It may sound unbelievable, if not downright dastardly, but Ford Motor Company has filed for a patent that will give the automaker the technical ability to shut down a vehicle belonging to anyone who’s late on a payment.
And if the owner of the vehicle doesn’t pony up the money to rebalance the account, the technology could enable Ford to flip a switch and have the vehicle drive itself to a repo lot.
A Ford spokesperson said it has yet to install the software, nor would they comment on it, but its patent application laid out the gotcha of all gotchas.
The first thing that could happen is that the purchaser or a lessee of the vehicle would be pinged by the bank or lender holding the loan to tell them that they’re delinquent and asked that they respond.
If that person does not respond, then that’s where the gloves come off.
“When an acknowledgment is not received within a reasonable period of time, the first computer may disable a functionality of a component of the vehicle or may place the vehicle in a lockout condition,” the company said.
And if Ford – or the lender – doesn’t get their payment, then they can choose from any number of components it wants to shut down. The first thing it’ll supposedly go after are “components [that] may cause a certain level of discomfort to a driver and occupants of the vehicle” like cruise control, window controls, seat controls, and components of the infotainment system such as the radio or GPS.
If that’s not enough pain, then out comes the loss of things like "the air conditioning system, a remote key fob, and an automated door lock/unlock system."
The capper Catch-22 is that an "incessant and unpleasant sound" may be turned on "every time the owner is present in the vehicle… by varying a tone, a timber, a pitch, a cadence, a beat, or a volume of the sound.” The patent application said that audio harassment will continue until the person in charge of paying for the vehicle contacts the lending institution to address the payment delinquency.
“Wait, I’m having a heart attack!”
And the company doesn’t care if you’re in the parking lot of Sam’s with a trunk full of frozen food that could spoil or not. However, the application did say that the lockout condition “may be lifted momentarily in case of an emergency to allow the vehicle to travel to a medical facility.”
Ford seems prepared for all the broken leg, heart attack, and having-a-baby excuses it’s going to get, too. It says the vehicle's camera and a "neural network" could be used to decide if an emergency situation is real or not.
Ford has also thought out scenarios where the car’s owner parks the vehicle in a garage so it can't be repossessed by a person and certainly not a computer. At that point, the application says that the police could be called to come in and “take action.”
But, if it’s a piece of junk…
The only thing that might save a delinquent vehicle owner is if their lender thinks repossessing the vehicle simply isn’t worth the money.
Underpinning that decision will be several factors: the mileage of the vehicle, its market value, what kind of condition it’s in, and how much the lender would have to pay to get the car towed into a lot, store it, file a complaint, and resell it.
However, if the bank thinks it’s just not worth the time and trouble, it’s not going to lay down and roll over. “The repossession system computer may cooperate with the vehicle computer to autonomously move the vehicle from the premises of the owner to a junkyard," the application said.