• Apr 12, 2014
There are interesting subsets within the group of people that composes Tesla Model S owners. They include celebrities, Drudge Report-reading conservatives, and, more relevant to this post, tech-savvy geeks. Now, give that last bunch an electric car with an easily-exposed Ethernet connecter and they will try to plug into it and snoop around. Don't believe us? Well, several have already admitted to giving it a try on this thread over at the Tesla Motors Club forum.

After wiring into the car's communications system, forum user "nlc" was able to find a number of ports and tap into the data flowing to the center console and navigation screens. Others soon joined in the fun and amongst the slightly esoteric bits of information the "hackers" eventually discovered was that the sub-system runs on a version of Ubuntu operating system, which is a Linux variant.

While one person did manage to use the discoveries to get Firefox to display on the center console touchscreen (sideways), it doesn't seem likely anyone will be able to do more invasive things with the Ethernet entry point like, for example, transform an early 40-kWh Model S into a 60-kWh version (you can't hack extra batteries). For those who want to customize the big 17-inch display, or at least get it to play video, it seems they'll be better off waiting until Tesla is ready to release the software development kit (SDK) it has promised for third-party app builders.

For its part, the California automaker isn't particularly thrilled to have its customers digging beneath the dash. Through its service center, it has already contacted the original Ethernet exploiter to let him know they were aware of his actions and that such activity could lead to a voiding of the warranty. Indeed, the Motor Vehicle Purchase Agreement (MVPA) which buyers sign does contain a clause which reads, in part,

You may not, or may not attempt to, reverse engineer, disassemble, decompile, tamper with or engage in any similar activity in respect of a Tesla Vehicle, nor may you permit any third party to do so, save only to the extent permitted by applicable law.

It could be argued that this light-handed geekery doesn't quite measure up to the legal extent permitted, but we know if we owned a car that costs as much as $100,000, we wouldn't be risking it. Not when there are salvage-titled cars out there on which to practice the black arts. (MWAHAHAHA!)

If you've got hacks – or third party apps, for that matter – you'd like to see performed or integrated into an electric vehicle, let us know in the Comments.


