Chances are you haven’t thought much of the old 3G cellular networks because everyone is talking about 5G these days, the new super-fast network for smartphones and other wireless devices. But as Consumer Reports explains, as cellphone carriers begin shutting down those old 3G networks, millions of connected cars could lose important safety features.
Consumer Reports has been saying for years that a car is a computer on wheels, and in many cases it’s also a cell phone.
“Nowadays, almost all cars have an internet connection built in. And that can be used for safety features, like the ability to automatically call for help in the event of an accident, or convenience features like being able to start the car remotely or check if the doors are locked or unlocked,” Keith Barry, editor of Consumer Reports Auto. Explain.
But for millions of cars on the road today, that technology relies on an aging 3G wireless network. By the end of this year, all major mobile operators will permanently shut down their 3G networks.
“Automakers had known for years that 3G networks were shutting down, but as recently as 2019 they were putting 3G technology in new vehicles, knowing that as soon as the 3G network was shut down, customers would be left behind without access to some of these services,” Barry said.
Some vehicles already have 4G capability, so you may just need to perform a software update at home, like you would on a phone or laptop, to keep your car’s connected services.
Others will require a hardware upgrade, and for many car owners that can come at a cost. But knowing what updates your car may need is not so easy.
“When reporting this story, we found it very difficult to determine which cars were affected. We had to consult owner’s manuals and consult engineering documents to find out,” Barry said.
Best Advice: Ask your dealer if and when your car’s connected services are about to expire.
You can also check your make and model online at the Consumer Reports website.