Patch my Car?

This entry was posted by on Saturday, 9 July, 2005 at

I just received a “safety recall” letter from Honda, regarding my Civic Hybrid.

My first thought was, “uh oh, I wonder what part is dangerous? What needs replacing?”. But amazingly, the letter says that the car’s software has a bug which leads to eventual failure of the catalytic converter. The letter instructs me to bring the car into the nearest Honda dealer, where they will patch the software for me at no cost.

I wonder how long it will be before I can just ask the car to download software updates itself, just like my computer does.

It’s actually a bit scary. The first week after we brought the Civic Hybrid home (back in 2003), I was driving about 20 mph down a quiet side-street, and the car suddenly shut off. The motor stopped, lights went out — as if I had yanked the key out of the ignition completely. I couldn’t accelerate, only steer, brake, and gently pull to the side for a rolling stop. I restarted the car, and it was fine again. After immediately bringing it to the dealer, they apologized and said that the problem was in the software, that the software had accidently shut down everything. They claimed that they reintsalled the whole operating system, and that it would be fine now.

I’ve not had any problems since then. But still, programmers used to make dumb jokes about “if cars were computers, they’d explode spontaneously everyday” and such. It’s not so silly anymore. My car has an operating system, and I’m not so sure I trust it anymore.

One Response to “Patch my Car?”

  1. Your last car probably had a computer, too; they’ve had ’em since fuel injectors started getting popular (all those “i” models!).

    In the mid 80’s, I had a ten-year-old Nissan Maxima that had all sorts of troubles. My mechanic crawled over it for two days, finally decided he’d tried everything else, so it had to be the computer. Then, the replacement part was so expensive, he wrote off his two days of labor! Nice guy, huh? Next time you’re looking for a metric-car mechanic in my neighborhood, ask me for a recommendation.

    What’s new is that car software is now *software*, not *firmware*, can be replaced over a wire instead of with a wrench. In car software, as in computer software, this seems also to mean that the developers (or their managers) figure quality’s not so crucial, and they can ship it now and finish the work as “maintenance.”

    I think they’re using C++ now. Wait ’till they advance to Java!