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 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 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, their 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 them and a deal, so I went and purchased the truck.

Fair Oaks Chrysler Jeep Dodge Ram email about Kahu with Andrew White sales manager

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 their 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 ATS100-T wiring diagram

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.

Kahu Spireon installation

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.

Happy about the truck, the color, the options, the CPO-ness. Not happy about Kahu.

13 COMMENTS

  1. I’d never ever heard of this device / service until now, but that’s definitely shady for the dealership to agree to remove & deactivate the device, and then not do it. Nice job on calling them out.

  2. Pretty slimy. I suspect you are 100% on the money with all your suspicions. It’s a real shame that everyone disappears into the woodwork once the deal is done. Thanks for sharing!

  3. Wait, so the dealership left installed a GPS tracker, that they could access and then attempted to keep one of the original key fobs? That sounds like they were planing on stealing your truck.

  4. I went to buy a vehicle this week and the dealership tried to charge me nearly $3,000 for this data mining device (and a few other BS dealer add ons). It was the deal breaker. We had a great price except for their add ons. We walked. We pay cash for our vehicles so it wasn’t even a need for their finance either. We told them we would not purchase it with one of these items.

    I suspect most people do not even know what these are. Until this week, I did not. I had purchased a vehicle earlier in the year and found out I had one on it. At least that dealership did not charge me for tracking me and stealing my data. I called that dealership and they agreed to remove it free of charge. For any dealerships reading this, you aould be wise to stop this very sleazy practice.

      • Well, the $3K did include such ‘Value Added Items‘ as VIN etching, locking lugs and Nitrogen I’m my tires… Valued Added to whom, I’m not certain but they don’t add value to me.

        Their method was to advertise a very good price then add $3k of BS. The dealership refused to budge on the add-ons. They claimed they couldn’t make any money on the advertised price.

        Since we don’t finance, they couldn’t sell us on the ‘payments’ they could offer. We didn’t need the car so walking is easy. Today, I took my car with a Kahu in it and the dealership removed it in about 30 minutes (arrival time to leaving time). This merely reinforced my belief that taking this out was probably pretty simple. If you can’t tell, sleazy dealerships really irritate me!

  5. as someone who spent their entire life in the car business, I respectfully disagree with your synopsis. why? first, if you read the fine print of any factory certified pre-owned vehicle, regardless of manufacturer, it clearly states one of the benefits is receiving two keys. I’m sure it was misplaced, probably still in the deal jacket.

    I’ve never seen a new car dealer in the past thirty years doing in-house financing on late model vehicles like the one you purchased; if they do it, it will be on higher mileage trades they’ve taken in. there would also be no reason to keep one of the keys, as they have all the key codes available by VIN , from the manufacturer.

    with all that being said, I don’t disagree with your decision to remove the unit. I don’t like being spied on, and don’t need to be reminded of when my vehicle needs service. almost all the vehicles I purchase are either from GM (Cadillac/Buick/GMC), or FCA products. I hate the GM OnStar, and have removed the transponder from every GM vehicle I own. the FCA dealer I deal with has a policy of no addendum stickers of any kind, so getting a GPS unit installed by them is impossible. I must say, however, that many new car dealers install units like this for anti-theft purposes. most people don’t realize how many vehicles are stolen from a new car dealership, be it at night, or in the middle of the day, from the service department.

    and in a side note, not all dealerships are “sleazy”. and if you want to avoid the back-and-forth, make an appointment to see someone in the fleet/internet department. they are paid on the number of units sold, not on profit. the person you’re dealing with can make price decisions, and you’ll be out the door in less than an hour, with the best deal up front. no drama.

    • Hey Mike, thanks for this! Mopar’s CPO program only claims “operational key” and “operational remote key fob” as part of CPO. There’s nothing about a second key, and the salesman and sales manager both claimed to not have the key when I asked for it. It took my asking several times and getting a bit indignant before they suddenly found the second fob.

      I was told they would finance in-house, and the finance manager mistakenly printed the paperwork with Fair Oaks CJDR as the financing company until I corrected him and reminded him I had my own financing. This is not “we’ll shop your loan around” but “we’ll finance you ourselves as an option, too.”

      The Kahu unit was definitely installed for the primary purpose of inventory tracking and potential theft recovery. Dealerships are the actual customer that Kahu/Spireon markets to, with actual consumers being a secondary customer.

      I have worked with plenty of non-sleazy dealerships, excellent salespeople, honest sales and finance managers, and wonderful service departments. Fair Oaks Chrysler Jeep Dodge Ram is not on that list. The truck has been serviced at Farrish CJDR since my purchase and I’d happily send people there instead, for both sales and service.

  6. Recently purchased a dodge caravan from a new car dealership that pushed the kahu system to me. I repeatedly declined it and made it part of the deal that it be uninstalled. the service department told me that the unit was never installed in the first place, but tbh, I don’t trust them. How would I be able to know if it was there if it is?

    • Hey Drew, unfortunately the devices get installed in various parts of the vehicle so it’s hard to say where the box would be with 100% certainty. But – they aren’t waterproof so it will be inside the cabin and installers are lazy, so it will not be hidden incredibly well. Poke your head under the steering column (do some yoga first to limber up) and look for a red wire. That’s for power (the device just needs power and ground, so one red and one black wire) and will obviously be different from the factory wire looms.

      If not by the steering column, I’d guess it may be behind the glovebox. But if the dealership claimed it was never installed, you’re probably in the clear. Mine said it was installed and then removed, which made me think something goofy was going on.

  7. Thank you. TBH, I just do not trust the dealership I bought it from. They claimed to had done service on the vehicle, with nothing actually being done. Then claimed to have sent the vehicle to the local dodge dealership to have the safety recalls fixed.. dodge said they never worked on or seen the vehicle before. next time I have the vehicle serviced (by dodge), I will ask them to inspect among other issues if there is a kahu system installed. they were so friendly for the first week, then dropped and ghosted me when I brought up issues after the sale. Still love the Dodge though!

  8. I bought a a used, custom loaded Wrangler that had one of these installed (exact same as your pic). I would have never known about it until a week later when a stereo tech pulled out the old head unit and found it. I took a pic of it and sent it to my salesman (we already had a texting relationship as he kept me updated with their inventory) and asked what the heck it was. He told me straight up it was a GPS tracker so I immediately called him to cuss him out and he just laughed and said, “Yank it out, man, you don’t need it. That’s just for the people that we have to repossess. Just throw it away”. That was that. If it was in the fine print I didn’t see it and the salesman sure as hell didn’t mention it before purchase. At least he was up front about it later, I guess.

  9. I install these all the time and also find them everywhere from a billion different manufacturers. Some with the starter interrupter and some just for tracking. Hell I’ve found 3 different gps units in the same vehicle! They get installed for a customer the vehicle gets repo’ed and sits forever then off to an auction where the process starts all over again. 99% of the time no one is trying to get one over on ya nor do they wanna see where you buy your snacks from and if you go to the strip club Saturday night and church Sunday morning….. I have boxes full of used units I wish I could reuse and start a cheap lojack / catch your spouse cheating biz with. But for now they are just dust collectors.

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