I have a 2008 Honda Civic Hybrid that I bought new with 19 miles on it (7 of those from my test drive). By almost all measures, it’s been a good car. I have had only minor problems with it apart from a warranty-covered hybrid battery replacement. It gets pretty good gas mileage. It’s easy to work on. There’s just one thing…

Unlike the rest of the car, the entertainment system (“Navi”) has lots of problems. First, it came with a free trial of a satellite radio system. When the trial expired, the service was stopped. That had the side effect of breaking the steering-wheel controls, since trying to change from, say, FM radio to Aux would hang on the satellite selection and you’d have to actually fiddle with the buttons on the radio to get it working again. I considered that broken, since what I deemed an important safety feature (being able to control the entertainment system from the steering wheel) wouldn’t work without purchasing a satellite subscription which was clearly identified as optional at the time of purchase. Even if I had purchased a subscription, the satellite service shut down a couple of years later which made the radio control failure irremediable.

Even though the car was still in warranty when the steering wheel controls failed, Honda did not consider that a warranty repair. In fact, they wouldn’t repair it at all, for any price. Then, in January 2022, the clocks in all Hondas equipped with the Navi entertainment system failed. Even the the sleazy partial fix they suggested to dealers — basically re-connecting the car battery at exactly 1am — didn’t actually work for many of their cars, including mine. Every time the car was started, the clock was reset to 1am. Honda said that they would not fix it. The clock would sorta-kind start working again in August 2022, but it wouldn’t do daylight saving time changes any more, the date would always be wrong, and the navigation history would be out of order. Worst of all — and Honda never even acknowleged this problem — it was no longer possible to select the auxiliary (“aux”) input by any means. Since by 2022 most of us had smartphones and used them instead of the crappy and out-of-date navigation system and CD-based music player that came with the car, not being able to use the aux input essentially rendered the whole audio system useless. Short of replacing the entire entertainment system of the car, the best solution is to just leave a portable bluetooth speaker in the vehicle.

This raises interesting questions. Honda’s perspective seems to be that these are, somehow, design features and that they aren’t responsible for fixing them, even though the first failure occurred within the first three months of the two-year new car warranty. They also note the fact that the clock issue only arose when the vehicle was out-of-warranty. Another perspective, though is that the Navi system was defective from day one, even if those defects didn’t manifest for some years down the line. Warranties are designed to protect consumers from premature failures, not designed-in time bombs (whether due to malice or incompetence). Imagine, if you will, that you purchase a car with a three-year warranty, and it completely dies and is unrepairable after forty months. Would you be satisfied knowing that the car actually lasted longer than the warranty period? It’s not such a far-fetched idea in this age of smart cars, when manufacturers can remotely disable features on cars you completely own (Tesla did it to me, but that’s a story for another day). I’m not expecting perfection, and I haven’t bugged Honda to fix this problem, but I don’t think manufacturers should get an “out-of-warranty” trump card to absolve them of responsibility for designed-in defects that are guaranteed to make their products fail.

—2p

addendum 2024-04-09: This “we have no responsibility past the warranty period” can even pose threats to people beyond the product owner.

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