Volkswagen has announced changes to its Car-Net security system after a “serious breach in process” delayed law enforcement from using the service to locate a vehicle stolen with the victim’s child still inside. From June 1st this year, VW will provide five years of free Car-Net Safe & Secure connected emergency services in the US — including automatic crash notifications, emergency assistance, stolen vehicle locator, and anti-theft alerts — for “most model year 2020 to 2023 vehicles.”

VW’s Car-Net system is a collection of technologies and services that allow vehicle owners to remotely monitor and operate their vehicle. While its basic package was already free for the first five years on compatible 2020 or newer VW models, Car-Net’s Safe & Secure add-on for emergency services required a paid subscription.

On February 23rd, a Volkswagen Atlas belonging to a pregnant mother was stolen from a driveway in a violent carjacking in Libertyville, Illinois, with her two-year-old child still inside the car. When local law enforcement contacted VW’s Car-Net service to obtain the vehicle’s tracking information to find the abducted toddler, a representative informed the police that the vehicle’s free trial had lapsed, and refused to help until a $150 fee was paid to restart the coverage.

Lake County Deputy Chief Christopher Covelli said that similar tracking services from other car manufacturers typically assist police during extenuating circumstances. “The detective had to work out getting a credit card number and then call the representative back to pay the $150 and at that time the representative provided the GPS location of the vehicle,” said Covelli to the Chicago Sun Times. “Obviously, it’s a major concern when there’s information that could potentially save a life and there are major hurdles that one has to jump over to try to get that information.”

VW’s Car-Net system allows owners to monitor their vehicles remotely using an app.
Image: Volkswagen

VW’s strict adherence to company policy delayed law enforcement by 30 minutes, according to the Sun Times. Thankfully, the missing child was located by police officers, unharmed in the vehicle later abandoned in a parking lot. The pregnant mother was taken to the hospital in serious, but stable, condition. 

“Volkswagen must and will do better for everyone that trusts our brand and for the law enforcement officials tasked with protecting us,” said VW in a press release regarding the incident. “In addition to a full investigation of what went wrong and actions taken to address the failure, we want to make it right for the future.”

Most 2020-2023 Volkswagen vehicles come equipped with the Car-Net hardware required to activate the free Safe & Secure add-on. Coverage begins as soon as users create a myVW account and accept the Terms of Service, and will remain active for five years from either the sale date or June 1st, 2023, whichever is later.