Whoops: Some Seattle-Area Mazdas Are Stuck Listening to NPR

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky

There’s a gaggle of Mazda owners in Seattle, Washington, that have reportedly been stuck listening to National Public Radio (NPR) over the last few weeks. The manufacturer has addressed the problem, saying the local affiliate had broadcast images files with no extension causing an issue on some 2014-2017 Mazda vehicles with older HD radio software. This effectively bricked the infotainment system on some vehicles, locking them into listening to NPR and out of literally everything else.

KUOW-FM has issued a response, saying they’ve been getting letters from drivers living in the Puget Sound region about their cars. While it only cited a single 2016 Mazda CX-5, the outlet was aware that it had become a widespread annoyance for locals. It also reported that three nearby Mazda dealerships have been getting angry calls about the problem for the last three weeks.

Michaela Gianotti, a spokesperson for the station, said that the company had contacted Xperi (the company responsible for HD radio) and given it complete access to its transmitters in an effort to determine what happened. The NPR affiliate also noted that it had swapped from 3G to 5G within the last few weeks.

With the United States shutting down 3G cellular networks this year to make more room for 5G, there has been loads of speculation about how it might impact the infotainment systems of various automakers. Like other brands, Mazda has previously acknowledged that some models would be losing features (e.g. Mazda Mobile Start) sometime between late 2021 and early 2022.

There’s presently a thread on Reddit where owners are sharing stories about corrupted displays being stuck on 94.9 FM. While standard radio frequencies were not supposed to be impacted by the end of 3G, several commenters have suggested it could have still done something to Mazda’s infotainment. As evidence, they cited that the impacted vehicles all fall within the model years Mazda previously said could lose some features. Ditto for the relevant timeframe.

The Seattle Times likewise reported that a data packet sent from the station appears to have been the culprit and provided some additional firsthand accounts. Most impacted drivers stated that the center screen was flickering and constantly trying to reboot itself, creating a strobing effect comprised of garbled image data and the Mazda logo. While the radio volume could always be adjusted, every other feature became totally inaccessible.

“The lower right field of my vision was seeing like a TV screen going on and off,” explained Dave Welding, adding that he ultimately had to cover the screen in his Mazda because of how distracting it was.

From The Seattle Times:

Welding says that when he contacted Lee Johnson Mazda of Seattle, “They told me that there’s nothing they can do about it, that I needed a new CMU unit, that it cost $1,500 and that they didn’t have the part.”

The Mazda dealer referred calls for comment to Mazda corporate headquarters.

Lorenzo Pieruccioni, service manager at Mazda of Olympia, says he’s had seven to 10 customers with the rebooting problems. He tells them their CMU is corrupted.

That stands for “Connectivity Master Unit,” and it controls the video and audio signals to that infotainment system. That’s the $1,500 gizmo that is not available and who knows when it will be.

His assessment: “It’s just weird.”

With Car Talk having ended in 2012 and most affiliates dropping The Best of Car Talk since then, I’m not sure why anybody would intentionally listen to NPR anymore. But, even if you were an ardent supporter with the branded bags and coffee mug as proof, you’ll probably want to adjust the tuner in your car occasionally. It also might be nice to use the other features you paid for and to have an infotainment system that won’t give you a seizure.

Mazda has confirmed it issued service alerts to dealers this week. Affected customers should contact their local dealer “who can submit a goodwill request to the Mazda Warranty department on their behalf, order the parts, and schedule a free repair when the parts arrive.”

[Image: Colin Hui/Shutterstock]

Matt Posky
Matt Posky

A staunch consumer advocate tracking industry trends and regulation. Before joining TTAC, Matt spent a decade working for marketing and research firms based in NYC. Clients included several of the world’s largest automakers, global tire brands, and aftermarket part suppliers. Dissatisfied with the corporate world and resentful of having to wear suits everyday, he pivoted to writing about cars. Since then, that man has become an ardent supporter of the right-to-repair movement, been interviewed on the auto industry by national radio broadcasts, driven more rental cars than anyone ever should, participated in amateur rallying events, and received the requisite minimum training as sanctioned by the SCCA. Handy with a wrench, Matt grew up surrounded by Detroit auto workers and managed to get a pizza delivery job before he was legally eligible. He later found himself driving box trucks through Manhattan, guaranteeing future sympathy for actual truckers. He continues to conduct research pertaining to the automotive sector as an independent contractor and has since moved back to his native Michigan, closer to where the cars are born. A contrarian, Matt claims to prefer understeer — stating that front and all-wheel drive vehicles cater best to his driving style.

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4 of 44 comments
  • Zerofoo Zerofoo on Feb 10, 2022

    Programmers not bounds checking their inputs results in Mazda owners being forced to listen to government propaganda. That's enough for me to cross Mazda off the potential car list forever.

  • Don1967 Don1967 on Feb 10, 2022

    Those responsible should be given televisions that only receive CNN.

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