Consumer Reports: Car repairs without visiting the dealer

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- Consumer Reports made news when it recommended Tesla's new Model 3 only after the automaker fixed a braking problem that Consumer Reports discovered during its rigorous testing.

In what could be an automotive first, Tesla fixed the problem through what's called an over-the-air update. The car never went to a dealership for a fix. Could this be the future of car repairs? Consumer Reports and 7 On Your Side's Michael Finney take a closer look at this emerging technology.

Look under the hood of many new cars, and it's clear that current car technology is based more on computers than combustion.

And add to that, around 70-percent of car brands now offer some kind of wireless data connection, many of them are able to send over-the air (O.T.A.) updates for things like adding satellite radio channels or updating navigation maps.

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But Tesla's recent over-the-air update made an improvement to the car's braking system. Although the way this adjustment was made was unique, many vehicles today need repairs, especially when they are involved in a safety recall.

Every year, automakers and the federal government issue hundreds of recalls. And because one in every four recalled vehicles on the road has not been fixed, there are likely millions of car owners who may not even realize their vehicles need repairs.

So, could over-the-air updates be the future of car repair?

"So, while cars are really becoming computers on wheels, there's still a lot of hardware," said Jake Fisher, Consumer Reports Auto Testing. "A lot of things are software controlled, and those things can be updated over-the-air. But when it comes to really hardware stuff, think about it, suspensions, springs, transmissions, a lot of that hardware, you're still gonna have to bring back to the dealer if you need an update," he said.

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But Consumer Reports says the prospect of this technology could be pretty great. Being able to receive an over-the-air update that would not require you to bring your car into a dealership could save owners time, and automakers money.

So, how far off is this scenario?

"Several automakers already have this capability and more are on their way, but there are risks. Because while they can update your car to make it better, they could also potentially have a mistake. They need to clearly communicate these changes to the drivers, because something changes in the way you use your car, you need to understand that," said Fisher.

You can check to see if your car has had any recalls online by using Consumer Reports' Recall Tracker Tool. Enter your vehicle's year, make and model and you can get a list of recalls, along with information on how to get your car fixed for free.

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