How Do I Know If My Car Needs A Software Update?

How Do I Know If My Car Needs A Software Update?

Last Updated on March 3, 2024

Key Takeaways

  • Why Updates Matter: Software updates fix bugs, improve car performance, and boost security against hacking.
  • How to Check: Look for updates in your car’s system, call your dealership, or use online tools.
  • Updates Are Free: Most updates don’t cost you, especially if they fix bugs or are for recalls.

Vehicle owners are often not aware a software update is needed unless its in the form of a recall. Traditionally, software updates were performed in person at service centers. Many times, vehicle owners were seemingly unaware an update was even available.

But with today’s modern connected vehicles, over the air (OTA) updates enable manufacturers to push updates to your vehicle while you sleep. 

In fact, new cars have more technology than ever before, with computers controlling virtually every aspect of their operation.

And just like your laptop or your smartphone, sometimes your vehicles software needs updating too.

But how do I know if my car needs a software update? Let’s dive into the details.

What Does A Software Update Do On A Car?

Vehicle manufacturers for a variety of reasons release software updates to correct bugs, improve vehicle performance, and even add new features. Perhaps the most important of all these updates–critical software patches to protect against vulnerabilities. Vulnerabilities may allow hackers to gain access to vehicle software and control vehicle systems.

How To Find Out If Your Vehicle Has The Latest Software?

You can often check for software updates through your car’s infotainment system. Look for a software update or system information section.

Alternatively, give your local car dealership a call and have them check your VIN number. They will be able to tell you if your vehicle is up to date with latest software. You can even quickly check to see if your vehicle has a software recall by using our car recall look-up tool.

Also, performing a problem trends search will help you determine whether other car owners are encountering the same issues as you are.

Additionally, the newest tech from automakers such as GM, Ford, Tesla, and others provide in-vehicle alerts regarding available updates.

Vehicle owners can even select a preferred time for these updates to take effect–such as the middle of the night while their vehicle is parked.

Do You Need Software Updates On Your Car?

Yes, vehicles rely on complex software to maintain and perform critical functions of an automobile. Software is responsible for monitoring everything from the heated seats to blind spot warning monitors.

If you own an electric car, software updates are critical to the performance and health of the EV battery.

If you drive a gas or hybrid car and you have a check engine light illuminated, you might need an software update.

To find out if there is a software update for your car, simply check with your car’s manufacturer or by using our car recall look-up tool.

Vehicle reliability research tool.

Are Vehicle Software Updates Free?

Yes, software updates for your car are typically free. This applies if they correct an issue covered by warranty, fix problems with emissions systems or safety recalls.

If your vehicle lacks OTA update capabilities, you will need to take it to your local dealership. The process of installing software updates on your car is simple and straightforward. It’s included in the warranty, so you shouldn’t have to pay anything extra for it.

But don’t wait until you’ve reached the end of manufacturer’s vehicle coverage to have these updates applied to your vehicle. You might find yourself on the hook for some of these software updates.

How Long Does it Take to Update System Software?

Updating your cars software may take anywhere from 5 minutes to 45 minutes to complete. However, cars that rely heavily on software, such as a Tesla Model 3, may require up to 3 hours to update.

In fact, electric cars depend on advanced computers and software to ensure everything is running smoothly.

Do All Vehicles Rely on Software?

Modern cars contain a significant amount of software, and rely heavily to control various aspects of the vehicle’s functionality.

While the amount of software in a modern car can vary depending on the make and model, it’s safe to say that most cars today have thousands of lines of code controlling various functions.

In fact, even if a car does not have features like infotainment systems or driver assistance technologies, it still has software that controls essential functions. Functions such as, the engine management system and the transmission.

Electric cars typically have even more software than traditional gasoline-powered cars due to the complexity of managing the battery, electric motor, and charging systems.

Truth is, electric cars require software to manage battery charging and discharging, regenerative braking, and energy usage optimization.

And electric cars often have more advanced driver assistance and autonomous driving features, such as self-parking, autopilot, and advanced collision avoidance systems.

These features all require a significant amount of software to operate safely and effectively. And as newer car models continue to incorporate over-the-air (OTA) update capabilities, the likelihood of software updates being delivered in this way will increase in the future.

In the very near future, you won’t need to ask “how do I know if my car needs a software update” as updates will be automatically installed while the vehicle is parked.

What Was the First Car to Receive Over-The-Air Software Update?

The first car to ever offer over-the-air software updates was the Tesla Model S in 2012.

Since then, other automakers have started to offer OTA updates as well. For example, BMW started offering OTA updates in 2018, and Ford in 2020.

