GREENSBORO, N.C. — Chances are you haven’t thought much about older 3G cellular networks because all the talk today is about 5G, the super-fast new network for smartphones and other wireless devices. As wireless carriers begin shutting down those old 3G networks, millions of connected cars may lose important safety features.
Consumer Reports has said for years that a car is a computer on wheels, and in many cases, it’s also a cell phone. "Almost every car these days has an internet connection built-in. And that can be used for safety features, like being able to automatically call for help in a crash, or for convenience, like being able to start the car remotely or check to see if the doors are locked or unlocked," said Keith Barry, Consumer Reports Auto Editor.
But for millions of cars on the road today, that technology relies on an aging 3G wireless network. And by the end of this year, all of the major cellular carriers will permanently shut down their 3G networks.
Automakers have known this for years, but as recently as 2019 they were putting 3G technology into new vehicles, knowing that customers would be left in the lurch without access to some of these services.
Some vehicles already have 4G capability, so you may only have to do a software update at home—the same way you would for a phone or laptop—to keep your car’s connected services.
Others will require a hardware upgrade, and for many car owners, that may come at a cost. Knowing what updates your car may need isn’t so easy.
"When CR was reporting this story, it was hard to figure out which cars were affected by it. It had to go to owner’s manuals and look at engineering documents to find out," said Barry.
The best advice is to ask your dealer if and when the connected services on your car are set to expire. You can also check your make and model online.