Presumably in an effort to make the 4-Series’ front end styling not the worst part of the car, BMW recently attempted to slowly and quietly roll out subscriptions for use of pre-installed hardware on Korean-market models. Come on, did corporate really think nobody would notice? Look, I’m not entirely against subscription programs for some automotive features. In-car LTE requires a data connection, as do certain advanced driver assist systems like GM’s Super Cruise. However, pre-installed hardware like heated seats and basic features like Apple CarPlay prep really shouldn’t require a data connection.
While it’s definitely possible to pony up a flat fee and have a lifetime heated seat subscription in your Korean-market BMW, the phrase “lifetime heated seat subscription” simply shouldn’t exist. Not only is paying to use an offline feature you already own completely insane, it’s also not the first time BMW has pulled something similar. Here’s what happened the last time BMW tried nickel and diming customers with subscription services.
Let’s flash back to 2018, a year when we could freely blast saliva particles at each other in crowded hole-in-the-wall bars, unaware of any future sickness in store for humanity. Four whole years ago, BMW decided that it could justify making Apple CarPlay available on subscription for $80 per year. I mean come on, really? You can get CarPlay included on a $14,000 Chevrolet Spark, but apparently CarPlay was too posh for a 540i luxury sedan. Sure, a sales guy could push the narrative of updates, but basic infotainment updates were free and CarPlay-specific updates generally happen on the phone side. After all, CarPlay sucks phone batteries dry because it uses an iPhone to power an infotainment UX. Not quite as dramatic as running Doom on a Raspberry Pi, but still.
Of course, the $80 yearly subscription fee was short-lived. A 240-month subscription eventually became available for $300, and BMW eventually dropped extra cost CarPlay charges because of how royally pissed-off everyone was. Look, corporations are in the business of making money, and if gratuitous cyberbullying over shitty practices forces a corporation to do better, then the ends justify the means. However, by the time BMW realized its hubris couldn’t justify extra charges for CarPlay, keen owners who like CarPlay but didn’t want to pay a subscription charge could pay much less than $300 to essentially jailbreak their BMW.
Jailbreak? Like an iPhone? Well, kind of. See, BMW locked certain features by using encrypted codes known as FSC codes. The principle of an FSC code is nothing new, having been around since at least the third-generation CIC iDrive system that first debuted in 2008 on the F01 7-Series executive sedan. It’s a randomly-generated code used to activate certain features like navigation map updates and Apple CarPlay that works in tandem with options coded to a BMW’s vehicle order. However, just because something’s meant to be proprietary doesn’t mean it can’t be cracked. Ask anyone who used Redsn0w and Cydia to jailbreak their iPhone 3G.
Now, an FSC code might not be the only thing needed to add CarPlay to an iDrive 6-equipped BMW. See, BMW was one of the first automakers to launch wireless Apple CarPlay. It wasn’t the most reliable connection in the world, but wireless CarPlay was properly nice when it worked. To support wireless CarPlay, cars with iDrive 6 required an additional Wi-Fi antenna. If an iDrive 6-equipped BMW has option codes 6CP, 6NW, or 6WD, it won’t need the antenna, but if an antenna is necessary to retrofit CarPlay, part number 61119278133 should do the trick. It plugs into the back of an iDrive 6 unit and is a remarkably easy install.
From there, a curious owner could call up a local specialist and have them generate an FSC code, or even have a generated FSC code sent via email. If the plan is to flash the FSC code yourself, you’ll need a Windows laptop, an OBDII to ethernet cable, and possibly a USB drive depending on coding method. Now, I’d highly recommend a remote or in-person coding session, for it shouldn’t take much longer than half an hour once you have a generated FSC code and isn’t particularly expensive. Figure around $100 to $150 for lifetime activation by a professional who won’t brick your modules.
Honestly, why stop at coding in CarPlay while you’re jailbreaking your late-model BMW? There’s a whole wide world of coding options available. Do you want warning chimes from a Rolls-Royce? No legal disclaimers on start-up? A native navigation system with a British accent? Go nuts! Hell, I have a digital speedometer with proper speed correction coded into my 325i because it never gets obscured by the steering wheel no matter how wheel-in-lap my driving position is. Now I know what you’re wondering, “Thomas, will this void my warranty?” The answer is a solid perhaps. Some coding like retrofitting CarPlay shouldn’t affect a powertrain warranty but could affect other warranties. Still, most BMWs eligible for an aftermarket CarPlay retrofit are definitely out of bumper-to-bumper warranty, so this seems like a useful hack.
Will the time-honored routine of tweaking BMW software end with the new iDrive 8 infotainment system? Hopefully not. While I definitely wouldn’t be surprised if iDrive 8 uses more intense encryption than its predecessors, when a will exists, a way can often be found. I can’t wait to see how the aftermarket taps into iDrive 8, even if just to give BMW the finger for putting some features on subscription programs. In the immortal words of Harold Reginald from Spongebob Squarepants, “How many times do we have to teach you this lesson, old man?”
Lead photo credit: BMW