Truth is, OTA updates are still relatively new in the automotive industry. Because not all cars on the market today have this capability.

Will Over-the-Air Updates Change the Future of Car Software Updates?

Yes, over-the-air (OTA) updates are likely to change the future of car software updates in a significant way.

For example, numerous new cars are equipped with over-the-air update functionality. However, several auto manufacturers still do not possess the necessary in-vehicle architecture to update software in all domains.

The ability to conduct OTA updates will enable OEMs to preemptively address potential issues by pushing updates before a recall is required – without requiring any action from the driver.

In fact, Tesla has taken the lead in this area. The EV manufacturer sends out OTA updates roughly once every four weeks.

Other automobile manufacturers are likely to follow suit in adopting OTA updates to save customers the trouble of visiting dealerships for fixes, while also reducing costs for the manufacturers.

For car owners, this means recall fixes may be fixed while you sleep.

How Do I Know If My Car Needs A Software Update FAQs

What Are Car Software Updates?

Car software updates are updates to the vehicle’s operating system, designed to improve performance, add new features, and address any software-related issues.

How Often Should I Expect Software Updates For my Car?

The frequency of software updates can vary depending on the manufacturer and the specific vehicle model.

Can I Install Car Software Updates Myself?

No, most car software updates need to be performed by authorized dealerships or service centers. It’s important to follow the manufacturer’s instructions and have a professional handle the update to ensure it is done correctly.

Are Car Software Updates Free?

It depends on the manufacturer and the specific circumstances. Some software updates may be covered under warranty or provided free of charge, while others may require a fee. Check with your manufacturer or dealership for more details.

What Happens if I Don’t Install a Software Update For my Car?

If you choose not to install a software update, you may miss out on performance improvements, bug fixes, and new features. It’s generally recommended to keep your vehicle’s software up to date for optimal functionality.

Will a Software Update Affect my Car’s Settings or Personal Preferences?

Software updates can sometimes reset certain settings or preferences to default values. However, modern updates are designed to preserve as many user preferences as possible. It’s a good idea to note your settings before an update, just in case.

Can a Software Update Fix Issues With my Car’s Infotainment System?

Yes, software updates often include fixes for known issues with infotainment systems. If you’re experiencing specific problems, it’s worth checking if an update is available to address those issues.

Do Car Software Updates Improve Fuel Efficiency?

While software updates can improve overall vehicle performance, including engine management systems, the impact on fuel efficiency may vary.

Can I Use my Car While a Software Update is in Progress?

No, as it is not recommended to use the car while a software update is being installed.

Will a Car Software Update Add New Features to my Car?

Yes, software updates may introduce new features and functionalities to the vehicle. These can include enhancements to the infotainment system, connectivity options, safety features, and more.

Can I Revert to The Previous Software Version if I Don’t Like The Update?

Typically it’s not possible to revert to a previous software version once the update has been installed. Before proceeding with an update, be sure to check the details of the update and what’s included.

Consult with your dealership if you have any concerns before making an update.

Are Car Software Updates Available For Older Models?

Software updates may be available for older car models, but the availability and extent of updates can vary. It’s best to contact your manufacturer or dealership to inquire about software updates for your specific vehicle.

Can I Download Car Software Updates From The Internet?

Yes, in some cases, car manufacturers may provide the option to download software updates from their official websites. However, it’s still recommended to have the update installed by a professional at an authorized dealership or service center.

Can a Software Update Fix Problems With The Car’s Engine?

Yes, it’s possible a software update can address certain issues related to the engine’s performance, emissions, and other systems controlled by software.

Are There Any Risks Associated With Car Software Updates?

Generally, car software updates are safe, but there is always a slight risk of software glitches or compatibility issues.

Can a Software Update be Done Remotely?

Yes, some car manufacturers such Tesla, GM, Ford, and others offer over-the-air (OTA) updates, which allow software updates to be installed remotely. This eliminates the need to visit a dealership in person.

Check with your manufacturer or dealership to see if OTA updates are available for your vehicle.

Will a Software Update Improve my Car’s Security?

Yes, software updates can include security patches to protect against potential vulnerabilities.

What Should I do if I Encounter Problems After a Software Update?

While rare, if you do experience issues after a software update, contact your dealership or the manufacturer’s customer support for assistance. They can help diagnose and resolve any problems related to the recent update.

Final Thoughts: How Do I Know If My Car Needs A Software Update

Remember, software updates are important not just for your car’s entertainment and navigation system but also for the engine, brakes, and other critical systems.

Make sure you always have the latest update installed to avoid potential problems down the road. Its a good idea to add it to the your maintenance check list.

