Home » This Is Why BMWs Won’t Do Over-The-Air Software Updates On Steep Hills (As Weird As That Sounds)

This Is Why BMWs Won’t Do Over-The-Air Software Updates On Steep Hills (As Weird As That Sounds)

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A few days ago, on the little-discussed internet-based idle thought broadcasting system run by a reclusive billionaire known as Twitter, there appeared a picture of a BMW i4’s center-stack screen. The screen was filled with text under the heading of REMOTE SOFTWARE UPGRADE, indicating that some sort of over-the-air update was happening, but below the heading and version information was a really peculiar error message, stating that “The road is too steep to start the installation.” What? The steepness of the road is too great to install software? Are there floppy disks that might slide out? Will all those ones and zeroes pool at one end of the car if it’s too tilted? What’s going on here? This is one of those peculiar things where I knew I couldn’t rest until I knew what the hell was behind this, so I reached out to BMW for answers. And now, I can free you from the tyranny of bafflement, too.

First, let’s look at the tweet that started all this:

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So, Clare there owns a BMW i4, and lives in the UK, seemingly on a steep hill. Clare captioned this with “sentences that would make your nan’s head explode,” and I think we can include most rational people who live in our current reality along with Clare’s nan there, because the idea that a computer can’t update its software because it’s on a hill makes no logical sense, at least based on most people’s experiences with computers and hills.

Clearly, there’s something up here, which is why I asked BMW. Happily, they had an answer, from BMW’s product and technology spokesperson:

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Here’s the best we can do to answer your questions regarding the i4:

  • The vehicle needs to be in an active remote software upgrade (RSU) campaign
  • The download needs to be completed (fully automatically via vehicle SIM or via BMW Connected App, also fully automatically when correctly setup (see note below))
  • Sufficient battery charging level
  • Vehicle not parked on an incline
  • Transmission must be in Park
  • Engine must be off

The vehicle has all sorts of sensors (pitch, yaw, lateral and longitudinal acceleration and deceleration, etc.) that allow it to understand its orientation, so it knows when it’s on an incline. It’s likely a catchall, every-worst-case-no-matter-how-unlikely scenario safety precaution to try to prevent any chance of the vehicle moving should the programming be interrupted or go wrong.

Ohhhhhhh, I see. BMW is really just being prudent here, covering their ass, and, you know what? That’s probably a good idea. Software is complex, especially when it comes to what’s running in modern cars, and there are thousands and thousands of lines of code, and a bug anywhere in there could possibly have some very unforeseen consequences, which in an extreme case could potentially include something like, say, releasing the parking brake or disengaging the car from park or some other combination of causes that ends up with a shiny new electric car rolling down a hill and straight into a puppy farm or something.

So, it’s not some strange technical issue, it’s not that the antennae can only receive error-free data from some specific angles, it’s not that there are motion-sensitive hard drive platters, it’s just that BMW is playing it safe and making sure that some future bit of errant code won’t cause too much trouble. A bricked car sucks, of course, but a bricked car rolling down a hill into an intersection would suck so much more.

Eliminating as many variables and points of failure makes sense. Even if it may mean that steep-living people like Clare there have to move their cars somewhere to be updated. Or, maybe jack up the low end? I wonder if that would work?

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Paul Brogger
Paul Brogger
1 year ago

What a marvelous world we live in! I can’t help but fear that with the help of AI it’s about to be made ever more so.

OnboardG1
OnboardG1
1 year ago

I think this shows the difference between the engineering mindset and the rest of humanity. The first thing I thought was “well of course you can’t update your firmware on a hill”. Maybe this is why I’m no fun at parties.

Lokki
Lokki
1 year ago

The integration of circuits in current BMW’s is insane, and it’s been that way for a while now.

? Six? years some guy backing out of a parking space hit the left end of my rear bumper cover, giving me the classic Camry Dent®️. No big deal but since the car was new and his insurance was paying, I had the bumper cover replaced at a good body shop. When I picked up the car and went to drive away, neither the AC nor the audio system worked… wow. Talked to the shop owner and he said, “Guys must have left a connection loose but there’s nobody here to fox it today so take it to BMW – bring me the bill.” I did, and I took him the bill: $1100 to reconnect whatever under the rear bumper cover kept the AC and Audio system from working. Yeah…

JerryLH3
JerryLH3
1 year ago
Reply to  Lokki

Similar thing happened to my wife’s CX-5 after collision repairs, but it took a while for the symptoms to develop. First, her key fob wouldn’t open the car, then the car itself had to have the key right next to the start button. Then one day, it all went haywire. TCS, ABS lights, speedometer doing a dance, complete mayhem. Turns out the collision repair people painted a bracket that had a major ground point and didn’t take enough paint and primer off to establish a good ground. It was $500 to dig in there and get that cleaned up because of all the stuff in the way.

Iwannadrive637
Iwannadrive637
1 year ago

The road is too steep? That’s the same excuse they give for not topping off the blinker fluid.

Mr Sarcastic
Mr Sarcastic
1 year ago

But if i have a BMW and park it on an angle I can still get my masochistic porn right? Preferably in B&W. Buttplugs and whips. Cmon i want COTD.

