Shopping for the Ignition Interlock Device (IID)

When you get that big scary letter of the Order of an Ignition Interlock Device (IID) it will give you a list of approved, certified installers - I advise you to look each and every single one of them up. Getting the interlock is a difficult, complicated, and confusing process - and that’s all be design. The interlock companies want it to be difficult as can be, withholding information, giving you the run around, and doing everything they can to squeeze every last dime out of you.

What You Can Look Up Online

Most interlock companies websites are lacking a lot of information, instead asking you to put in all of your contact information - including some sensitive private information - in hopes of getting you on the phone with a salesperson. While the salesperson has some use (they can actually check with the DMV to make sure you’re in an eligible period, and theoretically answer questions) they slow down the process and make the task at hand very confusing.

But, some are nice to put
some information online. You’ll never get a straightforward price from the website or the salesperson, but you can try to get as close as possible. The websites I found were usually pretty good at disclosing the location of service centers for interlocks - each company deals with a handful of mechanics, car accessory dealers, etc. (you ever wonder how those tire stores or car stereo places stay in business, here it is) and that’s it. If you find an interlock company you like, but they’re not convenient for you, don’t go with them. You will have to visit the servicer multiple times over the installation (minimum 5), and it’s best to not have to travel all the way across town for this.

All of these places will charge you an extra fee if you’re late or miss your appointment. It’s very important to have an easy place to get to. If you miss your appointment you may end up locked out of your car and forced to tow it to the servicer. Closer is better.

What to Ask on the Phone

After you’ve eliminated some places you’ll have to end up talking on the phone with a number of salespeople. Do not let this part of the process put you off. I hate talking on the phone, but people’s unwillingness to discuss the difficult part of their lives plays into these people’s hands. Don’t let them take advantage of this.

Every interlock place claims to be the cheapest around - but it’s all subjective. Many places will say the first month is free with installation, or offer a free installation, or some other way to cloud what the device will actually cost.
Take lots of notes. The worst offenders are the ones who offered “No hidden fees”. I felt good about them, until talking with another provider they mentioned a removal fee. No hidden fees place did not mention this. I called them back and asked about it, and the removal free was massive. I asked them about it, and they claimed that the fee wasn’t hidden because they would mention it when asked. When talking with a lot of these salespeople I’d be asking myself, “wait, I’m the criminal here?”.

So, after a lot of calling I found myself with what I believe to be the best possible outcome for myself. Again, I don’t know the others, but in asking around, I believe I found myself the most reasonable - close, and relatively cheap to some of them. The back of the envelope math I did based on quotes had all them coming relatively close to each other… Around $450 total for 5 months, but I feel this space is shifting all of the time. Best to call around for yourself, but feel a little bit easy that getting the worst deal won’t mean a difference of hundreds of dollars. Still, this process is bleeding you dry, let’s save every dime we can.

I’ve compiled a list of the various fees I have found in my shopping and subsequent bills for the interlock device. As more people enter the business, as regulations change, I’m sure there will be more.
When in doubt ask questions. Ask enough questions to be a pain in the salespersons side, until they give you the answers you deserve. They are doing their best to confuse and mislead you - if you are unsatisfied or confused by their answers let them know. At the end of the day, they’re fighting for a somewhat limited amount of customers. They need you. You can still go somewhere else.

Known Possible Fees:

