3G Network Shutdowns Will Cause Many Used Cars to Drop Features

Some automakers are providing solutions to the problem, and some aren't.


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To make spectrum space for 5G, wireless providers will end 3G service this year, causing problems for an estimated 3 million used cars, according to Strategy Analytics. Some of these vehicles date back to the 2010 model year and were on the cutting edge of technology when they came out, offering subscription-based features that rely on the third-generation cellular network. This includes remote start, automatic collision notifications, and crash assistance (wherein the vehicle dials for help either automatically or at the press of a button). As service providers shut down 3G—AT&T pulled the plug on February 22, whereas T-Mobile will keep it alive until March 31, and Verizon, until December 31—many of those vehicles won’t be able to support these capabilities anymore.

In early 2020, some automakers began informing owners that this was coming. They are taking different approaches to solutions. Honda advised affected vehicle owners to perform a free over-the-air upgrade to 4G LTE before AT&T’s February cutoff. If they failed to do so by the deadline, certain systems will no longer work in their car. (Acura didn’t offer this option, but rather told customers to contact their dealers about a potential hardware update to keep functions running.)

General Motors didn’t ask owners to do anything; it simply pushed out an over-the-air 4G LTE upgrade to certain 2015-and-newer vehicles. Older models (plus a small number of 2015 cars) will run on 2G networks until the company can provide hardware updates, expected later in the year. GM has some experience in this, as its earliest OnStar-equipped vehicles ran on analog wireless systems, which were phased out in 2008. It upgraded some to digital. Owners of the oldest ones were out of luck.

Some manufacturers offer upgrade options

Subaru, Volvo, Volkswagen, Audi, Ford, and Lincoln resolved to fix the problem with dealer-installed software, hardware, or both. Stellantis (which includes Alfa Romeo, Chrysler, Dodge, Fiat, Jeep, Maserati, and Ram) is offering certain vehicle owners a 4G upgrade, which will keep various features active. Said owners will need to opt for one of two monthly subscription packages: 2 gigabytes of data for $9.99 or unlimited data for $29.99. Both require new hardware that will be shipped directly to and installed by owners.

Eligibility for software upgrades is spotty

Then there are the unlucky ones. Hyundai and Genesis say 22,000 of their cars, some as new as the 2019 model year, will lose connectivity entirely, while an estimated 674,000 of them will get a free software update.

About 1 million 2018-and-older BMW models are affected by the 3G shutdown, as are many Porsches. Both companies will notify owners whether their vehicles are eligible for a free dealer-installed upgrade.

Nissan, Infiniti, Mercedes-Benz, Toyota, and Lexus have chosen not to offer support, meaning their 3G-dependent vehicles (including certain 2011-18 Nissans and Infinitis, 2016-and-older Mercedes models, and select 2010-19 Toyotas and Lexuses) will lose connectivity.

Many owners of vehicles that are left out in the cold are furious. Lawyers are soliciting their business in preparation for individual consumer and class-action lawsuits.

Future proofing your vehicle for evolving technology is unlikely

If you’re shopping for a used car, you should check to see whether the one you’re interested in has received an upgrade (or is still eligible for one). And new-car shoppers who tend to hold on to their vehicles for a long time should keep in mind that something like this could happen again if automakers don’t plan for it. Service providers introduced 4G here in 2010. It’s probably safe for another decade, but eventually, it will go the same way as 3G.

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Mike Hagerty
Sorting through the hundreds of new car, truck and SUV choices on the market to find the right one for your needs gets tougher all the time. I’m here to help. I’ve been writing and talking about new vehicles for 25 years on TV and radio, in print and online. And my passion for cars and driving goes back even farther than that. I love design and performance, but the second-largest purchase most of us will ever make (for some of us, the largest) needs to be based on more than good looks and quick zero-to-60 times.