Ford’s baking its police SUVs to fight the coronavirus outbreak.
The manufacturer has developed a software update that turns the car’s heating system all the way up so that any vehicles that are possibly infected with coronavirus are thoroughly disinfected. It’s set to roll out to police departments with select Ford police vehicles on Wednesday,
For the past 40 days Ford engineers worked with Ohio State University to develop a sanitization method that was relatively low-tech after police departments were reaching out about effective cleaning procedures. A climate control engineer suggested looking into heat-based neutralization and the university tested samples to see how much time and heat was needed to properly fight off the virus.
“We want to invent a solution that doesn’t require new hardware,” Bill Gubing, Ford’s director of SUVs and passenger vehicles said in a phone call. The software update works for all Ford Police Interceptor Vehicle SUVs from 2013 through 2019.
This method works through an app, connected computer, or manually on the vehicle’s control board. The Ford police vehicles heat up to 133 degrees Fahrenheit and sit at that temperature for at least 15 minutes. Other cleaning methods, like wiping down frequent touchpoints with wipes or alcohol are still effective, but this is supposed to get to hard-to-clean spots.
When the heating starts, the hazard and taillights flash. When it’s cooled off with some much-needed AC, they flash again. Inside, the dashboard shows the progress, so nobody’s hopping into a piping-hot vehicle.
“It’s complicated enough so that doesn’t happen by mistake,” Gubing assured. “You wouldn’t inadvertently activate it.” To that end, the program requires eight button pushes.
Once it is up and running, the coronavirus-heating levels aren’t as high as the car materials are tested for, so everything will stay intact and there won’t be any melted steering wheels. Ford tested vehicles from the New York City, Los Angeles, Michigan State, Massachusetts, Boardman Township in Ohio police departments, and Florida’s Seminole County Sheriff’s Office.
There’s also an “abort” button to immediately stop heating and start cooling if an emergency comes up and the car needs to be put to use immediately. Otherwise, this is something agencies can add to their cleaning procedures at the garage or police parking lot. For a more dire situation where a police car was transporting someone with COVID-19, an officer could turn on the heat sanitization process immediately after the trip at, say, the hospital parking lot.
For any Ford owners out there, this isn’t available to deep clean your car. So keep the heater off. “The average person won’t have access to the software,” Gubing said. “It’s coded for police vehicles.”
But he did mention if this rollout goes well with police, Ford would consider expanding the heating feature to other fleet vehicles that are out on the frontlines and exposed to the virus. So while there won’t be any heat-cleaned Ubers anytime soon, delivery or other Ford fleets could be in the hot seat next.