Thursday 13th September 2012


A long-awaited software update aims to stop the On-Board Diagnostics thieves - but at what cost?

The OBD-accessed thievery of BMWs that's been going on this year has been a serious problem for BMW, not just because it's been in the public domain, but also because there's been no solution offered.

It's a tricky one for BMW. On the one hand, nobody at BMW can have wanted the situation to have developed this far, or for so many people to have been robbed of their pride and joy. On the other, BMW couldn't publish details of any quick DIY fix to its cars’ electrical systems, because that would have contravened certain EU laws.

Now there is an official fix. It's already being rolled-out for the X5 and X6: for other models, the re-flash will be available in around eight weeks time. For many people, that’s too long a wait, but that’s what BMW is offering.

Obviously, BMW is highly defensive of its security credentials. Some of that is bluster, because robbers aren't pinching AMGs and Audi RS models in anything like the same numbers. But one aspect of BMW's defence is actually very interesting. Block exemption laws governing the ability of non-OEM service outlets to service all new cars means that it is now possible for J Bloggs Esq to buy diagnostic software which effectively grants access to a car’s starter motor. There's a good chance that this episode will have all car manufacturers beating a path to Brussels to stop this practice.

Another area of interest is car finance. With the majority of new car purchases being on the dreaded 'drip', those few post-Lehman bankers still willing to lend on cars want better tools for recovering defaulted assets. This OBD trick is perfect for them. If it was a condition for the initial loan, its potential removal through legislation (should the manufacturers persuade the Eurocrats to take action) may well persuade more banks to reconsider the car loan business. Of course, many brands underwrite their own finance and simply keep a spare key.

BMW is not actively contacting owners, because it doesn’t see this as a recall situation, so it's up to all of us to spread the word: any BMW built before September 2011 and using the new electronic key system ('06 on) is eligible for the software update.

Author: Chris Harris
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