Let’s Learn About Car Software Recalls

We’ve all heard about automotive recalls for faulty mechanical parts. These have been going on for decades. The 1990s saw the introduction of computers to vehicles, and they’ve only become more and more involved in the vehicle’s operation. Today, both the computers and the software are integral parts of modern vehicles. Just like any other part, they can have problems and trigger a recall.

Why Do I Need a Recall?
Think about the operating system on your computer. Even though it’s thoroughly tested and checked, there can still be bugs that require updates. In fact, software updates are common to fix these bugs.

Today’s computer software is more complicated than ever, with cars easily having a hundred million lines of code. Like other software, it can also have bugs. When these bugs cause problems, a recall is issued to fix them.

What Could Go Wrong?
The short answer is that a lot could go wrong. Computers control almost everything in modern cars, which means there’s a possibility for a wide variety of issues caused by bugs. Here’s a few examples of software-related recalls issued in recent years:

2011: Jaguar recalled 11,000 cars because cruise control wouldn’t disengage.
2015: Honda recalled 143,000 Civics and Fits to fix a software glitch controlling the transmission.
2015: Ford recalled 433,000 Focus, C-Max, and Escape vehicles to fix ignition trouble that would stop the car from turning off.
2015: Fiat Chrysler recalled 1.4 million vehicles after an error was found that could be exploited by hackers.
Beyond bugs, some companies have even introduced intentional bits of code that later have to be removed. One of the biggest examples is from 2015. Volkswagen intentionally added coding that allowed their cars to cheat on emissions tests. When found out, they had to correct the coding, which involved a recall of 11 million vehicles.

Are Software Bugs Dangerous?
Yes and no. The issues above may sound serious, but they didn’t lead to any injuries or accidents. Most of the time, carmakers will issue recalls preemptively. Issues are discovered during the course of continued testing, by independent groups, or as a result of repairs done by certified service departments. Once discovered, recalls are issued to fix them before they cause serious problems.

What Do I Do If My Vehicle Is Recalled?
The recall will include instructions, but you’ll usually have to bring the vehicle into the dealership. They’ll update your computer’s software with the latest version to resolve issue. For some vehicles, you may not even have to go into the dealership. Technologically-advanced cars, like Tesla’s electric vehicles, can be updated remotely.

Software updates and recalls are becoming more common, and they may soon become standard. Just as we bring in cars for oil changes, the future may have us bringing in our cars for updates at regular intervals.