Ford files patent to disable car features in case of missed payment

What’s that annoying beep in your car? You may have missed a payment.

Ford engine Co. has filed a patent on technology that could remotely turn off your radio or air conditioning, lock you out of your vehicle, or cause it to beep constantly if you miss car payments. Ford said it has no plans to use the technology contained in just one of the many patents filed by the automaker giant.

Yet it emerges at a troubling times for car owners. Loan delinquencies have steadily declined after their pandemic lull. Data from Cox Automotive showed severely delinquent car loans in January hit their highest level since 2006. The use of technology to facilitate foreclosures isn’t new, but the patent application is broad, proposing even the idea that an autonomous vehicle could drive itself to a “more convenient” place to be picked up by a tow truck.

“It really seems like you’re opening a Pandora’s box that, as a manufacturer, you don’t really need to do,” said John Van Alst, senior attorney at the National Consumer Law Center.

Read more: Auto debt piles up with more buyers $10,000 underwater on loans

According to Ford’s patent application for technology related to repossession, cruise control and automated windows could be disabled if a consumer does not recognize a late car payment notice. Ford could also close key fobs, door locks – even the throttle or the engine itself.

“Disabling these components can lead to an additional level of discomfort for the driver and vehicle occupants,” the patent application states.

Wes Sherwood, a spokesman for the Dearborn, Michigan-based automaker, said Ford had “no plans to roll this out.” Ford was awarded more than 1,300 patents in 2022 as part of “fostering a culture of innovation,” the automaker said in an email.

“We submit patents for new inventions in the normal course of business, but they are not necessarily indicative of new business plans or products,” Ford said in the statement.

The patent is concerning because by creating the technology, lenders with less than stellar repossession reputations could potentially benefit, said NCLC’s Van Alst.

“You have now created this device which looks like the doomsday device in Dr Strangelove,” he said.

And what about the beep sound? Car owners would be unable to turn off the noise without first contacting their auto lender about a default, the patent application says.

Ford called the sound “incessant and unpleasant”.

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