I read a lot of automotive user boards; my family is concerned. But seriously, there’s a lot of confusion on the boards and from technicians and shop owners calling into tech support asking why they need to renew their software subscription and what happens if they don’t. Fingers are pointed, words are said, and voices are raised. We need some clarity, so let’s talk.
Even if you choose not to renew your software, your Autel diagnostics tablet will still function properly. Diagnostic and service capabilities are still on your tablet; no software has been removed. All manufacturer-related software updates downloaded on your tablet and VCI are still present. All Android and Autel MaxiSYS firmware are present and functioning as before.
But depending on the make, model, and year of the vehicles you are servicing, you may need an active Autel subscription to get the job done.
OEs Implement Gateways
The simple truth is an increasing number of vehicle manufacturers, including Stellantis (Alfa Romeo, Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep, Maserati, Peugeot, Ram), Hyundai, Kia, Mercedes-Benz, Nissan, and Volvo, require a server connection to perform even the most basic diagnostics, testing, and services on their new vehicles. They cite security and software integrity and control concerns.
Stellantis started implementing the Security Gateway Module (SGM) back in 2017 after a couple of cyber security researchers (hackers with jobs) illustrated how simple it was to take control of their Jeep. First, they took over the vehicle remotely and disabled the transmission and brakes. Then they connected a laptop to the OBDII port and gained access to and control of a bunch of other systems. The SGM prevents unauthorized access and action to vehicle systems and components. Diagnostic software can read codes without authentication, but that’s about it. Some technicians started to use a bypass cable, but that method was not ideal as it often required dismantling the dash to get to the harness and plug in.
AutoAuth and Server Subscriptions
Autel and other aftermarket scanner manufacturers started to use a more graceful remedy to secure systems access, AutoAuth. This verification system allows registered tablets to pass through the SGM and perform diagnostics and services. Technicians can create an AutoAuth account and register any of their Autel tablets (AutoAuth charges $50 a year). The tablets are registered with AutoAuth by tablet serial number and AutoAuth shakes hands with the Autel server to verify the tablet. Motor Age’s Pete Meier’s did a video on the process entitled “Dealing with the Gatekeeper” and it’s well worth a look.
Other vehicle manufacturers have implemented gateway modules and security-enriched telematics systems that work similarly. These vehicles must connect to the Autel servers to gain access to the authentication services and software of the OEs that Autel subscribes to.
Topology & VIN Scan Accuracy is Server Dependent
The popular Topology feature on the MaxisSYS Ultra series tablets also requires an active software subscription to access the server and to pull the OE-subscribed vehicle-specific communication networks and modules information needed to fully populate the vehicle topology displayed on the tablet. The access to this information is why VIN Scans conducted with an active subscription (server access) are often more accurate than ones performed offline. An active subscription on your Ultra, 919 and 909 enables you to use the Remote Expert platform by which you can contract with experienced programmers and diagnosticians with OE subscriptions and OE tools to program modules or provide OE software and data for just released vehicles not yet supported by Autel’s software.
VCI Communication Protocols & Tablet Coverage, Functions and Features
An active Autel subscription enables your tablet and VCI to work more efficiently. Often protocol software is streamlined and optimized to work with the unit’s hardware. If you can’t connect to a vehicle, update the software on your VCI.
On the tablets, it’s not just the late model coverage or the development of service hot key functions; the software updates improve functionality (speed, processes, instructions) and offer new features, like bi-directional controls on the MaxiCheck tablet or report printing and sharing on all tablets.
Every Autel User is a Valued Customer
So, that’s what an Active Autel subscription is and what it isn’t. There’s no bait and switch going on here. If you don’t choose to renew your subscription that is your choice. And we respect it. You are still a valued customer, and the tech support staff will continue to help you when you call, chat or email free of charge. We don’t turn your tablet into—let’s see, what do people write, oh, —an expensive paper weight or a brick, or a kite anchor (does anyone even fly kites anymore?) But with that said, for all the reasons I pointed out above, without an active subscription you are not getting the full return on your tablet investment.
Because what has and what will continue to change is the very foundation of the modern vehicle and modern vehicle repair. Software and vehicle and server communications lie at the center of that change.
I read somewhere (probably on a user board) that today’s vehicles run on 100 million lines of code. That seems like a lot. But if one considers a vehicle today has 80 plus ECUs, multiple communication systems, and devices such as lidar, radar and thermal imaging, that number might very well be accurate. And Autel offers software that can speak to it all.
See you on the boards.