Over-the-air updates saving drivers trip to dealership

Cars still too reliant on hardware despite software advances

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When it comes to car repairs, few of us have a lot of time to take our vehicles to the mechanic. Now, in what could be an automotive first, Tesla recently fixed a problem in its vehicles in what’s called an over-the-air update, saving drivers time and money.

If you look under the hood of many new cars, it’s clear that current technology is based more on computers than combustion. The majority of car brands now offer some kind of wireless data connection, with many able to send over-the-air, or OTA, updates for things such as adding satellite radio channels or updating navigation maps.

The Tesla cars never had to be taken to the dealership for the braking system update. So could these kinds of changes be the future of car repair?

“While cars are really becoming computers on wheels, there's still a lot of hardware. A lot of things are software controlled and those things can be updates over the air. But when it comes to really hardware stuff — think about it — suspensions, springs, transmissions, a lot of hardware you're still going to have to bring back to the dealer if you need an update,” said Jake Fisher, with Consumer Reports’ auto testing division.

Consumer Reports experts said the prospect of the OTA technology could be great, as being able to receive the update will mean you don't have to take your vehicle to the dealer, saving you time and money.

Several automakers already have the capability to send the OTA updates and more are on the way, but there are risks involved with the technology, Fisher said.

“While they can update your car to make it better, they could also potentially have a mistake. They need to clearly communicate these changes to the drivers, because if something changes in the way you use your car, you need to understand that,” Fisher said.

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