The last month has not been a particularly good one for Honda Motor's reputation for producing high-quality vehicles. On Sunday, the company announced (PDF) that it was recalling 80 111 CR-V vehicles from the 2006 model year in the United States to replace the power window master switch because of a design flaw. The flaw, Honda says, "can allow residue from interior cleaners to accumulate, which can, over time with switch use, cause the electrical contacts to degrade and may lead to a fire in the switch."
In addition, Honda stated that it is also recalling 5626 CR-Z vehicles from the 2011 model year in the United States that are equipped with manual transmissions, to update the software that controls the hybrid electric motor. Under certain circumstances, it is possible, according to the company, "...for the electric motor to rotate in the direction opposite to that selected by the transmission."
In August, Honda also recalled (PDF) 2.5 million 2005–2010 4-cylinder Accord, 2007–2010 CR-V, and 2005–2008 Element vehicles—1.5 million in the United States—to update the software that controls their automatic transmissions. According to Honda,
"Without the updated software, the automatic transmission secondary shaft bearing in the affected vehicles can be damaged if the transmission is quickly shifted between each of the reverse, neutral and drive positions, as may be done in an attempt to dislodge a vehicle stuck in mud or snow. If the bearing is damaged in this unusual scenario, it can cause the engine to stall or lead to difficulty engaging the parking gear. The update to the vehicle’s automatic transmission control module software will ease the transition between gears to reduce the possibility of damage."
Honda hasn't been the only auto company to issue recalls to fix software problems this year. For example, in August, GM recalled 4293 2012-model-year LaCrosse sedans in the United States and Canada because of software that could negatively affect braking; in June, the company recalled 50 500 2011-model-year Cadillac SRXs over an airbag-related software glitch; and in March, GM recalled more than 10 000 2011-model-year LaCrosse and SRX vehicles to fix software in the electronic climate control module that could disable the ability to adjust and control the defroster and thus affect a driver's visibility.
In addition, in May, Volvo recalled 7558 2012-model-year S60 sedans to replace software for the fuel pump units, explaining that the software might not be "compatible with all fuel pumps and components, resulting in insufficient fuel transfer in the pump units," which could cause the vehicle to stall.
In April, Nissan recalled some 5500 of its new Leaf all-electric cars to fix some faulty software that could erroneously indicated a problem with the vehicles' air conditioning unit, which in turn would trigger an engine warning that kept the car from restarting after it was turned off.
In a different type of auto software–related problem, in February, Ford recalled 8022 2011-model-year Ford F-150, F-250, F-350, F-450,F-550, Edge, and Lincoln MKX trucks manufactured from October 25, 2010, through November 20, 2010, because of a glitch in an integrated diagnostic system (IDS). The IDS contained a custom software routine that reads the vehicles' body control module (BCM) serial number, and based on the number read, the BCM is supposed to be replaced (or not). However, there was an error in the software routine so the vehicles' BCMs weren't being read correctly. Not replacing a defective BCM could lead to a fire.
While there have been no high-profile recalls of Ford vehicles because of a software glitch so far in 2011, Ford CEO Alan Mulally admitted in June that there have been ongoing problems with its Sync and especially MyFord Touch technologies that the company has to get a handle on.
And finally, according to a story at Automotive Industry Digest, the company Warranty Direct (which sells extended auto warranties) says its data show electrical faults (including software defects) now account for 27 percent of all the car-failure claims it receives. In 2006, these types of faults made up only 23 percent of their claims. Why the increase?
According to Duncan McClure Fisher, of Warranty Direct,
"Electrical faults are extremely common, and the amount of computer technology we demand in our new cars today is to blame... We pay a huge number of claims to fix highly complex systems such as the electronic control units at the heart of modern cars."
Warranty Direct doesn't seem to think that the upward trend it is experiencing will flatten out, let alone decrease, any time soon.
Photo: Honda Motors
Robert N. Charette is a Contributing Editor to IEEE Spectrum and an acknowledged international authority on information technology and systems risk management. A self-described “risk ecologist,” he is interested in the intersections of business, political, technological, and societal risks. Charette is an award-winning author of multiple books and numerous articles on the subjects of risk management, project and program management, innovation, and entrepreneurship. A Life Senior Member of the IEEE, Charette was a recipient of the IEEE Computer Society’s Golden Core Award in 2008.