Edmunds: The pros and cons of software running your car

Jan 24, 2023, 1:13 PM | Updated: Jan 25, 2023, 3:22 am
This photo provided by Edmunds shows the interior of the 2022 Lucid Air, an electric vehicle whose ...

This photo provided by Edmunds shows the interior of the 2022 Lucid Air, an electric vehicle whose software allows it to add features via over-the-air updates. (Rex Tokeshi-Torres/Courtesy of Edmunds via AP)

(Rex Tokeshi-Torres/Courtesy of Edmunds via AP)

Software was a big theme for automakers attending CES 2023 in January. BMW, Stellantis, Volkswagen and a joint venture between Honda and Sony showed off upcoming or concept vehicles that are significantly reliant on computers and code. The takeaway was clear: More and more vehicles will be run top to bottom by software, not hardware. In some cases, the future is already here.

What will it be like for shoppers when vehicles are dominated by bits and bytes instead of gears and gaskets? Edmunds’ experts break down what’s in store.


The phrase “software-defined vehicle” is an industry term used to clarify the difference between a traditional car that is enhanced by technology and one that is run by technology.

While cars of the past 20 years have gained touchscreens and have plenty of engine- and safety-related computing power, those software features are largely stuck in time once the car rolls off the assembly line. The future holds that nearly every vehicle feature will be controlled by software, which offer the potential to improve features over time.

Another key difference is updatability. Consider the smartphone. Their manufacturers seamlessly update their software on a regular basis to fix bugs and breaches and add functionality. Software-defined vehicles work similarly. They have high-speed Wi-Fi and cellular connections that automakers use to send out software updates via the cloud to its vehicles. There’s no need for owners to bring their vehicles to a dealership or service center.


Tesla is a pioneer of adding software-based features to its vehicles. Over the years it has introduced improvements to the touchscreen interfaces and added new features such as video games. It’s even issued updates that enhance vehicle performance. Startup EV brands Lucid and Rivian are following suit by employing over-the-air updates to give their vehicles new features and functions and issue bug fixes.

Software also allows for the introduction of features that wouldn’t have been possible in the past. Genesis, Hyundai’s luxury arm, is using facial recognition and fingerprint scanning with its new all-electric GV60 crossover. The physical key is required to set up both functions, but after that the owner can basically operate the car as easily as a smartphone.

Established companies are jumping in as well. Last summer, Ford used software to enable its BlueCruise hands-free driving system in tens of thousands of F-150s and Mustang Mach-Es. The vehicles had the hardware for the system already installed; the over-the-air update made it complete. It applied to the cars wirelessly, without the need for a dealer visit.

Maintenance is another potential advantage. These highly digital vehicles can monitor preventive and predictive maintenance and even diagnose problems from afar. It takes the guesswork out of what could go wrong and what needs to be adjusted without a visit to a mechanic shop or dealership.


Software allows new features that wouldn’t have been possible in the past. But sometimes these features aren’t so great in practice. Tesla and Rivian, for example, use touchscreen-based controls to direct the flow of the cabin’s air vents. It seems neat in theory but turns out to be a finicky and distracting process in real-world driving. Old-school air vents that you adjust by hand just work better.

Software crashes and glitches are also problematic. Issues that PC users are all too familiar with can crop up in cars. It might be a touchscreen that goes blank and is inoperable while driving, glitchy operation of certain controls, or advanced driver assist features that aren’t as fully vetted as they should be before being added to vehicles.

The risks of software crashes and privacy breaches are real issues. It’s not outside the realm of possibility for someone with malicious intentions to take over the operation of a car and cause damage. Also, some experts are both applauding the technology and advising caution as it relates to personal data privacy: the more data collected from drivers, the more potential for hacking.


Software will continue to evolve to change the vehicle ownership experience. Test-driving different new vehicles offers a sense of how much digital functionality you prefer. You might enjoy the opportunity for a quick fix or update via Wi-Fi. But technology-averse shoppers will likely prefer a vehicle with a more traditional design, which might include buying used.


This story was provided to The Associated Press by the automotive website Edmunds.

