the vehicle from theft or misuse."

Within ten years, the GPS industry predicts, every car on the road is likely to be equipped with a tracking device.

Glen Gibbons, editor of GPS World magazine, says "It's become very affordable to put very small GPS receivers on almost everything that moves."

The good part of GPS is that people will never be lost. The bad part, as Ron Lee discovered, is they can always be found.