Ford Wants Autonomous Cars to Impound Themselves

Ford Wants Autonomous Cars to Impound Themselves

Every week there are too many developments in the world of repair for any mere mortal to keep track of. Fortunately, the folks over at the Fight to Repair newsletter are here to help: recapping the most important repair news for iFixit readers. As a special offer, readers can claim a free, 60-day premium membership to the Fight to Repair newsletter. Visit to claim your premium membership!

Excited for self-driving cars? You’re in luck. Ford has applied for a patent for some dazzling new tech—a car that drives itself to the impound lot if you’re late on your payments! The patent describes a variety of procedures for repossessing cars when payments are delinquent, including:

  • sending messages to the owner’s smartphone or the vehicle itself
  • locking drivers out of the car entirely
  • disabling functions like air conditioning
  • geofencing drivers to only operate within a certain time or set area

The system also includes enabling an autonomous car to drive itself to an impound lot or a junkyard if the car’s market value is determined to be below a certain threshold.

That’s the scariest part for the repair world: If implemented, this patent would let car manufacturers decide exactly when to decommission your car. Consumers would have no repair choice at all. This would be worse than manufacturers’ already terrible methods of restricting repair, such as requiring repair by authorized shops and limiting access to parts and tools. It’s hard to imagine a more nefarious way to control the aftermarket and push people to buy the next model instead of fixing up a so-called “junker.”

This might seem like bleak speculation about the future that won’t actually happen, but the trend of companies chipping away at the power of the people is already “a thing.” Some examples:

  • Volkswagen refused to help locate a kidnapped child because the mother had not paid for the “find-my-car” subscription after the free trial period expired. It turns out that VW contracted out the car location service to a third-party firm that could not locate the kidnapped child. (Cory Doctorow wrote a piece on VW that is worth checking out.)
  • Mercedes has put vehicle acceleration behind a paywall. That’s right. As The Drive reported, buyers of the new Mercedes EQ electric models will have to pay a yearly subscription of $1,200 (plus tax) to unlock the performance already built into their cars.
  • Apple announced its SOS satellite service stops being free after two years (a convenient incentive to buy that new phone?).
  • BMW has sold heated seat subscriptions for $18 a month—as if they couldn’t have lumped that in with their cars’ already-premium purchase price.

The message is clear: car companies are attaching more strings to their products. That’s turning automobiles, an icon of 20th-century freedom and individual liberty, into snitching, scheming surveillance devices that might just up and drive away on us when their manufacturer deems it appropriate. Look for this trend to continue—and not just with cars but pretty much anything that’s connected to the internet.

Other News

  • Massachusetts will enforce expanded auto repair law: A federal judge in Massachusetts has repeatedly delayed a ruling in the case over a ballot measure expanding automobile right to repair to include access to wireless telematics data. But that wait is coming to an end, with the State’s newly elected Attorney General indicating her office will begin enforcing the law as of June 1st. This enforcement will allow independent repair shops to get access to data for repairs.
  • Sonos replaces glues with screws: The smart speaker maker Sonos said in 2020 that it would stop supporting its older speakers with software updates, dooming many to an early grave. Refurbishers also complained about the company’s “Recycle Mode,” an irreversible 21-day countdown that once initiated, permanently blacklists a speaker from the company’s servers. But Sonos may be making progress, with its new speakers replacing glued-in components with actual screws, making the speakers much easier to maintain.
  • Consumers reluctant to implement circular economy principles: While people support the circular economy in theory a new study shows they rarely implement them in their everyday lives. This isn’t to say the problem lies with consumers, but the study shows a particular reluctance to share consumer goods with others, buy used products, or have items repaired. However, study recommends strengthening the demand for used goods through financial incentives and information campaigns.
  • Lina Khan is taking swings at Big Tech: The FTC has ramped up law enforcement against companies that have repair restrictions. Apple, Microsoft, Amazon, and Google have all lobbied to quash “Right to Repair” laws on the state level. Any new FTC rules could boost those state laws and require the companies to provide nationwide repair programs.
  • Damage caused by fast fashion: Disposable and cheap clothing might be forgotten about when it’s thrown away in richer parts of the world, but the impact of “fast fashion” is being felt in the other parts of the world. Used clothing from Europe is filling landfill sites in countries like Kenya, under the pretext of circularity or charity. At least one-third of the 112 million used garments that the EU ships to Kenya each year are immediately burned as fuel, poisoning the air, soil, and water.
  • Repair Café film on BBC: A short film about the Repair Cafe movement has been released by BBC Earth.