Ford is attempting to patent car “repossession” technology that would allow the automaker to remotely lock down vehicles or shut off key features like air conditioning if the owner misses payments, according to newly surfaced filings.
Ford’s patent for “Systems and Methods to Repossess a Vehicle” was filed in August 2021 and published in late February as part of the standard application process. The application has yet to receive final approval for patent protection.
According to the patent application, the technology would be used in the event that drivers ignore “notice(s) of delinquency of a vehicle-related payment” that are sent to their phones or their vehicle computer systems.
Cruise control, automated window and seat controls, air conditioning systems, remote key fobs and automated door locking systems are among the features that could be disabled through the technology, according to Ford’s filing.
“Disabling such components may cause an additional level of discomfort to a driver and occupants of the vehicle,” the filing says.
In one example given in the patent filing, vehicles would be remotely directed to “emit an incessant and unpleasant sound every time the owner is present in the vehicle.”
“The repossession system computer may also ensure that the owner is unable to turn off the sound without first making contact with the lending institution to address the payment delinquency,” the patent filing says.
Eventually, car owners who fall behind on payments could be blocked from using the vehicle entirely.
The system would even allow Ford vehicles with semi-autonomous or full self-driving capability to drive themselves to a tow truck driver or a repossession lot if the owner doesn’t respond to multiple notices. Vehicles with less resale value would be sent straight to the junkyard.
When reached for comment, Ford spokesman Wes Sherwood said the company doesn’t have “any plans to deploy this.”
“We submit patents on new inventions as a normal course of business but they aren’t necessarily an indication of new business or product plans,” Sherwood said.
“We were granted 1,342 patents last year (more than three a day), spanning a wide range of ideas,” he added.
The patent filing surfaced during a period in which car loan delinquencies have surged across the US. In January, delinquent auto loans hit their highest level since 2006, according to Cox Automotive data cited by Bloomberg.
Consumer advocates are already raising alarms over the technology.
“It really seems like you’re opening up a can of worms that, as a manufacturer, you don’t really need to be doing,” John Van Alst, a senior attorney with the National Consumer Law Center, told Bloomberg.