Just Another Reason to Buy Used: Phantom Steering

2010 Ford Escape

Imagine taking a leisurely drive in your new car with your sweetie. You’re heading out of the city and toward your favorite local rock-climbing spot. You’re on the freeway, the glistening buildings of the city fading and giving way to the lush green of the great outdoors.

All is going well, the car is purring, the music is pumping, your sweetie is smiling… then…

The car lurches. The steering is out of your control. Turning the wheel only makes things feel more out of control. What’s happening? A malfunction in your new car? Nope… you’re steering has been hacked.

It’s not a likely scenario, but a group of researchers has proven that it is possible to hack into a car’s computer system and remotely take over the steering.

Over the last two decades or so, cars have become increasingly sophisticated and reliant on computers. Like any other piece of hardware that runs on software, they are vulnerable to software hacks. Hacking into a car’s steering was part of a project funded by the United States’ Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.

In this scenario, the hack required a custom-made device to be plugged into the car’s electronic control unit. In most newer cars, that port is located under the dashboard and would be easily visible to the driver. For the test, the researchers hacked into a 2010 Ford Escape and a 2010 Toyota Prius. Considering the hack was sophisticated and would be obvious, the real-world risks of such an attack are nearly zero. It should be noted, however, that researchers used an old Nintendo controller to actually steer the car, so the sophistication level may not be too out of reach.

The test proved that hacking into a car is, at least in theory, possible. Researchers used the test as a way to prove the point that manufacturers should put more resources into security of new cars.

Or, from a buyer’s perspective, the test is a reminder that even new cars aren’t completely secure. Buying used not only saves money, but it could be the best way to prevent a possible software hack and get you safely to your outdoor recreation destination.

Are you even remotely worried about someone hacking into your car and gaining control of it?


Find Used Cars in Your Area at CarGurus

Used Ford Escape
Used Toyota Prius

1 Comment

  1. this is one of those phoney techno issues that only worry noobs and goofballs that don’t understand the technology.
    First of all, very, very few cars have AFS (active front steering) technology, that allows computer control to steer the car fully without driver input, and AFS system can actually take control away from the driver.
    The story concerns EPS systems (electric power steering) where an electric motor provides steering assist, similar to older power steering systems. Most common are column systems, where the motor is located on the steering column, and rack systems, where the motor is on the actual steering rack. These systems can actually steer the car and can be used for auto park systems, but none of them can remove control from the driver. The driver still has direct steering control and can fight the steering input from the motor. Any resistance from the driver will cause the system to fault our and shut down the eps.

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