Vehicle Software Updates and Why They Are Important

Most people today own a smartphone, a laptop, or both. One of the things that these devices have in common is the need for software updates. These are often used to make a device run faster, handle new processes, or close down vulnerabilities and protect the user.

You might also be aware that today’s vehicles make use of a computer for all sorts of actions. In fact, your modern car now has more lines of code in it than the first space station did. Whether you consider that impressive or not, it goes to show that vehicles have come a long way.

Similar to your laptop, tablet, and smartphone, software updates can be essential to the proper performance of your car. However, you still might wonder exactly what these updates are about, how they get installed on your vehicle, and why any of this should matter to you.

This article will explain what you need to know about car software updates, including why they are essential for you and anyone who spends time in your car. But first, let’s introduce the two significant kinds of upgrades that you may need for your vehicle throughout its lifetime.

Traditional Vehicle Computer Software Updates

The first kind of software update you should be aware of takes place at a location other than your home. Most of the time, when you visit an auto shop or dealership, this is the time to get software updates. However, you may have no idea what an update is even waiting for you if you haven’t headed in for maintenance in a while.

So you head into the shop for a tune-up, an oil change, or brake work, and the technician lets you know that there are some software updates available. The reason they know is that the updates are tied to the vehicle identification number (VIN) on your car.

It’s often complimentary to provide the updates that your vehicle computer needs. All you have to do is sit tight while a technician handles it, in addition to the reason you came in. It’s easy enough, but it has some issues, too. One of which boils down to the fact that you often won’t know about an update for weeks or months after it drops.

This is precisely why a new kind of update has been rolling out to vehicles since the model year 2017. It’s called over-the-air (OTA) updates, and it’s made for modern cars. It also happens to be quick and convenient for you as a vehicle owner.

What to Know About Over-the-Air Updates

When you think about it, modern cars are essentially computers on wheels. They run using a variety of electronic control units that watch out for everything from your navigation system to your engine and more. As technology improves and cars become more intelligent, updates have become increasingly important.

So what is an over-the-air (OTA) update? These are updates that never require you to leave home. For example, an auto manufacturer can send out updates automatically, quickly, and conveniently to all future and current operating systems in vehicles. You can think of this like when your phone updates its operating system through the help of your cellular provider.

Most OTA updates fall under one of two categories. The first is drive control, and the second is infotainment. Drive control updates are those that affect the safety and ability of the car to get down the road. These updates might include changes to powertrain systems, advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS), and chassis systems. These are required and critical to install.

Infotainment updates are a bit different. These updates might create new app versions, add audio upgrades, refresh your map information, or give you new streaming options. Again, these are helpful updates, but they aren’t going to affect your car and how safe it is when you drive down the highway.

The Many Benefits of OTA Updates

OTA updates are an exciting new change that will likely be sticking around. Being aware of the benefits of this kind of technology is essential so you can be realistic about what to expect. All of the following are possible with a car that provides OTA updates:

• Virtual Recalls – It’s becoming more common for recalls to exist related to software issues by the day. Having to head to a dealership to update things can be a severe drag, and OTA updates are the solution. Instead of heading to a dealership to get things taken care of, you can do it at home.

• Savings – OTA updates save time for the vehicle owner since there’s no need to head somewhere else to get an update. However, time isn’t the only savings it will offer. For the people who make automobiles, it could also create cash savings in terms of labor costs. This could lead to less expensive vehicles.

• Features – When OTA updates include feature updates, vehicles can improve even as they become older. This means a car might work longer and experience less depreciation. Depending on what features are added through software, these updates could even increase the value of a vehicle.

• Compliance and Safety – New standards and rules are constantly introduced to ensure our vehicles protect us and those around us. This is especially important in terms of autonomous driving. Updates can quickly handle any issues without a delay that could cause serious problems.

What Software Updates Consist Of

If you spend a little time on automobile websites, you’ll see there are all sorts of bulletins available about computer software updates in cars. That might make you wonder exactly what these updates are designed to do. That’s a great question and one we can quickly answer for you.

Most of the time, software updates are minor and created to address a specific problem that drivers, technicians, or others are experiencing with a particular vehicle of a particular year and style.

