Recalls That Can Be Fixed Over the Air

One advantage of high-tech cars is that certain issues can be easily resolved with over-the-air recalls. Let’s go over what over-the-air recalls are and what you should know about them before upgrading to a new vehicle.

What Are Vehicle Recalls?

With traditional vehicle recalls, if a manufacturer identifies an issue with the car you drive, they’re legally required to alert you and explain how to get the problem resolved. (Your vehicle’s manufacturer can only inform you of a recall if they have your contact information.) Should the manufacturer discover that the vehicle fails to meet safety standards, a recall on that car is mandatory. If your vehicle is recalled, you’ll need to take it into a dealership for repair. The manufacturer should cover this service.

Shopping for a used car? Ask the seller to show you proof that any previous recalls on the vehicle have been resolved. Used car owners should follow these steps to check if their vehicle is under recall.

You can find a record of all recalls on cars recorded in Canada since 1970 here.

What Are Over-the-Air Recalls?

With today’s technology, automotive manufacturers can resolve various software-related issues over the air. This eliminates the need for drivers to have their vehicles repaired at a garage. Because some drivers may not go to a dealership when a recall is issued, leaving unsafe vehicles on the road, over-the-air recalls guarantee a software problem will be addressed.

Over-the-air recalls allow the feature in question to be remotely removed from the car’s computer system. Sometimes, the faulty software is replaced with an updated version. These updates often occur overnight, while the car is not in use.

Traditional recalls can cost automakers billions of dollars. By comparison, automakers can save large amounts of money by issuing over-the-air recalls.

When Are Over-the-Air Recalls Necessary?

High-tech cars, especially electric vehicles (EVs), rely heavily on extensive technology to run properly. If that technology suddenly fails to perform as it should, it must be removed and potentially replaced with a newer version. Issues with the car’s physical design will still need to be resolved at a dealership, but widespread software problems can be easily fixed with no action by the driver.

Several automakers have issued over-the-air updates, but Tesla has made the most use of them by far. Tesla’s Full Self-Driving (FSD) software had to be recalled in October 2021 because the automatic emergency braking function was unexpectedly activating. The feature was recalled again in February 2022 after reports that it was causing vehicles to roll through stop signs. The latest version of the software, FSD Beta, was released in Canada in November 2022. So far, there have been no recalls.

Other companies increasingly using over-the-air updates include Ford, Mercedes-Benz, and General Motors.

2022 Ford F-150 Lightning
2022 Ford F-150 Lightning

Downsides of Over-the-Air Recalls

Although they’re more convenient for both drivers and automakers, over-the-air recalls can be a cause for concern. Since software can be remotely updated, automakers may be inclined to release features without sufficient testing, knowing they can simply issue an update later on, if needed.

Over-the-air recalls and updates could also encourage automakers to lean into short-term software fixes. We could also not find at time of writing how over-the-air recalls work if aftermarket parts are involved.

Not all that glitters is gold. Although they sound great on the surface, it’s reasonable for drivers to be wary of over-the-air recalls.

For more information and news on high-tech vehicles, check out our blog.