Ford Motor Co. has filed a patent application for technology that would allow the automaker to remotely disable a vehicle if the owner falls behind on making their payments.
The patent application was filed in 2021, but was just recently made public.
“An owner of a vehicle may default on a payment towards a vehicle for various reasons. The lender may send a default payment notice to the owner, followed by a notice of intent to initiate repossession proceedings if the payment is not fulfilled within a certain period of time,” Ford wrote in its patent application.
The automaker says car owners may disregard the notices, resulting in a repossession of the vehicle, during which time the owner may become “uncooperative.” Ford says that their kill-switch technology is “a solution to address this issue.”
According to the patent filing, Ford’s technology would allow the company to remotely disable any “primary-use component category,” which includes a car’s engine, brakes, accelerator, steering wheel, doors/locks, and lights.
The company would also retain the option to disable cruise control, window controls, seat controls, the Global Positioning System (GPS), and entertainment system.
In the event features are disabled, the vehicle’s owner would need to contact the lending institution securing the loan on the vehicle to negotiate regaining access.
Ford says that arrangements could be made where drivers would only lose partial access to vehicle functionality, like only being allowed to drive their vehicles during the weekdays for work, at certain times of the day, or only within a certain geofenced area, such as travel within a few miles of the home for groceries, or to drop children off at school.
Wes Sherwood, a spokesman for the Dearborn, Michigan-based automaker, said Ford has “no plan to deploy this,” Bloomberg reported.
As news of the filing circulates, advocacy groups are warning of the danger to consumers such technology poses.
“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.
Van Alst says that the patent is worrisome because lenders with questionable reputations for repossessions could potentially take advantage of it. “You’ve now created this device which is like the doomsday device in Dr. Strangelove,” he said.