Tuning Firms Are Being Asked To Hack Cars To Unlock Expensive Features

Technology / 17 Comments

Forget tuning engines. Tune your seats.

As Dr. Ian Malcolm from Jurassic Park would put it, "life, uh, finds a way." A way to hack a BMW's software to restore features that should've been included in a car in the first place. People are doing just that. We've covered BMW's subscription services here on CarBuzz before.

BMW has tried it several times before, and each time we've been clear about how we feel about the in-car subscription issue. Despite that, there are some regions (like Korea) where you must subscribe to something as basic as heated seats in your BMW 3 Series. So, action has been taken.


Wired spoke to Iain Litchfield, owner of Litchfield Motors, a popular tuning shop in the UK. Litchfield says that making non-factory software changes to cars (outside of tuning, of course) has been popular for a while now. For example, someone in your area may be able to add "comfort access" to your BMW, making your windows roll down when you hold the "unlock" button on the keyfob. Similar practices are popular on VW and Audi cars as well.

People who will help you shed the software-as-a-service (SAAS) model do exist. You just have to find them. Litchfield, for example, has. "On our 2014 BMW M4 we hadn't specified the TV option, but we were able to turn this on in the software. You can even set it to turn on the TV with the car in motion, which is illegal. We changed the DAB radio setup, central locking sequence, even the length of time the automatic wipers run for." These people will, of course, help you unlock the heated seats that are already in your car.

However, simply turning to the aftermarket may not be an option for long, as Litchfield points out. "Before [Dieselgate], with a Bosch engine ECU, there were three ways of getting in, so if Bosch changed the passcode on one you still had two others. Since the emissions defeat code which led to Dieselgate was discovered, Bosch has created ECUs that can only be accessed using encrypted keys. The latest BMW M cars are among the first to use these new ECUs."

Wired points out that over-the-air updates could also override any tuning of any kind in the very near future, meaning you'd have to re-tune your car every time the software updated.

As we said, life usually finds a way. We've no doubt someone will find a way around these countermeasures as well. Still, we really wish brands like BMW would just keep SAAS out of cars unless absolutely necessary.

Source Credits: Wired

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