Pay now drive later

Want to start your car? That will be $20 please.

With the popularity of ‘mobility as a service’ and subscription models for motoring, it has become commonplace for car companies to offer a variety of premium features as optional services – for a fee. For example, Tesla’s Full Self Driving package can be purchased upfront, or as a monthly subscription, with regular updates. And you can cancel if you find you’re no longer using it.

It’s a bit like Amazon Prime, where you get a number of ‘benefits’ for a moderate monthly charge. And with more and more vehicle capabilities and comforts baked into the auto hardware and electronically activated and controlled, you can unlock extra features on demand – if you sign up.

But now it’s becoming a bit absurd. BMW caused a stir back in 2022 when they offered heated seats for $18 per month, and a heated steering wheel for $10. And if you wanted to buy them outright, the app said that option was ‘currently unavailable’. Toyota pulled the same stunt with remote starting and parking, where you first had to subscribe to the connected car service. And because these software services are authorized over the air, they can be switched off if your payment doesn’t clear.

If it seems unfair that your standard battery pack has a limited range, which can be dramatically extended at the tap of a button, remember that’s a feature – you only need to pay for the more expensive option when you need it for a long trip! The car companies claim they are actually saving you money. You can risk jailbreaking the car’s operating system, but that will void your warranty, is illegal in terms of your purchase agreement, and could turn your ride into a very expensive brick.

Sure, if you work from home and hardly ever need a car, you can buy a ‘barebones system’ for next to nothing and keep it in the garage for free. But don’t be surprised when you jump in and press the start button and the car says: “That will be $20 please…”

Warning: Hazardous thinking at work

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