Over-the-air (OTA) software updates for vehicles are the future, and they allow vehicles to keep getting better over time. 

But sometimes they get far worse—even inoperable, as a recent update pushed out to Rivian’s R1T and R1S introduced code that crippled normal use of the vehicles. 

Earlier this week Rivian software update 2023.42.0 essentially “bricked” the EVs’ infotainment system, preventing a number of functions. 

The vehicles were still fundamentally drivable, albeit with asterisks. After the update, the infotainment systems of affected vehicles were completely blank/dark, and some information in the gauge cluster was also affected.

2023 Rivian R1S

2023 Rivian R1S

Rivian noted to Green Car Reports that it has compartmentalized safety-critical systems, an approach that allowed affected vehicles to keep operating. 

“In most cases, the rest of the vehicle systems and the mobile app will remain functional,” explained Wassym Bensaid, Rivian’s senior VP of software development.

Rivian emailed customers on Tuesday night with next steps, and on Wednesday it released its solution that fixes the issue remotely. 

According to Rivian, it prepared an OTA remedy for deployment in just 36 hours. As of Wednesday, customers affected by the issue should be able, via the Rivian app on their smartphones, to install software that rolls back the problem code. Those not using the Rivian app can contact the Rivian Support Center and initiate the install remotely. 

The problematic code, part of an incorrect software build, affected around 3% of customers. The number was limited because within 90 minutes Rivian identified the issue and halted the software’s rollout. 

2023 Rivian R1S

2023 Rivian R1S

The incident serves as a lesson for the auto industry as it becomes increasingly focused on OTA updates and the potential for making OTA feature upgrades a revenue driver. Rivian has taken advantage of the wide latitude afforded by software. Last December, it added an enhanced cold-weather toolkit, including cabin preconditioning, a snow mode, and smarter power management. More recently, it rolled out an update for the R1T and R1S that improved these trucks’ ride and handling attributes, and, in a different update, introduced a “reimagined towing experience,” including all-terrain towing

Earlier in the week, Bensaid posted on the issue on Reddit, blaming a “fat finger where the wrong build with the wrong security certificates was sent out.”

2022 Rivian R1T

2022 Rivian R1T

“From here, we’re deeply evaluating our process and quality checks to prevent this from happening again,” said Bensaid. 

Rivian acknowledged that the issue might need physical repair in some cases.  

Customers still affected by the issue are encouraged to reach out to Rivian’s service team at 855-748-4265.