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COLUMN: Ford’s technology targets deadbeat drivers

Auto maker’s latest patent could disable vehicles if owners fall behind on payments
Vehicles line up to board B.C. Ferries sailing at Tsawwassen. In late February, Ford Motor Co. applied for patents on technology allowing the automotive company the power to remotely disable vehicles if owners had not made their payments. (Black Press Media)

A recent automotive technology patent application could be another step toward what some would consider a cyberpunk dystopia.

In late February, Ford Motor Co. applied for a patent on a technology that would give the company the ability to remotely control the vehicles of owners who have missed payments.

The repossession technology could trigger a continuous beeping sound, disable the radio, air conditioning or other features, or even shut down the key fobs and locks and disable the engine.

At the most extreme measure, if the car has self-driving technology, it would drive itself to the impound lot.

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These methods are certain to get the vehicle owner’s attention. A continuous beeping sound is annoying and the lack of a radio or air conditioning is frustrating, particularly on a long commute. When the car has been disabled and cannot even be accessed or started, the matter becomes much more serious, especially for anyone who needs a car to get to and from work or other functions. And when the car has driven itself away, the owner cannot help but notice.

The idea of going after delinquent vehicle owners is nothing new. For years, repossession companies have been seizing cars and trucks when owners fall behind on their payments. This latest technology, however, is more severe. It allows the car company to repossess the vehicle, without Repo Man and his tow truck waiting nearby.

Some have complained that this technology is a heavy-handed approach and will penalize those who are already struggling financially. However, those who fall behind on other payments risk having any of their services cut off. Someone who defaults on the phone bill or internet service could soon lose access to these services. Customers who miss electrical payments will eventually find themselves in the dark. And those who do not pay their rent or mortgages can end up evicted or facing foreclosure.

It is important to note that Ford has simply applied for a patent here. Innovation is part of Ford’s corporate values, and in 2022 alone, the global automaker was granted more than 1,300 patents.

Ford has also said there are no immediate plans to implement this technology. Cars and trucks won’t suddenly drive themselves to impound lots and Repo Man won’t be in the unemployment line any time soon.

This technology, if and when it comes into use, has the potential to change the way people buy and own new vehicles.

In Canada, the average price of a new car is somewhere past $45,000. That’s a rough average price, and it is possible to spend less on a new car, if one looks around.

According to figures from the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, the average household income before taxes is $92,764. After taxes, this figure falls to $76,171. This means a household with an average income would require more than seven months of after-tax pay in order to purchase a $45,000 new car. This is in addition to costs including rent or mortgage payments, utilities, groceries and other living expenses.

Used cars are considerably cheaper, but a used car will not last as long as a new car and may require higher maintenance costs.

Often, motor vehicle companies and dealerships offer financing incentives, including cash back and rebate offers, low-interest rates and high trade-in values to get drivers behind the wheels of new cars. Such incentives have been carrots, or ways of enticing potential owners.

The repossession technology acts as a stick, ensuring those who buy new vehicles will keep up with their payments. Otherwise, they could be left owing money on a non-functioning vehicle, or for a vehicle that has driven itself away from them.

That’s an outcome any driver would prefer to avoid.

John Arendt is the editor of the Summerland Review.

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John Arendt

About the Author: John Arendt

John Arendt has worked as a journalist for more than 30 years. He has a Bachelor of Applied Arts in Journalism degree from Ryerson Polytechnical Institute.
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