Range-anxiety is a condition that afflicts electric car owners. The new Tesla Model X and Model S promise to alleviate some of this anxiety as they now come with the long-range 100kWh battery packs.
With a 100kWh battery pack, you can expect to drive for more than 300 miles in the Model S. In the Model X you can drive over 295 miles on one full charge in ideal conditions. However, the battery’s full capacity is only available to the more expensive versions.
The entry-level versions will offer a lower range but you can upgrade at an extra cost. The upgrades are done via over-the-air software updates which unlock the battery’s full energy capacity.
With upgrading costs running into thousands of dollars, it would hardly be a new idea to consider tinkering with the software rather than pay Tesla for an upgrade. Tesla’s car software, after all, has proven itself hackable.
Last year in October, for instance, cybersecurity researchers in Belgium were able to steal a Tesla Model S. They did this by cloning the wireless key fobs . All that it took the researchers were radio and computing equipment worth approximately $600.
Three years ago, researchers in China were also able to take over a Tesla Model S remotely. This allowed them to interfere with the dashboard computer, door locks and brakes. They also accessed other features of the car which are electronically controlled.
Technology hacker Jason Hughes has also managed to gain access to Tesla’s battery management system.
These security breaches have proven that Tesla’s software systems are not immune from attacks, modifications or intrusion.
But what’s possible is not necessarily definitely wise or worth the risk. Tesla obviously knows this and has taken measures to ensure that its pricing mechanism is not abused. For if it allowed every Tom, Dick and Harriett to tinker with its battery range-limiting software what would be the incentive for Tesla owners to upgrade?
On its website , Tesla has made it abundantly clear that unauthorized access to its software will void the warranty:
[This warranty does not cover] Any damage to your vehicle’s hardware or software, or any loss or harm to any personal information/data uploaded to your vehicle resulting from unauthorized access to vehicle data or software from any source, including non-Tesla parts or accessories, 3rd party applications, viruses, bugs, malware, or any other form of interference or cyber attack.
Voiding the warranty should, however, be the least of worries, as Tesla has the ability to monitor all of its cars whenever they are connected to Wi-Fi. Hughes learned this the hard way after revealing privileged Tesla information he had come across after accessing the software system of his Model S.
As he wrote on Tesla Motors Club forum , the electric car maker disabled the over-the-air software updates for his Model S after he had disclosed the information:
Looks like I’ve definitely pissed off someone at Tesla now. They used some method I was unaware of in another process to go in and delete the pending 2.13.77 update from my car. Basically they sent the car some command that told it to restart the updater, then the updater restarted and queried the firmware server, which, to its surprise, no longer had an update for me.
Clearly the risks of trying a ‘free battery upgrade’ far outweigh the benefits. You can thus expect Tesla to continue getting paid to unlock more battery capacity over-the-air. Do not be surprised to find no one bragging how they skimped on paying for an upgrade, however.