  • Installation Fee - A lot of places will use this as the big smoke and mirrors to what the interlock will end up costing you. A lot of places will claim that it’s free, only to give you a rebate on either your first or last month (double check and hold them to it if that’s the case) or have a reduced fee if you pay certain months in advance. This is so that it’s super hard to compare prices. Usually if the installation is free or reduced cost your monthly cost is going to be higher (not always the case, though).
  • Late/Missed Appointment Fee - Most people find out about this after they’ve made their appointments, the rep just adds a little “oh by the way, don’t be late!”. It’s always a little twist in your side - as you’re never allowed to charge them a fee when they miss the appointment. An unscrupulous (read:most) places can even charge you for being late even if you get there late and they’re still working on the person in front of you. So they had no downtime, but they still get to stick you for the money. Get there early every time. Don’t give them the pleasure.
  • Monthly Fee - Every month that you have the IID you have to pay for it. It’s a crappy rental, and when you see the fees that you’re paying for it, you’ll wish you’d gotten into the IID business. This, however, is a consistent fee that is the most straightforward of what you’ll end up paying. There’s not much that will change about this, unless you get a free first or last month.
  • Upgraded Unit Fee - Not all interlock devices are the same - they all require different blow patterns - some short, some long, some complicated. Some states like Oregon require devices come equipped with a camera that takes a picture of the person blowing the device every time, in order to prevent a passenger from blowing the device for an intoxicated driver. In some instances a more restrictive device - like one with a camera - has less of a cost than a more simpler device (some states there is no difference, some states it costs more). Explore all your options and decide how much restriction you can tolerate if these options are available to you.
  • Keyless Start Unit Fee - If you have a push to start or remote start car, be prepared to pay more - both monthly and in installation and removal fees. The upside? Some places are able to provide you with a remote interlock that you carry with you. So you can blow and start your car remotely, just as you did before. I imagine the remote part is all sorts of handy, but, alas, I’m still in the key-ignition days.
  • Disguised Unit - Some places try to “help you out” by offering a slipcover for your interlock unit that allows it to supposedly look like a can of soda. In practice this is a method to capitalize off of your embarassment and further profit off of you. Most of the ads for this covers make it seem as the unit will look like a 12 oz can of soda, while in practice they und up looking roughly the size of a 7-Eleven Big Gulp 32 oz jug. Some places will outright sell it to you (think of all the times you can reuse it!) and some will rent it to you for additional monthly charges, and others will give it to you free if you purchase an additional insurance policy. I say don’t bother. Even the biggest of IIDs is not very visible while driving, you will not be using it that often in view of other people, and it will not disguise the fact that you have an IID from a passenger. But, if you want it, be sure you know the total cost of it - either by purchase, rental, or attached to something else.
  • Download/Service Fee - You have to visit the place that installs your interlock device every 60 days to calibrate it and download the record of violations from the device. Some places will charge you $10-$15 a visit for this, others include it in their monthly fees. A lot of places will not tell you about this fee until you see it on your bill. Ask about it. Also make sure that their system will allow you to visit every 60 days, as some places only charge on a monthly basis - meaning you will have to dedicate more time to visiting your servicer, more possible late/missed appointment fees, more possible lockouts, more possible service fees. I know I wanted to visit this place as least as possible.
  • Lockout Fee - Every month (or two months if bi-monthly) your IID has a lockout date. Theory goes that the machine needs to be calibrated in order to be an accurate detection of alcohol in your breath. The court dictates that the machine be calibrated at least every 60 days, but the companies take it one step further and make it so that your car can completely lock you out if you miss your appointment - so you now have to tow your car to the service center and then pay them an additional fee to get your system back working again. Don’t miss your appointments. There can be some additional blowback from the court if you do, as it’s a violation of your restricted license… just don’t do it. Don’t get locked out. There’s no good reason to.
  • Lockout Code Fee - Some interlock devices have a keycode that you can punch in to give you an engine start, or period of engine starts, if, for some reason, you miss your appointment and get locked out, so that you can get to the service center and get your IID recalibrated. Of course, they’ll charge you a fee for this code. Don’t miss your appointments.
  • Violation Fee - If you have enough violations - either for too much alcohol in your system when trying to start your car (again, you should have your own breathalyzer so that you can check before you blow into your IID), or for trying to tamper with the device the court will take away your restricted license privileges, but your IID company can also fine you. It just keeps coming.
  • Warranty - One I didn’t see coming. Some installers will charge you a monthly fee that theoretically protects you in case the device breaks (in a manner that doesn’t look like you were trying to bypass the device). Would it in practice? I don’t know. I’m not going to find out. But when comparing prices see if they’re going to tack it on.
  • Insurance - The same as a warranty, but can also be purchased separately. In my experience the machine shouldn’t be beaten up too much, once you find a good place for it that’s out of the way when driving, it shouldn’t take too much wear and tear, but accidents do occur, I suppose. If you get it, know what it covers, ask if there’s a deductable (that’s where they get you), and know the ins and outs. Also double check if your current car insurance policy covers it (you have the SR-22, they know you have a DUI).
  • Damage - This should be conditional with you actually damaging the damn thing, but find out what their policy is before it happens. The devices are can be damaged by heat, animals, water spills, auto accidents, know what will happen to you in case this happens.
  • Theft/Loss - Most of the units are removable. Supposedly they can be damaged by extreme heat and extreme cold, so if you are in those environments, you are encouraged to take the unit with you to protect it. Does anybody actually do this? I have no idea. However, if you take it with you and somehow lose it (I don’t know how this would happen since you can’t drive without it) or your car is stolen (and the ignition interlock device is actually a fairly decent theft deterrent system), you should know what the consequences are.
  • Replacement Forms - If you misplace the paperwork, or make a mistake filling it out, they will charge you for replacements - even if you mess up when first filling it out. Stupid, I know, unfair, I know, nothing you can do. Fill it out carefully.
  • Tax - The IID is not a taxable item. However, most people do not know this and a shady vendor could be charging you tax and pocketing it. Do not allow this to happen. Alert the authorities if this happens.
  • Credit/Debit Card Fee - The bane of my existence at my nearest lunch spots. Some places can charge you for using your credit card. Usually a dollar or two, but still, it’s important to know.
  • Personal Check Fee/Bounced Check Fee - I don’t recall any of the places I dealt with saying that they accepted personal checks, but I didn’t ask. I’ve only paid my taxes and my court fees with a check in the last number of years. I’m going to guess most likely you aren’t either - but if for some reason checks are your preferred way to pay, make sure they take them, and make sure you know if and what they charge.
  • Cash Fee - Not sure I’ve seen this for anything, but, if you like to pay cash, know the drill. Do they need exact change?
  • Removal Fee - This is one of the fees they don’t want you to know about. A lot of people complete their IID then get that extra little kick in the pants for $75-$120 when they find out that there’s a cost to remove the IID. Again - a place that boasted “No Hidden Fees” hid this fee from me until I asked. They know you’ll pay this fee because at this point you’ll be sick of the dang thing. Supposedly you can do this yourself if you’re a gearhead and return the unit. I’m certainly not skilled enough, nor would I want to risk some sort of mixup and the court seeing this as a violation, or the service center erroneously claiming that I damaged it. Let them take it off, I’ll get something to eat.

Pricing and preparing for all of this is a difficult task. Especially with all the callbacks, run around, hiding of information, it’s exhausting to deal with.
Again, this is what they want. They want to drain you dry so that you settle and just say fine. They need you, you have your pick. Ask as many questions as possible, they are leaving something out.