Hackers Already Prepared To Screw Up BMW’s Subscription Heated Seat Model

from the you-no-longer-own-the-things-you-buy dept

Earlier this month BMW took ample heat for its plans to turn heated seats into a costly $18 per month subscription in numerous countries. As we noted at the time, BMW is already including the hardware in new cars and adjusting the sale price accordingly. So it’s effectively charging users a new, recurring fee to enable technology that already exists in the car and consumers already paid for.

The move portends a rather idiotic and expensive future for consumers, and hackers and tinkerers aren’t having it. Grey market hackers have already been fiddling with BMW systems for years, providing users greater control over things they already own. And they’re more than ready to begin meeting customer demand for a way to bypass BMW’s dumb, greedy idea:

“We’re always listening to our customers and finding ways to offer the features they’re looking for. As long as BMW makes it possible to activate heated seats, we can look at offering it. If BMW doesn’t allow it, then the same feature could be added with a hardware retrofit, so in the end the driver is always going to be able to get what they want,” Paul Smith, content marketing specialist at Bimmer Tech, a BMW coding firm, told Motherboard in an email. 

BMW has a history of claiming that any kind of tinkering invalidates a user’s warranty. Since the seat heating tech already exists in the car that users have paid for, claims that enabling it violates warranties could result in BMW running afoul of the FTC’s new crackdown on right to repair violations.

For its part, BMW continues to double down on the delusion that charging people extra (in perpetuity) for something they already own and paid for is somehow a wonderful value equation:

“The ConnectedDrive Store in the UK offers customers the opportunity to add selected features which they did not order when the vehicle was built … This functionality is particularly useful for secondary owners, as they now have the opportunity to add features which the original owner did not choose … Drivers can also experiment with a feature by activating a short-term trial before committing to a full purchase.”

The heated seat subscription option is part of the company’s “Connected Drive” program, and is already reality in Korea, the UK, New Zealand, Germany, and South Africa. It hasn’t come to the U.S. yet, and the recent backlash likely has the company rethinking that expansion.

Filed Under: , , , , ,
Companies: bmw

Rate this comment as insightful
Rate this comment as funny
You have rated this comment as insightful
You have rated this comment as funny
Flag this comment as abusive/trolling/spam
You have flagged this comment
The first word has already been claimed
The last word has already been claimed
Insightful Lightbulb icon Funny Laughing icon Abusive/trolling/spam Flag icon Insightful badge Lightbulb icon Funny badge Laughing icon Comments icon

Comments on “Hackers Already Prepared To Screw Up BMW’s Subscription Heated Seat Model”

Subscribe: RSS Leave a comment
That One Guy (profile) says:

Pay X to have feature, pay more to use it

“The ConnectedDrive Store in the UK offers customers the opportunity to add selected features which they did not order when the vehicle was built …

Left unsaid of course is that whether the buyer ordered the feature they have in fact already paid for it since it’s tied to hardware that’s built into the vehicle from the outset, the ability to use it is just being kept from them until they pay more for it.

There’s a big difference between paying for something you don’t already have that needs to be provided to you and paying for something you do have but that’s been deliberately crippled such that it’s useless until it’s been ‘unlocked’. One of those is providing a service that can be worth the money, the other’s just a scam where the seller offers a broken product and charges you extra to ‘fix’ it.

Anonymous Coward says:


This is completely Tesla’s fault. They started this trend by deactivating features on second-hand cars.

Is it any wonder other companies didn’t notice?

I am with Ben; I do not want to deal with companies that play these sorts of games. To date that is Tesla, Ford, Toyota, and BMW.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2

TBH, car manufacturers are only following the example set by satellite and cable companies in showing adverts on channels paid for with fees.

What cable company does that? To my knowledge, they generally just pass on whatever signal they’ve received, with whatever ads it contained.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:4

That seems like some channels and one or more cable companies with common ownership. I’m sure we could also find cable companies inserting ads into their TV guide and community access channels too. But I’m not sure things like these are what was meant. AFAIK, most of the popular channels are over-the-air networks and cable operators do not insert ads into them. While, now, there’s sometimes common ownership, that wasn’t the case decades ago when people started complaining about “I’m paying but there are ads.” Newspapers and magazines would be a better example.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Naughty Autie says:

As I pointed out in the comments section under the previous article about this, BMW’s actions are equivalent to a landlord charging extra on top of your rent and gas bill just to turn on your boiler in cold weather. Is it any wonder that grey hat hackers are willing to help for far less than BMW would charge? In this scenario, in fact, I would even elevate them to the level of white hat hackers.

