Ford Motor Co. has filed a patent application for technology that would allow autonomous vehicles to repossess themselves if drivers miss payments. The application, first reported by The Drive, was filed in August 2021 but formally published Feb. 23.
The system would be able to “disable a functionality of a component of the vehicle or may place the vehicle in a lockout condition.” The lockout, according to the patent, is triggered when the car owner fails to acknowledge notices of delinquency sent by the auto loan lender.
Ford says the system is designed to avoid confrontations between repossession agents and “uncooperative” car owners.
The company describes a “repossession system computer” installed on vehicles that facilitates the repossession process that begins with minor annoyances.
If a driver ignores a first message about payment delinquency, the computer can start disabling functions, including GPS and air conditioning. The radio can also play an “incessant and unpleasant” sound when the driver is in the car.
If an owner ignores more late-payment warnings, the car can lock them out, with caveats. In one example scenario, the car would allow the driver access only on weekdays or within a certain “geofence.” In another scenario, drivers could access the car when there is a medical emergency.
At the highest level of escalation, the car can begin to drive itself. Ford’s patent includes destinations such as the lending agency, the police department or public streets to make towing more accessible.
In some cases, the car could drive itself to a junkyard if the computer determines the market value of the car is less than a “pre-determined threshold price.”
The patent has not yet been officially granted.
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Its filing comes after the COVID-19 pandemic and quick economic rebound sent both new and used car prices soaring. Drivers are paying an average of $700 a month for new cars and $500 a month for used ones, according to reporting agency Experian.