Fail to Pay Your Auto Loan? Tech Advancements Could Mean Cars Repossess Themselves

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  • Ford recently filed a patent detailing several ways that an autonomous vehicle could effectively repossess itself by driving back to the lender if the owner fails to make payments.
  • Your lender is allowed to repossess or disable your vehicle if you fall behind.
  • If you can't afford your payments, reach out to your lender to see if you qualify for a payment pause or a loan modification.

Even more reason to keep on top of your auto loan payments.

While we don't quite have the future promised by The Jetsons (I'm still waiting on my personal jetpack), we do have video phones and increasingly, new cars have vehicle autonomy features. This is more popularly (if less accurately) known as "self-driving," and many auto manufacturers have been investing in this technology, which promises to revolutionize our cities, commutes, and everyday driving activities.

Wait, how could a car repossess itself?

Ford offers its BlueCruise package on four different vehicles. These cars are not capable of driving themselves, but under the right road conditions (such as highway driving), they can help drivers remain centered in a lane and adapt speed to the traffic around them. But as recently reported by NPR, Ford has filed a patent application detailing how an autonomous car could be more easily repossessed by a financial institution if the owner failed to keep up with their payments.

The patent notes that the vehicle's onboard computer could take actions (via the lender) such as reminding the owner that payments are due, disabling functionality of some systems in the vehicle (such as air conditioning or the media player), or even moving the vehicle itself to a repossession agency or the lending institution. A Ford representative interviewed by NPR noted that Ford doesn't have any immediate plans to implement this patent, but it is worth keeping in mind that technology like this could make the consequences of not keeping up with auto loan payments a lot more immediate and annoying. As it is, having your car repossessed isn't something you want to happen.

How does car repossession work?

Your contract with your lender should outline how and when your vehicle can be repossessed, but in general, this becomes a risk when you're behind on your payments. The vehicle may be physically removed from your custody, or a "kill switch" in it may be activated, rendering you unable to start the car. The lender can repossess your car at any time, with no notice, but isn't allowed to "breach the peace" to do so. Breaching the peace could involve taking the car from a closed garage or using force (or even threatening it) to get the car back.

In any case, if your vehicle is repossessed, the lender will either keep it or sell it to recoup its losses, such as at an auction. You can get the car back by paying what you owe on the loan (along with any fees charged for the repossession) or bidding on it if it's put up for sale at auction. Laws vary by state, but ultimately, you do not want to go through a car repossession. It's not a pleasant experience.

Communicate with your lender to avoid repossession

If you're struggling to keep up with your auto loan payments, your first call should be to your lender. It can likely help, perhaps by allowing you to defer payments if you're experiencing a temporary financial setback. You might be able to refinance the loan if your interest rate is making it hard to afford payments. At worst, you might have to get rid of the car, but selling it yourself is far less drama and trauma than having it repossessed.

The future is now, and if the thought of your autonomous car someday driving itself back to the lender's lot has you in a cold sweat, do your best to keep up with your loan payments and reach out to your lender if your finances take a turn for the worse.

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