Will more recall repairs be handled remotely in the future?

Software is playing an increasingly large role in the operation of motor vehicles. Many newer cars have built-in technology that helps spot road hazards and notifies the driver of the hazard or even causes the car to take action, such as braking, on its own.

Of course, vehicles that are essentially self-driving are seen as the wave of the future, with Tesla leading the way. Tesla's Autopilot feature, however, isn't a guarantee of safety. Last year a driver was killed after his Telsa Model S's Autopilot system failed to recognize a white truck against a clear sky.

The way that the carmaker resolved the problem could signal a significant change in the way many auto defects are handled in the future. Several months after the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration began its investigation, Tesla released a software update that it said could prevent the shortcoming in the system that led to the fatal crash. This month, the NHTSA closed its investigation and said that it wouldn't recall the vehicles that have the Autopilot system.

So could automakers eventually use "over-the air" updates to vehicles as an alternative to recalling potentially millions of vehicles? An NHTSA spokesperson acknowledged that it's "something we will take a look at in the future." The spokesman noted, however, that even where an over the air update would work, the agency would still issue a recall.

Obviously, many vehicle defects involve equipment and manufacturing issues that can only be repaired by going into the actual vehicle. However, when an issue can be fixed remotely, there are significant advantages to handling it that way.

One of the major problems with recalls is that too many consumers don't hear about them. Even when they do, many never get around to taking their vehicles in for the needed repair. Over the air repairs could significantly improve the rate of recalled cars that get fixed, and the vehicles can be fixed more quickly than traditional recall repairs done at the dealership or repair shop.

As the NHTSA spokesman pointed out, manufacturers still bear responsibility for the defect, no matter how it can be fixed. Therefore, if someone is injured or killed as a result of the defect, the automaker can still be held legally responsible.

Source: Business Insider, "Tesla's Autopilot investigation could change the nature of auto recalls," Danielle Muoio, Jan. 22, 2017

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