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  • 51 Comments
      raktmn
      • 8 Months Ago
      As long as the owners don't sell the information they find, or build a product that they sell based upon information they find, then they are protected under the "tie-in sales" provisions under the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act from having Tesla arbitrarily void their warranty simply for working on their own car. Of course Tesla would not have to warranty any actual damage that a customer caused to their own car, just like taking a sledge hammer to your engine isn't covered under warranty on a gas car. But Tesla cannot say that only Tesla can work on your Tesla vehicle, or they will void your warranty. That is the exact kind of warranty conditions the "tie-in sales" provisions in Magnuson-Moss was written to ban. Even if Tesla's contract contains clauses that could be read to imply such a restriction, that clause would be null and void under Magnuson-Moss. But even Tesla's lawyers understand this, which is why Tesla put in the clause at the end that says "save only to the extent permitted by applicable law." I'll end the way I started. As long as owners (or anyone they choose to hire) are doing work on their own cars as allowed under Magnuson-Moss, and are not selling Tesla intellectual property, or products built on that IP, Tesla cannot void their entire warranty just for working on their own cars. Tesla seems to be aware of this too, since nothing they have said seems to contradict this.
        Joeviocoe
        • 8 Months Ago
        @raktmn
        Tesla, like most IT companies, will void specific claims on a warranty since warranty denial must include specific reasons. I know of NO company that denies every warranty based on specific tampering. Which is why a person can void a warranty by reflashing a car's ECU, adding horsepower... but if the rear window motor starts to make a whining sound, that can still be covered. In this case, any future problems related to the infotainment system, may be denied warranty coverage.
        Steven Manson
        • 8 Months Ago
        @raktmn
        Disassemble, Reverse Engineer, and Decompile is lights years from a freakin repair.
      Keef Wivaneff
      • 8 Months Ago
      Hack the display screen to play video while driving. Not dangerous because I'm a much better driver than most. I can use my hand-held phone as well because I'm a much better driver than most. Driving after a few beers is no problem for me, I'm a much better....... I can operate all the controls on the touch screen, check on my battery condition, read the stock exchange ticker to check on my Tesla shares, check the Drudge report, watch filthy movies, it's not dangerous because I'm a much be...........SMASH....SPLATTER............. .....
        Grendal
        • 8 Months Ago
        @Keef Wivaneff
        We agree on this one Keef. Leave the programming alone. People will often do things thinking that nothing will go wrong for them. Drinking, texting, checking e-mails, making a phone call, and watching video are all distractions from what you should be doing, which is driving a car. There is almost nothing else you will do in your life that is more dangerous and can cause your death on a daily basis than driving a car. We all take it very casually since the sensation is not the actual danger that you are facing.
      Jesse Gurr
      • 8 Months Ago
      "...transform an early 40-kWh Model S into a 60-kWh version (you can't hack extra batteries)." That makes it sound like a 40kWh Model S has a 40kWh battery when in fact, it does not. It has a 60kWh battery software limited to 40kWh, which of course you could pay Tesla to have unlocked with a software patch. So in theory, there is a possibility that you could hack into your 40kWh Tesla to make it 60kWh.
        Joeviocoe
        • 8 Months Ago
        @Jesse Gurr
        How many 40 kwh Tesla's are in the wild?
          Jesse Gurr
          • 8 Months Ago
          @Joeviocoe
          hmm...not sure. I heard they cancelled the 40kWh car because of too few orders. Something like 3-5% of total reservations. Dont know how many kept it though.
          Grendal
          • 8 Months Ago
          @Joeviocoe
          There was at least one 40 kWh car that had Supercharging. The guy was selling it and that was a selling point and he confirmed it had it.
          Grendal
          • 8 Months Ago
          @Joeviocoe
          I could be wrong but I think it was around 400 cars.
          Letstakeawalk
          • 8 Months Ago
          @Joeviocoe
          None, with a 40kWh battery at least. They were all built as 60kWh cars, and then limited with software.
          Joeviocoe
          • 8 Months Ago
          @Joeviocoe
          Riiiight... I meant... how many were limited to 40kwh?
      thecommentator2013
      • 8 Months Ago
      A rolling tablet.... =D
      Robert Fahey
      • 8 Months Ago
      Model S cheat codes: http://teslamondo.com/2014/04/05/model-s-hacks-and-cheat-codes/
      2 wheeled menace
      • 8 Months Ago
      I don't have much respect for IT companies, even though i am an oldschool IT guy myself. Irony factor: Ubuntu, firefox, and other components they are using are open source, built by tinkerers and hackers over the years, and Tesla gets to benefit from their labor for a good part of what happens on the touch screen, but will respond to threats if you mess with it. So if you download a distribution of linux and an open source browser, you are free to tinker with it to your heart's delight. When Tesla downloads it puts it in their car, and you tinker with it, watch out for lawyers... lol.
      danfred311
      • 8 Months Ago
      Tesla is showing itselt to be a bit of a douche corporation. signing contracts to buy a car... what kind of bs is that
        • 8 Months Ago
        @danfred311
        I haven't checked but I think most cars have such a clause when you agree to buy them. Tesla is in a prickly spot right now - they've got some fairly proprietary and worthwhile technology. As others have mentioned the hackers who got into their Model S' are probably merely curious, but others might not be as well intentioned, hence Tesla' s hesitation in allowing further investigation.
          danfred311
          • 8 Months Ago