James Burkhardt (profile) says:

Accounting RE: Price

Under GAAP, BMW has accounted for the cost of the hardware in the car as they would any feature, and they have priced the car accordingly, as their profit is impacted by the cost of this hardware the same as if the feature was simply always on.

The price is the same as (if they were a standard feature) or more than it would have been before the change to a subscription feature.

Anonymous Coward says:

And here comes the Magnuson-Moss act to the rescue! Not to thwart the subscription model, but to derail any warranty-is-void issues. And that’s the real issue, whereby BMW is banking on users won’t lawyer up for fear of their warranties going south, by way of (sales) contractual obligations. Those (few) of us in the know, know that the above cited act prevents any such shenanigans.

BTW, speaking of no one in particular…. how in Hell did Tesla ever get away with remotely controlling a car they sold, not rented, to a customer? That should be investigated to the maximum. If legit companies like Bimmer (quoted in TFS) can help consumers bypass and forestall remote control for a BMW, then I should think that either they, or someone else of like bent, will be along shortly to pry Elon’s warped little greedy fingers off of their privately owned vehicles. The question is, why hasn’t that happened already???

Rico R. (profile) says:

Since the seat heating tech already exists in the car that users have paid for, claims that enabling it violates warranties could result in BMW running afoul of the FTC’s new crackdown on right to repair violations.

Nah, they’ll just lobby the FTC to change the rules so that people can’t use the “right to repair” to circumvent something you normally have to pay for. The only thing that would make this idea even more idiotic is if they took a page out of the MPA’s playbook: “You wouldn’t steal a car…….’s heated seats!”

Anonymous Coward says:

Wrong on So Many Levels

Imagine a future where car manufacturers automatically make cars with ALL TEH FEATURES. And then you pay a subscription to enable seat warmers, air conditioning, that infotainment system, cupholders … All that is terrible in and of itself.

What I’m getting at here is that all of those extras add weight to the car. And if I opt not to subscribe to any of it, I still have to drag that weight around. Do I get to charge the manufacturer a monthly fee for all the extra gas I’m burning?

And another thing, what if something you’re not using fails spectacularly in such a way it damages the car. Imagine how pissed off you’ll be when you have to pay thousands of dollars to repair an A/C system you’ve never used.

Anonymous Coward says:

See also: Tesla

Today there’s a Twitter thread about Tesla “fixing a configuration mistake” in someone’s car. By sending an over-the-air update, without permission, to limit the battery capacity:

I have a customer who’s the ~3rd owner of a 2013 Model S 60. At some point years ago the battery pack was swapped under warranty with a 90 pack. It wasn’t software limited. It was effectively made into a 90 by Tesla. […]
Car is sold twice since, and now has a new owner (my customer). It says 90, badged 90, has 90-type range.
Later on, while the car is parked in his driveway, Tesla calls him to tell him that they found and fixed a configuration mistake with his car.
They remotely software locked the car to be a 60 again, despite having been a 90 for years.
He now has ~80 miles [33%] less range.
Furious, he demands they restore it back to the way it was, and they refuse. “We can unlock it for $4,500.”

It’s known that Tesla have been software-limiting their batteries for years—whenever there’s a hurricane on the way, they’ll use a software update to increase the range of existing cars in that area. But that means people are lugging around unusable battery mass the rest of the time.

Klaus Hergesheimer (profile) says:


We still live in a democracy…for now.

If you’re an American I’d question that. Seems more like an oligarchy to me, specifically a corporate captured one.

Just watching the BBC series Big Oil-v-The World: link

It points the finger right where it needs to be, Fourth Circle of Hell awaits those evildoers…

Klaus Hergesheimer (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

The terms “democracy” and “oligarchy” aren’t mutually exclusive, you know.

Sure, of course. Logic abides.

But I maintain the USA is not currently existing under a functioning democracy in any sense of the word.

My link to the BBC series was to highlight just how far corporations in the USA [and globally] had invested themselves into perverting the data and corresponding messaging concerning climate change. Seemed relevant to the OP posting about corporate capture concerning tech we as consumers had purchased.

Add Your Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Comment Options:

Make this the or (get credits or sign in to see balance) what's this?

What's this?

Techdirt community members with Techdirt Credits can spotlight a comment as either the "First Word" or "Last Word" on a particular comment thread. Credits can be purchased at the Techdirt Insider Shop »

Follow Techdirt

Techdirt Daily Newsletter

Techdirt Deals
Techdirt Insider Discord
The latest chatter on the Techdirt Insider Discord channel...