On January 30th, several Mazda owners in Seattle found that their infotainment system had stopped working. Not only that, but their radios were stuck on a particular station—NPR’s KUOW 94.9. It turns out that the NPR station’s broadcast broke these infotainment systems, causing around $1,500 in damage to each affected car.
As reported by the It took a few weeks for the Mazda drivers to figure out what happened. As reported by the Seattle Times, Dealerships told customers that their “connectivity master unit” or CMU was fried and needed to be replaced (but didn’t offer to replace the part for free). And oddly enough, only Mazda vehicles made between 2014 and 2018 were affected.
The problem, as it turns out, is Mazda’s fault. A bug in the company’s HD Radio system (the thing that pulls album art from stations) didn’t respond well to the NPR broadcast, as it sent a broken image or file over the airwaves. Instead of ignoring this file (which may have been album art with an incorrect file extension), the Mazdas’ CMUs decided to fry themselves.
Mazda sent a memo to Seattle dealerships to perform all CMU replacements for free. Unfortunately, the correct CMU hardware is impossible to find due to chip shortages, and employees at Mazda dealerships aren’t sure when they’ll be able to fix afflicted cars.
The idea of a car’s infotainment center dying over a single HD Radio file is ridiculous, to say the least. It’s also a bit concerning, given that modern cars are basically computers on wheels. If carmakers can’t build an infotainment system that’s properly secured against JPEGs, can we really trust them to make self-driving or keyless vehicles?