Kristin Shaw is a contributor at Edmunds. Follow on Twitter

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, center, is welcomed by U.S. amb...
Associated Press

US urges donors to give far more as Somalia faces famine

MOGADISHU, Somalia (AP) — The first U.S. Cabinet member to visit Somalia since 2015 urged the world’s distracted donors Sunday to give immediate help to a country facing deadly famine, which she calls “the ultimate failure of the international community.” The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, heard perhaps the starkest warning yet […]
1 day ago
Elon Musk departs the Phillip Burton Federal Building and United States Court House in San Francisc...
Associated Press

Elon Musk’s mysterious ways on display in Tesla tweet trial

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Elon Musk’s enigmatic personality and unconventional tactics are emerging as key exhibits in a trial revolving around one of his most polarizing pursuits — tweeting. The trial, centered on a pair of tweets announcing Musk had obtained the money to take Tesla private in 2018, reeled the 51-year-old billionaire into a […]
1 day ago
FILE - House Speaker Kevin McCarthy of Calif., pauses during a break in the taping of an interview ...
Associated Press

Biden, McCarthy to discuss debt limit in talks on Wednesday

WASHINGTON (AP) — House Speaker Kevin McCarthy said Sunday he is looking forward to discussing with President Joe Biden a “reasonable and responsible way that we can lift the debt ceiling ” when the two meet Wednesday for their first sit-down at the White House since McCarthy was elected to the post. McCarthy, R-Calif., said […]
1 day ago
Associated Press

Three kids, one adult killed in Iowa crash that also hurt 9

WELLSBURG, Iowa (AP) — Authorities have identified the three children and one adult who died in a rollover crash in northern Iowa that also injured the nine other passengers Friday morning. The Iowa State Patrol said Marlin Borntreger, 1; Rebecca Borntreger, 2; Emma Borntreger, 4; and Ervin J. Borntreger, 22, all died. None of the […]
1 day ago
Associated Press

Iowa Democrats pick ex-House candidate as new state leader

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — Iowa Democrats chose a failed Congressional candidate to lead their state party as they grapple with a series of election losses and an effort from the national party to take away its first-in-the-nation status in the presidential race. Rita Hart, the former state senator who lost a 2020 U.S. House […]
1 day ago
A resident of Salinas, considered one of the most contaminated towns in Puerto Rico, waits for a me...
Associated Press

Puerto Rico’s southern region fights for cleaner air, water

SALINAS, Puerto Rico (AP) — Shuttered windows are a permanent fixture in Salinas, an industrial town on Puerto Rico’s southeast coast that is considered one of the U.S. territory’s most contaminated regions. For years, toxic ash and noxious chemicals from coal-fired and thermoelectric power plants have enveloped this community, and residents have complained about health […]
1 day ago

Sponsored Articles

safety from crime...

As crime increases, our safety measures must too

It's easy to be accused of fearmongering regarding crime, but Seattle residents might have good reason to be concerned for their safety.
Comcast Ready for Business Fund...
Ilona Lohrey | President and CEO, GSBA

GSBA is closing the disparity gap with Ready for Business Fund

GSBA, Comcast, and other partners are working to address disparities in access to financial resources with the Ready for Business fund.

Medicare open enrollment is here and SHIBA can help!

The SHIBA program – part of the Office of the Insurance Commissioner – is ready to help with your Medicare open enrollment decisions.
Lake Washington Windows...

Choosing Best Windows for Your Home

Lake Washington Windows and Doors is a local window dealer offering the exclusive Leak Armor installation.
Anacortes Christmas Tree...

Come one, come all! Food, Drink, and Coastal Christmas – Anacortes has it all!

Come celebrate Anacortes’ 11th annual Bier on the Pier! Bier on the Pier takes place on October 7th and 8th and features local ciders, food trucks and live music - not to mention the beautiful views of the Guemes Channel and backdrop of downtown Anacortes.
Swedish Cyberknife Treatment...

The revolutionary treatment of Swedish CyberKnife provides better quality of life for majority of patients

There are a wide variety of treatments options available for men with prostate cancer. One of the most technologically advanced treatment options in the Pacific Northwest is Stereotactic Body Radiation Therapy using the CyberKnife platform at Swedish Medical Center.
Edmunds: The pros and cons of software running your car