Extracting a dealership-installed nightmare from my dream 2016 Ram 1500 Sport
by Jake Thiewes //
In late August, I was on the hunt for a new-to-me truck. I found “the one,” a 2016 Ram 1500 Sport, at Fair Oaks Chrysler Jeep Dodge Ram (CJDR). It had every option I wanted, was painted the color I preferred, and was Certified Pre-Owned. And it was priced right. Given that beggars can’t be choosers with used cars, I figured I’d put up with a potentially difficult dealership experience for the sake of getting what I wanted.
Unfortunately, I also got something I didn’t want—Kahu by Spireon.
When looking at the Ram’s listing online, I noticed the Fair Oaks Chrysler Jeep Dodge Ram listing page indicated the “Fair Oaks Family price is plus all fees, family value package, plus Kahu Connected Car Technology ($399).” Okay, what’s Kahu? Some quick Googling found an answer. Kahu is a product sold to consumers by the larger company Spireon. Kahu is pitched as a vehicle tracking service that allows the owner to remember where their car is parked, track it if stolen, follow new drivers’ routes, set speeding alerts, and set alerts if the vehicle leaves a defined geofence area.
So that’s Kahu. What (or who) is Spireon? Spireon is a fleet management company that uses GPS tracking devices, connected over cell networks, to help car dealerships manage inventory. The tracking devices are installed when the vehicle is taken in to inventory. Given the work required for installation, Kahu is pitched to the buyer so the dealership doesn’t have to remove the device, which adds labor cost.
Looking at Spireon’s website, its whole focus is on the dealership as the customer. The vehicle owner is hardly mentioned, unless one specifically tracks down (pun intended) what Kahu is. Allegedly, the device can track vehicle battery life and mileage, which helps the owner proactively schedule service.
With that last sentence in mind, the device installed in vehicles at Fair Oaks Chrysler Jeep Dodge Ram and other dealerships manages to log and interpret quite a bit of data from a simple GPS feed. As I put this together more and more, the less I wanted anything branded Kahu or Spireon installed in my truck.
Regardless, I emailed the sales manager, Andrew, and got a quote for total, out-the-door price of the Ram. In our email exchange, I indicated that Kahu was a total showstopper and would need to be removed from the truck, if already installed, for us to proceed. I have no need or desire for a third-party GPS tracker to be installed in my truck. And if I did, Ram’s UConnect offers similar capability without requiring any aftermarket equipment. Andrew claimed Fair Oaks Chrysler Dodge Jeep Ram wouldn’t let the $399 device and service stand between it and a deal, so I went and purchased the truck.
About a week later, I received an email from Kahu, welcoming me to the service and asking me to register online for full access to its tools. Instead of clicking any links, I called their support hotline and spoke to customer service.
“I just purchased this vehicle and indicated I didn’t want Kahu installed at all. Was this welcome email sent because my email address got added to some list on accident?”
The Kahu representative took down some information and managed to reveal that the device had been installed and registered to Fair Oaks Chrysler Jeep Dodge Ram. The dealership had attempted to transfer ownership to my name, which initiated the email. “Okay, so they tried transferring ownership, but does that mean the device is installed and active in the vehicle?” “Not necessarily, sir, but let me check.” Less than a minute later, I was asked if the vehicle was parked in Washington D.C., and the representative gave me the exact street corner at which I’d parked.
Calling the dealership got me nowhere. I was transferred to multiple managers, none of whom could provide any more information. Calls were dropped over and over, or perhaps I was hung up on. At no point in my two days of phone calls did anyone admit fault for leaving the device installed, nor did they offer to have me come in and remove it at zero cost. I left an honest review of my experience on both Facebook and Google, which finally prompted a phone call—but still no offers to remove the device.
Recently, I had time to poke around my truck and locate the Spireon GPS tracker that had been installed and never removed. I stuck my head under the steering column and saw a red wire wrapped around the column, leading to a wiring harness and clearly out of place. After removing a few trim panels, I was able to remove power and ground from the device and extract it from the vehicle.
In my particular case, Kahu by Spireon was “only” able to monitor my location and track mileage (based on GPS position). There are a few wires in the harness that had been cut and not used in my installation. However, the device installed has the model number JKS2, which appears to share several names that start with “ATS100.” I located the user manual for this mysterious Spireon black box, and made some more connections.
Spireon also sells “Kahu” under the name “GoldStar,” which is sold to “buy here, pay here” dealerships. These BHPH dealerships will finance customers in-house, which helps if one has poor credit and cannot secure financing through a bank or credit union. If the device is sold as GoldStar by Spireon, those other wires are connected to the vehicle’s ignition system. Should a customer miss a payment, the vehicle can be disabled remotely until payment is made.
I suspected the Kahu device could work as an ignition interlock if configured in a certain way. Thankfully, the installation by Fair Oaks CJDR did not touch the ignition wiring. But for other customers purchasing vehicles with these sort of trackers installed, who truly knows what can be done remotely unless the wiring is inspected?
I was able to remove the device and patch up the one constant power wire that the dealership technician had tapped into during installation. The wiring job was sloppy, with no solder or heat shrink used. Simply twisting the wires together and leaving them bare is the laziest way to install electronics. Even at 16, I knew to wrap my connections with electrical tape—at a bare minimum.
My Ram 1500 Sport is not financed through Fair Oaks Chrysler Jeep Dodge Ram. When I purchased it, the salesman initially tried convincing me there was only one key available for the vehicle. As the vehicle is Certified Pre-Owned and “smart keys” can cost several hundred dollars, I asked if he was really sure about that claim. Minutes later, he was able to produce the second key, whose wear looked appropriate for the age of the vehicle (i.e. he did not program a new key in a hurry). Does Fair Oaks CJDR try to track vehicle location and have a key on hand for potential repossession? They were very disappointed when I walked in with my own financing, and I suspect they may finance in-house for some folks with less-than-great credit scores, which makes this whole Kahu/Spireon nonsense a bit more clear.
I’ve removed the Spireon ATS100-T GPS and cell tracker from my Ram 1500. I never signed up for the Kahu service. I never consented to having the tracker installed in the first place, but feel much better now that it’s been removed and I have both keys in my possession. My tracker had the serial number W1810008025 and IMEI (cellular chip used for service and signal) 015331000080251.
Kahu by Spireon isn’t an outright scam, per se, but the method by which my particular dealership installed it, marketed it, and sold it was entirely disingenuous. The dealership’s response to my line of questioning was completely unacceptable. I am very happy with the truck, but could have saved a lot of time and mental energy purchasing a CPO Ram almost anywhere else.