          Tesla motors has no technology of interest that isn't trivial to copy. Other than maybe the high rpm motor but 400Hz motors have existed for a long time.. Tesla motors' technology can be summed up as follows: large battery pack of laptop cells, high rpm AC induction motors on single gear and the car is designed for high performance. Trivial to copy.
        Grendal
        • 8 Months Ago
        @danfred311
        It is reaching the point here in the US of A that you have to sign a contract just to ride the bus. This is not that crazy in this litigious society. I went to the doctor a week ago and had to sign about four waivers just to get some antibiotics. Just take a look at Dr. Montgomery, who messed with his car so he could then try and sue the company. Who knows what he did to his Volvo to get them to pay up.
          Grendal
          • 8 Months Ago
          @Grendal
          We shall see how that goes, Dan. It could swing either direction based on what comes out of it. I expect there was tampering done and that will nullify any positive spin the doctor and his lawyer would like to put on it. You can see from the comments in the article that a creepy lawyer already has a few points against him in the court of public opinion. Anybody that hires that lawyer as his mouthpiece is painted with the same negative brush.
          danfred311
          • 8 Months Ago
          @Grendal
          Only in your clueless fanboy head. the case is ongoing because Tesla foolishly decided to blame the customer. That means it will generate more headlines in the future. And judging from the elements of the case, it will not be in Tesla's favor.
          Joeviocoe
          • 8 Months Ago
          @Grendal
          Nobody is going to court for this. At most, a software warranty is voided.
          danfred311
          • 8 Months Ago
          @Grendal
          I predict this will be the 3rd court engagement in a row that Tesla will lose. Big mistake.
          Grendal
          • 8 Months Ago
          @Grendal
          Tesla already won in the court of public opinion. That was the more important case to win.
          danfred311
          • 8 Months Ago
          @Grendal
          I wasn't talking about this hack but the lemon lawsuit.
        • 8 Months Ago
        @danfred311
        I guess you have never purchased a car??? You always sign all sorts of purchase agreements, warnings about modifications and the like... Or you have only purchased cars from friends and the like...
      Joeviocoe
      • 8 Months Ago
      Basically... this is the latest installment of "Let's put a spotlight on EVERYTHING Tesla does". Every other IT company, with any investment in Intellectual Property (IP). Phones, computers, etc... do exactly the same thing. But if Tesla does it,... it is a travesty? A debate about IP, is a conversation we need to have... but why single Tesla out? We need to remember..... Tesla plans on selling this car in China. This hacker may just be harmlessly curious... but not everyone is.
        Joeviocoe
        • 8 Months Ago
        @Joeviocoe
        Never said it was new. Explicit legal documents trying to protect IP is not new either. You're right, the Chinese aren't the only ones... but they tend to be the least strict on enforcing it. The reverse engineering will eventually happen.... the time to litigate will be when someone tries to sell products that are similar. Which explains why Tesla needs to have strong language to protect their IP.
          Joeviocoe
          • 8 Months Ago
          @Joeviocoe
          Right... but Tesla wants to discourage tampering that goes beyond the tablet. So they must not say "it's okay to hack this one thing, but don't look behind this curtain."
          Ricardo Gozinya
          • 8 Months Ago
          @Joeviocoe
          As far as valuable IP goes, Tesla's likely more concerned with its battery pack, controller and motor than with some console software. Anybody looking to reverse engineer Tesla's stuff would be looking at the stuff that makes the car go, not the stuff that's basically a tablet. Even then, any competitor would probably save time and money developing their own battery pack, controller and motor than in bothering to reverse engineer Tesla's. All of the stuff combined makes for a great car, but individually, those parts aren't anything particularly special.
        Letstakeawalk
        • 8 Months Ago
        @Joeviocoe
        Automakers frequently purchase competitor vehicles, and take them apart for "bench marking" purposes. It's not new, and it's not something only the Chinese are doing.
      Anderlan
      • 8 Months Ago
      Tesla's secret weapon is that they also sell gas--or rather, they give away electricity. The idea that I'd be locked out of the SuperCharger network would be enough for me to leave root in Elon's capable hands.
      Joeviocoe
      • 8 Months Ago
      Well, that is what open source is really about ..... allowing closed source developers build upon the platform. That is what makes open source work in a capitalist society. Because the open source base, is not the end all be all of the system. And other entities can add to the platform and sell a more finished and supported product. You really cannoat hack all the way down to the underlying OS, without going through the proprietary front end.
      • 8 Months Ago
      Are there any legal implications of Ubuntu's licensing with this? Unless they got some special deal, I'm not sure they can enforce non-tampering. It would seem that stance would run counter to GPL or at least what is stated on Ubuntu's web site...though IANAL.
        Joeviocoe
        • 8 Months Ago
        There are many Tesla proprietary systems that must be 'tampered with' before you can get to the underlying OS for the infotainment screen. It is very common for closed-source development to exist on top of open-source platforms.
        Anderlan
        • 8 Months Ago
        ...sent from my Android phone in a proprietary app utilizing several dozen proprietary libraries on top of an apache-licensed virtual machine on top of a GPL'ed kernel...
          Anderlan
          • 8 Months Ago
          @Anderlan
          ...with a half dozen proprietary driver modules loaded into it...
      • 8 Months Ago
      Yo, complainer dude! ! will give you $60,000 right now for your Tesla. Cash!
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