Ford has cooked up a way to quite literally roast out COVID-19 from cars, developing the Police Interceptor version of an oven’s self-cleaning mode to decontaminate the cabin. The new system cranks up the HVAC to a temperature sufficient to kill off coronavirus, Ford says, with more efficiency – and fewer chemicals – than traditional disinfection processes.
Research into how long the COVID-19 virus lasts on different surfaces has shown it can vary, from hours through to potentially days. That’s particularly problematic when you’re dealing with a shared vehicle, such as the Ford Police Interceptor Utility SUVs that the automaker sells to law enforcement across the country.
The system Ford came up with was a straightforward one. When the SUV is unoccupied, the heating can be pushed up far beyond the usual limits for passenger comfort. In fact, it brings the cabin to over 133 degrees Fahrenheit, which – over 15 minutes – should be sufficient to reduce viral concentration by more than 99-percent, Ford says.
The automaker worked with The Ohio State University to figure out the best combination of temperature and time. Importantly, this doesn’t necessarily require new hardware: in fact, Ford says that the software involved can be retrofitted to all 2013-19 Police Interceptor Utility vehicles in North America and other countries. That software can either be installed by police departments with their own service centers, or via local dealerships.
Older models will need it to be turned on via the SUV’s diagnostics port, whereas 2016 vehicle and newer can actually have the system activated via a sequence of cruise control button-presses. The engine warms up to a certain level, and then the heat and fan settings for the climate control are cranked up to high. A thermometer in the cabin ensures the correct temperature is reached, and then holds it there.
Outside, meanwhile, the hazard lights and taillights are designed to flash in a pre-set pattern, showing the status of the cleaning process. A cool-down phase will help lower the internal temperature back to comfortable levels.
“Our studies with Ford Motor Company indicate that exposing coronaviruses to temperatures of 56 degrees Celsius, or 132.8 degrees Fahrenheit, for 15 minutes reduces the viral concentration by greater than 99 percent on interior surfaces and materials used inside Police Interceptor Utility vehicles,” Jeff Jahnes and Jesse Kwiek, laboratory supervisors at The Ohio State University department of microbiology, said of the system.
As of right now there’s no indication that Ford might release a similar system for its consumer vehicles.