For instance, there might be an update that makes your search features on the radio go more smoothly. Another example would be updating the HVAC temperature control module, so it does a better job of monitoring how hot or cold it is. But, again, these are primarily for convenience, so you can enjoy your vehicle a bit more.

However, not all updates are for small features. In some cases, software updates are critical and apply to safety systems or other integral vehicle features. For example, an update might help prevent anti-lock brake failure or stop the car from accelerating in an unintended manner.

Even the technicians who work on vehicles often have no idea what a software update is doing. The manufacturer of the cars often holds back that kind of information. Instead, the tech will get a list of diagnostic codes that hint at what the update is for, or in rare cases, a short description is included.

With most older cars, the person who owns the vehicle will have no idea there is a software update on the horizon unless an official recall is announced. Another reason a notification might be set out is if the manufacturer is aware that not doing so could lead to negative repercussions, such as a lawsuit.

This is one of the reasons that OTA updates are such a significant change for those with newer cars. You don’t have to head to an auto shop to find out if you need an update. Your vehicle simply realizes it and installs it for you. As a result, you always have the latest software and updates, whether they’re minor or significant.

Reasons to Make Car Software Updates a Priority

As cars become more impressive over time and start to incorporate the latest technology, updating vehicle software is more important than ever. When the computer in your car has a hand on everything your vehicle can do – you want to be sure it’s at its best at all times. 

But beyond that, let’s talk about some of the most substantial reasons you should update your car software as often as you can.

Better Performance

When you bought your car, you were probably excited to have tons of power and new technology each time you left your driveway. When it comes to software updates, they ensure your car remains just as robust and helpful to you as the day you bought it. Updates to your vehicle can be installed that create a better driving experience.

For instance, in 2015, Tesla added an update to their vehicle software that allowed it to analyze routes and road conditions while controlling the driver and keeping them from going too fast. In addition, it provided new notifications for the driver if they would be moving far away from the company’s charging stations.

This just goes to show how both design and safety can be increased with a single update from the manufacturer.

Simpler Updates

Many new cars now have connectivity options that make it possible to update software from your home. If nothing else, this gives you live updates for your entertainment and navigation software. Even more, vehicles will likely take advantage of OTA updates for minor and more severe software changes as time passes.

One of the things that made updating software so frustrating in the past was that the updates could only be made if you went into a shop. You’d need to stop in and ask for updates or only think about it when you were there for maintenance or a repair, to begin with. With the ability to update at home, more people are likely to take a second to do it.

Extended Vehicle Life

Almost all vehicles made in the recent past include some sort of software. It’s needed to take care of all the amenities, entertainment, and safety devices in cars, trucks, and SUVs. While many updates are minor and might not have an effect on driving, that isn’t true in every case.

With OTA updates and cars that are increasingly driven through software, new software can even make changes that ensure your vehicle lasts longer. In addition, the limitations of older software can be eliminated through updates and new software that takes into account changes that may not be known when cars roll off the assembly line.

Minimize Security Risks

A problem that is becoming increasingly common now that all vehicles have software is security. Since the software can be tapped into by hackers, it’s possible someone can get into your software and make changes to it. This is something that can be scary and worrying – which is why some people believe that the proliferation of technology in cars is a bad thing.

However, with the ability to update software quickly and easily, this risk is almost eliminated. As soon as something occurs that isn’t expected, the vehicle manufacturer can put out an update that closes any holes and helps you keep your software protected. This will make breaking into software less useful in general and could stop it from becoming more widespread.

Future Possibilities

Take a minute right now to look toward the future. While this is only hypothetical at the moment, updating your vehicle software is helpful if only because there are so many ways it could improve life in the future. With entertainment and social media apps in all sorts of vehicles, there’s no way to know how things will change as the years pass.

Combining these things with tune-ups and performance updates through software updates creates a future that everyone should be able to get excited about. A wide variety of manufacturers are right now working on driverless technology, which means that self-driving options will be much more common in the future to offer better safety than ever. Software updates will be a part of that.

Final Thoughts

Anyone who owns or drives a car should be aware of the importance of software updates. These bits of data can totally change the way you drive, experience entertainment, and keep your family and friends safe on the road. As the world moves toward OTA updates, that process will be more straightforward than ever. That’s something that all of us can celebrate.


Written by Strut Daddy's

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