Have you ever had a problem with your car that could have been fixed with a software update? Let us know in the comments below.

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17 thoughts on “How Do I Know If My Car Needs A Software Update?

  1. Avatar
    January 29, 2024 at 11:07 am

    I have a 2003 Honda CR-V continually pulling the code P-0661 indicating the intake manifold tuning valve sensor. I have had a mechanic look at it and state nothing was wrong that they could find, yet the CEL keeps illuminating for a day or two, then going off again for about a week, then returning. I have had three different mechanics read the same code, P-0661. One did tell me about PCM updates and that there could be one for my vehicle, and to try that first. I can’t find any information about it. Can anyone tell me what to do next?

    1. Christopher Rossen
      Christopher Rossen
      January 29, 2024 at 1:53 pm

      Kelley, I suspect it may be an issue with the PCM. This assumes the Idle Air Control Valve is working properly. Get the vehicle to a Honda dealership, as they will have the means to run a proper scan on the vehicle.

      1. Avatar
        February 2, 2024 at 2:43 pm

        It turns out there is no PCM update and appears not to be a PCM issue. The CEL has come on about every 4-5 days and is on now, yet by tomorrow or even sooner it will probably go out again so it’s hard to get it to the dealership and scanned again and again. Regardless, I do have some occasional difficult starts and have had for a while a noticeable drop in mileage and power. Any further advice?

  2. Avatar
    Alexander McCallum
    May 17, 2023 at 10:54 am

    I have an mg gs 2017 with a parasitic drain could an software update fix this?

    1. Christopher Rossen
      Christopher Rossen
      May 18, 2023 at 2:23 pm

      It’s possible, as the Subaru has been affected with a similar problem. See this settlement details here.

  3. Avatar
    Jennifer Stanley
    April 30, 2023 at 10:17 am

    My screen is going in and out and the CarPlay won’t work or the usb in the console . It’s a 2014 jeep Cherokee so would an update fix these issues?

    1. Christopher Rossen
      Christopher Rossen
      April 30, 2023 at 10:21 am

      Hi Jennifer. Most likely, yes you are in need of a software update.

  4. Avatar
    Scott Cheetham
    March 28, 2023 at 8:24 pm

    I bought a 2017 308 I drove it approximately 4000 miles an the engine management light came on with the diagnostic was cam shaft senors changed them and again after 4000 miles the same happened now I have just found out the car is on a recall for software update would this possibley solve the problems iv been having

  5. Avatar
    KG Lombardi
    February 28, 2023 at 2:59 pm

    Can I refuse a software upgrade? My 2017 Hyundai Sonata is included in a service campaign to update anti-theft software. It sounds like, after the update, I will be required to use my key fob to first unlock the door, then again to disarm the system before I can start the engine. I do not want to do this every time I start the car, so I wonder if I can refuse the “upgrade.” Thanks.

    1. Christopher
      February 28, 2023 at 4:32 pm

      Yes, you can refuse a software update. However, some updates may be necessary to maintain warranty coverage.

  6. Avatar
    Richard Kruger
    February 21, 2023 at 1:04 am

    I purchased a 2014 Stingray august 2022, I found out that the 2g system was never upgraded. What can I do to have my car updated to communicate for software upgrades? My Bluetooth functions but I don’t know if I can access the updates on my cell and download the software updates? Can you guide me?

    1. Christopher
      February 21, 2023 at 3:06 pm

      Richard, my understanding is Onstar is the only thing that will stop working as 2g/3g is being phased out. There is currently a petition for this very problem here. I recommend you sign it. I suspect GM will eventually have a solution to this issue.

  7. Avatar
    John Fay
    February 4, 2023 at 11:13 am

    If the electricic has gone on my Skoda Octavia does that mean I need a software update. I have an appointment with the car dealerships next week??

    1. Christopher
      February 8, 2023 at 8:19 am

      I don’t believe that would cause that problem, no.

  8. Avatar
    Kristie A Watt
    December 19, 2022 at 9:32 pm

    My 2018 mitsubishi wouldnt start. And i had it towed to a dealer. Only to find out it needed a software update. After spending money on another vehicle to use and to get it towed. Then to find out my battery needs replaced because it was drained because it needed an update i was not aware of. So in the end it cost me towing, rental and battery fees.

  9. Avatar
    Kevin Lum
    November 21, 2022 at 1:14 pm

    If a car is older, outside any warranty and without OTA, is the cost of a determined software update the responsibility of the car owner? Why would’t the car manufacturer cover the cost?

    1. Avatar
      February 21, 2023 at 12:24 am

      How much does this cost?

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