Consumer Reports

Does Your Car Run on 3G? The Network Shutdowns Could Cause You Problems

For millions of cars on the road today, safety technology relies on an aging 3G wireless network

NBC Universal, Inc.

Chances are, you haven’t thought much about older 3G cellular networks because all the talk today is about 5G–the superfast new network for smartphones and other wireless devices. But as Consumer Reports explains, as wireless carriers begin shutting down those old 3G networks, millions of connected cars may lose important safety features.

Consumer Reports has said for years that a car is a computer on wheels, and in many cases, it is also a cellphone. 

“Almost every car these days has an internet connection built-in. And that can be used for safety features, like being able to automatically call for help in a crash or convenience features like being able to start the car remotely or check to see if the doors are locked or unlocked," Consumer Reports Auto Editor Keith Barry explained.

But for millions of cars on the road today, that technology relies on an aging 3G wireless network. By the end of this year, all of the major cellular carriers will permanently shut down their 3G networks. 

“Automakers have known for years that the 3G networks were shutting down, but as recently as 2019 they were putting 3G technology into new vehicles, knowing that as soon as the 3G network shut down that customers would be left in the lurch without access to some of these services," Barry said.

Some vehicles already have 4G capability, so you might only have to perform a software update at home—the same way you would on a phone or laptop—to keep your car’s connected services.

Others will require a hardware upgrade, and for many car owners, that might come at a cost. But knowing what updates your car may need is not so easy.

“When we were reporting this story, we found it really hard to figure out which cars were affected by it. We had to go into the owner's manuals and look at engineering documents to find out," Barry said.

Best advice – ask your dealer if and when the connected services on your car are set to expire.  

You can also check your make and model online on Consumer Reports’ website.

Contact Us