Tesla Can Detect Aftermarket Hacks Designed to Defeat EV Performance Paywalls
The battle between automakers and aftermarket tuners is a war that has been waged for quite some time. While some manufacturers have embraced the movement, others are still fighting to protect their vehicles from being altered after they leave the factory, even going as far as encrypting vehicle ECUs to prevent tuners from fiddling with things. Electric vehicles have opened up a new front-manufacturers like Tesla can now create lower- and higher-performance versions of the exact same car using nothing but software.
Predictably, the aftermarket is working to defeat those pesky firewalls on the cheap to unlock a vehicle’s full potential for everyone. Plugging in a dongle sounds simpler than wrenching, at least. But this new realm of modding comes with an equally new risk recently highlighted by a Tesla Model 3 owner on Reddit (as reported by Electrek)-that your connected car knows when you’ve hacked it, and it might be logging that data to use against you in a future warranty claim.
The image you see above is a warning message popped up on the man’s Model 3 infotainment screen after he installed the latest over-the-air OS update from Tesla a couple weeks ago. Prior to the update, he had also added an aftermarket module from an outfit called Ingenext that allows the dual-motor Model 3 to achieve its quickest 0-60 mph time without Tesla’s requisite $2,000 “Acceleration Boost” option. Its presence didn’t trigger a warning prior to the software update, and though the car still drove normally, the owner couldn’t get the display to clear.
Ingenext is a Canadian company focused on activating the latent performance and comfort features baked-in to Tesla vehicles. One particular modification developed by the company is called “Boost 50”, a $1,458 upgrade which claims to shave up to a half-second off the zero-to-60 MPH time when installed in a Model 3 equipped with dual motors but not the performance option.
A savings of $500 isn’t much considering the warranty trouble this could bring, but the tiny module also includes access to some other neat things like Drift Mode (which disables traction control), ambient lighting, rear heated seats, custom battery heating, and the ability to open the driver’s door when the owner approaches the car. And if you’re not looking to spend the full amount for the upgrade, or don’t own a Model 3 with a compatible dual motor configuration, Ingenext offers a cheaper “Bonus Module” that just enables the convenience features.
The plug-and-play module installs in minutes
Regardless, the upgrade is billed as a transparent, undetectable modification that a driver can install in minutes for a fraction of the price (with more features) than Tesla’s official offering. And Tesla does has a history of implementing user-suggested features into its vehicles via OTA updates. Who is to say that Tesla won’t bake these types of changes in later on?
“The Boost 50 module is undetectable remotely.” writes Ingenext on the product page for the Boost 50, “However, when visiting a Service Center or when a technician visits your home, it is recommended that you remove the device beforehand.”
Ingenext always suspected there would be a game of cat-and-mouse afoot regarding its tiny box-o-software. It even published a pages on its website to tell owners if a vehicle software update was safe to upgrade to without detection.
As it turns out, the Reddit user was one of several owners who installed a new OTA update without first referring to the “safe updates” page. Fortunately, the update didn’t disable the modification or force the car into limp mode, but things could have gone worse. What if something had gone wrong with the car while the module was installed and Tesla had a potential avenue to fight a warranty repair? Nobody wants to fight a hypothetical battle against the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act.
Perhaps the most frustrating part of this entire debacle is not knowing exactly what happens when the car detects a modification and shows this warning to the driver. Is it recorded in the vehicle’s history? Is it sent back as an alert to the Tesla Mothership? Nobody except Tesla really knows the answer to …
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