- Ford has filed a patent with the USPTO for systems and methods that aid in vehicle repossession, as first reported by The Drive.
- One of the systems described in the patent enables an autonomous vehicle to take itself back.
- Other methods suggest limiting vehicle functions (air conditioning, power windows, power seats, etc.) and even locking delinquent owners out of their vehicles.
Avoiding the repo man may become much more difficult in the future, specifically if vehicles can one day repossess themselves. With autonomous driving technology likely to become more common in the coming years, it would only take an automaker to introduce a system where that new car, truck or SUV parked in your driveway can drive itself away if you don’t pay not.
So far no one has. However, Ford could play a spoiler based on a filing with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) that outlines a self-repossession system along with other repo-related repercussions. Ford didn’t file the patent with the USPTO until 2021, but it wasn’t formally published until last Thursday — a discovery originally made by The Drive.
Dude, where’s my Ford?
As we already mentioned, the most surprising details described in the filing are autonomous and semi-autonomous vehicles that can pick themselves back up. For vehicles equipped with the latter, they can only move themselves a short distance to a place where they can be towed more easily. For vehicles with more advanced autonomous technology, they can drive themselves to the loan company or the repo lot. In situations where Ford’s repo system agrees with the lender and determines that the vehicle’s market value is not worth the cost of the repossession, it can drive itself straight to the junkyard. Ouch.
Some of Ford’s other repo-related repercussions don’t quite go as far as letting people watch their unmanned F-150 Lightning drive straight to the crusher at Uncle Tony’s Salvage. They also serve as early warnings and solutions for people who own vehicles without autonomous technology or in cases where a vehicle is parked in a garage or otherwise unable to drive itself away or be reached by a tow truck.
They can be as simple, if annoying, as disabling certain vehicle functions. Initially, convenience features such as the air conditioning, cruise control, power seats, electric windows or the radio can be deactivated. Another method is described as playing annoying and incessant sounds through the stereo system. We immediately thought of Jim Carrey’s “most annoying sound in the world” scene Dumb and Dumber. After that, they can escalate to limiting functions to access or drive the vehicle. Essentially, Ford’s repo system can immobilize the car, truck or SUV and even foreclose on the owner.
Avoid the full repo
It is worth noting that the filing details the steps that will be taken before an automatic repossession occurs. For example, a series of messages will be sent between the lender and the owner with overdue payments, who will then have an allotted time to respond accordingly. The filing also includes language that acknowledges events, such as being hospitalized or being out of the country. It is mentioned that people with financial difficulties may be able to work out a payment plan with their lender to avoid repo-related penalties.
For now, all Ford’s patent filing confirms is that the company is at least kicking around the idea of self-repossession of vehicles. While this sounds plausible as more autonomous driving technology becomes better integrated and more common, sooner would we expect to see vehicles being remotely taken back by features disabled or by immobilization. Then again, it’s hard to predict the future.
Eric Stafford’s car addiction started before he could walk, and it fueled his passion to write news, reviews and more for Car and Driver since 2016. His aspiration growing up was to become a millionaire with a Jay Leno-esque car collection. Apparently, getting rich is harder than social media influencers make it seem, so he eschewed financial success altogether to become an automotive journalist and drive new cars for a living. After earning a degree from Central Michigan University and working at a daily newspaper, the years of basically burning money on failed project cars and lemon-flavored jalopies finally paid off when Car and Driver hired him. His garage currently includes a 2010 Acura RDX, a manual ’97 Chevy Camaro Z/28, and a ’90 Honda CRX Si.