Ross: Why the idea of ‘owning’ your car is a thing of the past

Dec 15, 2021, 7:27 AM | Updated: 12:09 pm
(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

Some Toyota owners are upset that they now have to pay $8 a month to use their key fobs to start their cars remotely. As it turns out, they failed to read the fine print – they were enjoying a free trial period, and the free trial ended. Now they’ll have to get into a cold car.

But they’re upset. They feel if they bought the car, they should own everything it can do.

What they forget is that a car isn’t just a car. A car is a smartphone with wheels. It has smartphone chips in it. What you ought to be worried about is not that your remote start won’t work, but that the auto manufacturer had the power to just turn off that feature when the trial expired. That’s the message here: Once your car has a cell phone chip in it, you no longer have complete control over what it can do.

And you can bet that manufacturers are going to use this power to sell you additional features.

I understand people feel strongly that once you own the car, why should any feature suddenly stop working? But that quaint notion is so last century.

When you buy a smartphone, you own the hardware, but do you own the software? It keeps changing. You could stop the updates, but if you do, your smartphone gets dumber and dumber and things stop working.

This has also happened to every single personal computer I’ve “owned.” I still have two perfectly good machines running Windows XP. They can do anything except log on to secure internet sites, which is pretty much like a car you can’t start.

Back in the 90s, there was a joke circulating: What if cars were built by Microsoft? And there was a list:

  1. You’d have to press the “Start” button to turn the engine off.
  2. The airbag system would ask “Are you sure?” before deploying.
  3. Occasionally, for no reason, your car would lock you out until you simultaneously lifted the door handle, turned the key, and grabbed hold of the radio antenna.

It goes on – and, like I say, it’s just a joke. But number one has already happened, along with part of number two. Give it a few more years and the whole list will no longer be a joke — it’ll be in the owner’s manual. If it’s still even called an owner’s manual.

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Ross: Why the idea of ‘owning’ your car is a thing of the past