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Software glitch blows Lexus computer ‘mind,’ sends car owners back to dealers

The interior of a 2016 Lexus RX at the New York International Auto Show in April 2015. Errant data broadcast Tuesday by the company’s traffic and weather service confounded vehicles’ ‘Enform’ infotainment system installed in 2014, 2015 and 2016 Lexus vehicles and the 2016 Toyota Land Cruiser, the company said.
The interior of a 2016 Lexus RX at the New York International Auto Show in April 2015. Errant data broadcast Tuesday by the company’s traffic and weather service confounded vehicles’ ‘Enform’ infotainment system installed in 2014, 2015 and 2016 Lexus vehicles and the 2016 Toyota Land Cruiser, the company said. AP

Radio: nonfunctional. Blue tooth: soundless. Navigation: clueless.

That was the situation for Lexus owners in South Florida and across the country this week following a computer glitch that disabled navigation, audio and climate control systems in 2014, 2015 and 2016 models.

The issue drove hundreds of owners of the popular vehicles to South Florida dealerships.

At Kendall Lexus in South Miami-Dade, more than 120 drivers turned up since Tuesday complaining about the issue, said Curtis Thompson, service director at the dealership. By disconnecting the battery, the dealer was able to reboot the car’s computer system.

Lexus’s social media accounts were flooded with complaints through Wednesday morning and by 9 a.m., the company told customers to stand by for a momentary fix.

Later in the afternoon it apologized for any inconvenience caused to customers and offered a fix for the bug.

Owners should force a reset of their vehicle’s computer by disconnecting its 12-volt battery for at least 5 minutes, the company said. Owners can also bring their vehicles to a Lexus dealer to reset their system.

Errant data broadcast Tuesday by the company’s traffic and weather service confounded vehicles’ “Enform” infotainment system installed in 2014, 2015 and 2016 Lexus vehicles and the 2016 Toyota Land Cruiser, the company said. The data made the subscription-based “Enform” system continuously reboot itself, rendering it unusable and drawing the ire of many a driver.

The company halted the offending data stream overnight but did not anticipate lingering problems in its vehicles. Lexus said it is still determining how many vehicles the bug impacted.

The same way smartphone or software companies remotely update their products, car companies are increasingly doing the same to fix operating system glitches and even update road maps and car-friendly mobile applications.

That’s because cars are increasingly becoming giant rolling computers, capable of doing an untold number of tasks while getting from Point A to Point B. Consider the“Enform” service, which includes smartphone and app connectivity, SiriusXM satellite radio, traffic and weather updates and Bluetooth connectivity.

A new car might have 100 million lines of code, according to a report by research and accounting firm Stout Risius Ross. The more luxurious the car, the more interconnected its technological components may be.

Over-the-air updates are becoming more common and are advantageous because instead of asking drivers to return their vehicles to dealerships for quick technological tweaks, carmakers route software updates remotely. A 2015 report from research firm IHS Automotive predicted carmakers would save $35 billion in labor and parts by 2022 in over-the-air software updates.

Company spokesman Moe Durand said most of the glitches had been taken care of.

He called the bug, “easily remedied.”

But that wasn’t the case for at least one South Florida owner.

Jackie Barnett, a Kendall resident who drives a late-model Lexus, a NX200t, took her car to the Kendall dealership Tuesday morning, when the problem first emerged. The dealer rebooted her car but two hours later, it stopped working again.

Wednesday afternoon, she was still without a solution. When she called, she was told they still did not have a fix to her problem, she said.

Barnett says she’s still waiting for the dealership to contact her: “They promised me that they’d call me. I said, ‘Please come in touch with me, let me know when I can come and get my car fixed,’ and they never called me back.

“If they fixed other people’s car, why haven’t they called me to fix my car?”

This report was supplemented by material from Miami Herald writer Jack Herrick.

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