Range Rover Recall is Due to a Software Glitch

It's a small recall--just 65,000 vehicles--but it's the thin edge of the entering wedge for cars that think

Photo: Jaguar Land Rover
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Range Rover is recalling 65,000 cars, a number that would normally be too small to merit mention in these days of mega-recalls. But this one has to do with a door that might come unlatched because of buggy software—a complaint that will become more common as software takes over more of the driving experience.

The British-based manufacturer reported the problem to U.S. National Highway Safety Administration (NHTSA) in mid-June, noting that some customers had had a door fly open while the car was in motion. Ranger Rover notified those affected, namely the owners of the Range Rover of the 2013-2016 model years and of the Range Rover Sport of the 2014-2016 model years.

Meanwhile, Subaru today recalled 34,000 Impreza ​cars for reasons that certainly involve electronics and therefore may also involve software. The control unit that is supposed to deploy the front-passenger-seat airbag during a crash may fail to do so because it can’t detect that a person is sitting in that seat. According to NHTSA, the problem can arise when the passenger “operates a device that is plugged into the power outlet, such as a music player or cell phone, or touches a metal part of the vehicle such as the forward/rearward seat adjuster lever.” 

Last year Range Rover had what the company says was an unrelated software vulnerability that allowed hackers to use “black box” tools to steal vehicles equipped with keyless ignition systems. BMW had a similar problem. Both companies have since remedied the problem.

You might think it would be hard to make such a black box, but last year a 14-year-old boy attending a carmaker-sponsored summer camp put one together with spare parts bought overnight for US $15 and used it to hack into a car made by an undisclosed major manufacturer. We here at IEEE Spectrum tried to track down the kid, but the organizers wouldn’t allow it—not even for the purpose of granting him a year’s free subscription to our magazine. Just a year—after all, it isn’t rocket science.

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