3 Things Students Taking Mechanic Training Need to Know About Vehicular Software Updating

Self-driving cars are wonders of modern computing, but even regular cars are relying on computers much more than before. Just like a laptop or a smartphone, car computers are able to download updates to add new features and correct bugs in the existing code.
The idea of cars connecting to the internet is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, there are certainly benefits to these updates. But on the other, new vulnerabilities can be introduced and created. What are these benefits and potential concerns?
Here are three things for students taking mechanic training to consider about the merits of vehicular software updating.

1. Pros With Mechanic Training Know Software Updating Adds Features and Fixes Mistakes

Sometimes, car makers will include the physical requirements for a feature, like cameras and other sensors, but not ship the required software to make those components work right away. A few weeks or months later, an update can be uploaded over a mobile network to the car, which brings those sensors online and enables cool new features to improve the car’s driving experience.
Updates can also be used to correct errors that exist in the car’s code. Security expert Jonathan Olsson states that “there are typically 200 million lines of code in a car, which means it’s unlikely to be bug-proof from day one.” By allowing for wireless updating, a car company can fix a problem with the car’s computer remotely, negating the need for a costly, time-consuming recall.

2. Grads of Mechanics Schools May Know That Software Updating Might Not Be Free

A car might have the physical requirements for a feature, and an update might exist to bring that feature to life, but professionals with mechanic training understand that this doesn’t mean owners will automatically get access to it.

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Customers might need to pay for certain updated features for their cars

Tesla is a great example of this practice in action. Model S and Model X owners who want self-driving capabilities need to pay an additional fee of $4,600-$4,900 CAD for the option, even though the sensors required are already included in the car. In addition, Model S owners who buy a car with a 60kWh battery are given the option of “upgrading” it to 75kWh, increasing the car’s range. The battery doesn’t change—it will have been a 75 kWh battery all along—but the potential was locked out by software.
This practice, or the potential for charging a subscription price for certain features and disabling them when owners don’t pay, are made possible by the always-connected nature of modern cars.

3. Vehicular Software Updating Also Makes Cars More Vulnerable

It’s easier for hackers to gain access to a computer that is connected to the internet, and students in mechanics schools might know the same holds true for cars with software updating features.
Recently, security researchers were able to take advantage of the wireless connection chips of various cars to take control of some vehicles’ lights, wipers, brakes, and steering. This occurred despite security teams at car companies working hard to make sure this kind of thing isn’t possible.
Buggy updates can also mean a fully functioning car might develop new problems after its code is changed. In fact, some Lexus owners experienced this in mid-2016, after an update disabled maps, entertainment, and climate control features.
Though vehicular software updating holds a lot of promise, there are also some potential negatives introduced, such as worrying security concerns. For aspiring auto mechanics, these benefits and drawbacks are important to consider as cars become more connected than ever before.
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