Ford Motor Company Mails Software Updates to Vehicle Owners

Ford Motor Company Mails Software Updates to Vehicle Owners
Image: Ford

There used to be a time when a vehicle didn't have any computer software. As time passed, vehicles became more advanced and soon offered basic computer control systems with self-reporting capability. With the advent of OBD, or On Board Diagnostics, computer controls became an integral part of every car. Even though vehicles became more advanced, the vehicles did not necessarily become more reliable and manufacturers were not required to fix software unless forced to do so as part of a recall.

Software updates have been released for every brand of vehicle. In the 1980s and 1990s, the process of a software update to correct a major flaw or a small annoyance issue required the purchase of a replacement computer chip and the subsequent installation of that chip into the appropriate control module. As the 1990s rolled on, manufacturers were able to program a vehicle with an external computer hooked up to a diagnostic port, which allowed more software updates to be performed yet still required a trip to the dealership.

Some vehicles have been seemingly unaffected by software bugs, particularly those that are towards the end of their model life. Others, still, have been plagued by software bugs in their early years. NCCC assisted owners with complaints about Chevrolet Trailblazers in 2002 made by General Motors. The complaints centered around a new model that used more computer integration than before and had software bugs that affected everything from the vehicle stalling, the antilock brake system warning light illuminating, to the driver and passenger outside mirrors randomly moving by themselves.

General Motors released updates, but did not directly notify consumers unless they rolled (or were towed) into a dealership for repairs. Similar complaints in 2003 about the Mini Cooper, manufactured by BMW, also centered around software updates. In a five-month period we assisted a consumer receive software updates from his dealership at no cost to him for several different computer systems in the vehicle. The main operation system for the vehicle had even jumped to revision 39.1 in less than one year of ownership. Again, however, the manufacturer did not notify owners that any software upgrades were available, whether free or at-cost, significant or minor.

Ford, however, seems to be taking the step toward ensuring consumer satisfaction with their vehicles. In March 2012, Ford mailed out more than 300,000 USB flash drives to owners of vehicles equipped with MyFord Touch systems, the aim of which was to address numerous complaints and software bugs. The move signals a change in the way vehicle manufacturers think and respond to consumer complaints. The move appears to be good and solid, especially in the day and age when computer integration is still increasing.

The move was unexpected by NCCC and we applaud the company for taking the initiative to resolve the complaints at no cost to the consumer and no dealership downtime. Ford is now planning to repair and enhance the software of each vehicle over its lifetime, which can only mean that consumers can expect increased reliability. Ford also plans on making smaller upgrades available on its website where consumers anywhere can download it on a USB drive and fix it themselves in minutes.

NCCC hopes to see other vehicle manufacturers making similar moves soon. NCCC has maintained since 2002 that vehicle manufacturers should be more forthcoming with software updates in their vehicles. A bold new step in Ford Motor Company's mind-set regarding long term reliability and addressing consumer complaints seems to be a step in the right direction.