apple,  carplay,  honda

Rough Road Ahead for Wireless CarPlay Upgrades

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Last month, Honda announced that the company would make a dealer installed upgrade available for model year 2018 – 2022 Accord vehicles to add Apple’s wireless CarPlay feature. (The same upgrade adds support for wireless Android Auto also.) The cost of the upgrade kit will be $112 MSRP plus technician labor charges.

This software only upgrade is great news for owners like me who have a 2019 Accord with wired CarPlay. I mean, a wire! In 2024! The struggle is real.

To me, the press release announcing the upgrade kit is validation of what I had expected all along: the 2019 Honda Accord line of vehicles had all of the internal hardware that could have supported wireless CarPlay, but that Honda chose not to make the feature available. Whatever the internal decision making process might have been, a global pandemic, snarled computer chip production lines, and waitlists for a new Accord likely convinced Honda to change their thinking on older model upgrades.

From the official press release, Honda states that “[t]his quick software update enables customers to leverage hardware already in their Honda vehicle to enjoy seamless connectivity through wireless Apple CarPlay” and that this upgrade is “a key strategy in pursuit of our goal to have zero environmental impact by 2050.1

Getting Ready for the Upgrade

If you are reading this blog, you know I’m a computer nerd. You’re probably a computer nerd too. I have no idea about car people react to changes like this or how quickly the network of Honda dealers could roll out an upgrade like this. My Accord needed an oil change, so I called one of my local dealers and asked if they could do the oil change and the software upgrade at the same time. I was assured that the upgrade could be done, but that I should bring the car in during the week to avoid the Saturday rush. The cost of the software upgrade would be $120. I made the appointment for two days later.

Service Day

Potholes started appearing on the information superhighway when I arrived at my dealer. First, I was told that I needed to leave the car for the day as the software upgrade would take several hours because the update needed to be downloaded to the car via the satellite radio connection. That didn’t sound like a “quick software update” to me. Still, I really wanted wireless CarPlay in my Accord, so I agreed.

After getting a ride to work, the dealer’s service center called me to tell me that the total cost of the upgrade would be $270! The price increase was due to the wireless CarPlay upgrade kit software license ($120) plus one hour of labor ($150). I asked if I could buy the upgrade kit and do it myself and was told that it was a dealer-only install option. I was annoyed, but the excitement and satisfaction of having CarPlay in my Accord overtook me and I approved the work.

It Gets Worse

About three hours later, I received another call from the dealer. Things were not good. I was told that the software upgrade was attempted on my Accord via a USB flash drive and that it had failed. The dealer called the Honda support center, and they weren’t able to resolve the issue either.

Asking about the software upgrade process, I came to learn that this wasn’t a patch to CarPlay, but a full infotainment system OS upgrade to a newer version of Android Automotive – the software that many car manufacturers use in their infotainment systems. Android Automotive is able to “project” CarPlay and Android Auto (a completely separate CarPlay-like feature for Android smartphones) on the in-vehicle infotainment screen(s).

It was the OS upgrade that crashed and couldn’t be restarted. In its current failure mode, the radio head unit was completely unresponsive and would not turn on. In computer terms, we call that “bricked”. None of the vehicle functions that use the infotainment system worked. No AM or FM radio. No satellite radio. No backup camera. No auxiliary input. No wired CarPlay. Obviously no wireless CarPlay. No iPhone charging. Nadda. In other words, “She’s dead, Jim.”

This was not good. Seeing out the back window of a 2019 Accord is difficult and, in my opinion, really requires the assistance of a backup camera. Since they couldn’t get the radio head unit to respond to any maintenance commands and could not turn it on, the entire head unit needed to be replaced.

Thankfully, it will only be about a week before the replacement service can be performed. I couldn’t help myself. I had to press the poor service department staffer harder. “This replacement head unit is going to come with the new Android Automotive software preinstalled so that I will have the wireless CarPlay feature, right?” We both knew that the service staffer couldn’t answer the question and that the head unit that would be pulled off an inventory warehouse shelf wasn’t going to have the upgrade.

Furthermore, I was later told that it took three attempts to upgrade another compatible used Accord on the dealer’s lot and that Honda wanted all dealers to install the upgrade on every compatible used Honda Accord in inventory.

Based on the headaches I caused the dealer’s service department crew; the general manager told me that he was shutting down all future upgrades and was not installing the software update on any other Accords in their inventory.

So Now What?

What this story reveals is that software is hard. It’s hard for nerds like us. It is harder still for service techs who aren’t properly trained on how to install and support the software. And it is absolutely disastrous for dealers and customers when the software is so poorly tested that it is bricking the entire infotainment system in such a way that Honda has to cover the cost of replacing them.

For now, I am driving my Accord around and singing to myself. I’m also backing up carefully. Hopefully, the replacement part(s) will arrive at the dealer this week and we can schedule another full day of service to have the new unit installed in the car.

I would have loved to have seen the documentation and the upgrade process, but the general manager wasn’t going to let me anywhere near any of the official upgrade materials.

I will post a follow up when the issue is resolved. In the meantime, I need to get working on my singing voice.

  1. By 2050?! How many of the current automobile executives do you really think will still be working at Honda in 2050? Talk about kicking the can down the road. Environment?! It’s someone else’s problem. And that’s the problem – no one wants to take up this issue now. ↩︎