Martin Ibert
Martin Ibert
1 year ago

What appears to be blatantly obvious (to a German, anyway) is that during the software upgrade, some systems required to hold the car stationary on a steep incline may become temporary unavailable, so the car must be parked on level ground during the upgrade so that even if that happens, the car doesn’t roll away.
Maybe I am just too German to understand why this isn’t obvious to everyone.

Dean Reimer
Dean Reimer
1 year ago
Reply to  Martin Ibert

That is the very first thought that jumped into my head, despite being non-German.

Canopysaurus
Canopysaurus
1 year ago

I know nothing! Nothing!

TerryBowling
TerryBowling
1 year ago

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Deathspeed
Deathspeed
1 year ago

“Or, maybe jack up the low end? I wonder if that would work?” I am inclined to think that would not work, unless maybe you jacked up the wheels instead of the body. If the sensors sense that the body is level but the wheels are at full travel the update process may freak out a bit, and it’s all downhill from there.

Chris Stevenson
Chris Stevenson
1 year ago

I guess it makes sense? You shouldn’t update a game controller while tilting the stick, so it’s kind of the same idea with the sensors.

MP81
MP81
1 year ago

Clearly the OP didn’t subscribe to the feature that allows for OTA updates to be installed on unlevel surfaces.

Mike Harrell
Mike Harrell
1 year ago
Reply to  MP81

You mean the optional up grade upgrade?

Aardvark775
Aardvark775
1 year ago
Reply to  Mike Harrell

COTD

Ben
Ben
1 year ago
Reply to  Aardvark775

Correct!

Ecsta C3PO
Ecsta C3PO
1 year ago
Reply to  Mike Harrell

Thanks for making it difficult to keep a straight face in my video meeting!

Paul B
Paul B
1 year ago

There could be memory leaks on an incline.

NewBalanceExtraWide
NewBalanceExtraWide
1 year ago

Being on Mountains Won’twork

V10omous
V10omous
1 year ago

I’m generally in favor of fewer regulations on cars, but I think it would be a pretty good idea to ban any OTA updates that can affect a parking pawl or parking brake.

TriangleRAD
TriangleRAD
1 year ago
Reply to  V10omous

That’s the thing about complex system programming. You may not intend an update to affect X part of the system, but it can always surprise you.

Mike Harrell
Mike Harrell
1 year ago
Reply to  TriangleRAD

This is why I prefer to rely exclusively on sketchy, failure-prone mechanical systems in my vehicles. At least this way the potentially catastrophic failures aren’t surprising.

Collegiate Autodidact
Collegiate Autodidact
1 year ago
Reply to  Mike Harrell

Yeah, can’t just bodge a repair on modern cars with random zeros and ones laying around like the rock & hose clamps used to repair a certain Yugo:
https://jalopnik.com/i-fixed-my-yugo-with-two-hose-clamps-and-a-rock-1848131984

Thomas Metcalf
Thomas Metcalf
1 year ago
Reply to  Mike Harrell

Yes! With a mechanical system and half a brain (I can’t claim to have much more), mechanical systems can be figured out.

I remember driving my old CJ and when I pushed the clutch in, the revs went nuts, Turns out the throttle cable was stuck and a roadside fix was made. If my throttle by wire Subaru did the same thing, I wouldn’t know what the hell to do.

Beceen
Beceen
1 year ago
Reply to  TriangleRAD

I had a w205 C-class few years ago, and I left it at MB service to get my navigation map updated. After 3 hours of waiting and eating all their snacks in the waiting area I went to investigate, and the tech guy told me there was a slight problem as the navi update somehow interrupted gearbox software and infotainment touchpad got stuck. I got a loaner and had to get my car back the next day. The touchpad was still stuck.

Uncle D
Uncle D
1 year ago
Reply to  Beceen

How do you like the touchpad (when it’s working, of course).

Beceen
Beceen
1 year ago
Reply to  Uncle D

It was awful. Such an attention bitch and imprecise that it drove me nuts. Actually, infotainment controls was the main reason I got rid of the otherwise nice car.

Ben
Ben
1 year ago
Reply to  V10omous

That’s assuming they even still have parking pawls. One of the EV manufacturers dropped them in favor of having only an electric parking brake. I was actually kind of expecting that to be the reason for this, although their vague answer means it might be and they just didn’t give specifics.

Sid Bridge
Sid Bridge
1 year ago

Great. Another slanted article about BMW.

RataTejas
RataTejas
1 year ago
Reply to  Sid Bridge

Or an article about a slanted BMW?

Sid Bridge
Sid Bridge
1 year ago
Reply to  RataTejas

I’m just not inclined top believe they are willing to die on this hill.

10001010
10001010
1 year ago
Reply to  Sid Bridge

I steep what you did there

Ben
Ben
1 year ago
Reply to  Sid Bridge

BMW is not willing to let you die on this hill.

DysLexus
DysLexus
1 year ago
Reply to  Sid Bridge

BMW is always trying to tip the scales

SpyderWeber
SpyderWeber
1 year ago
Reply to  Sid Bridge

Nah, no need to tilt at windmills, this article makes grade imo.

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