Mazda updates car software to fix *real-life* bug problem

MazdaModern cars are becoming ever more sophisticated, and reliant on computer systems and software.

In fact, it is beginning to feel just as common to take your car to the local dealer to have its software updated as it is to have a mechanic fiddle around under your bonnet.

And software, as we all know far too well, is written by humans who invariably make mistakes.

Just last week, security researchers revealed how it was possible to unlock an expensive Tesla car just by having a freely-available iPhone app and hacking a single six-character password, and earlier this year Toyota was forced to recall 1.9 million Prius Hybrid cars because of a software flaw.

Well, here's something rather different.

Mazda is recalling approximately 42,000 Mazda 6 sedan cars in the United States because of a different kind of bug problem. A real-life bug.

As Mazda describes in an official report to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, a yellow-sac spider is said to be making its home in Mazda 6 engines and has the potential to cause fuel leakage and an increased risk of fire:

On certain Mazda6 vehicles, a certain type of spider may weave a web in the evaporative canister vent line, potentially causing a restriction in the line. If this occurs, the fuel tank pressure may become excessively negative when the emission control system works to purge the vapors from the canister. As the canister is purged repeatedly during normal operation, the stress on the fuel tank may eventually result in a crack, potentially leading to fuel leakage and an increased risk of fire. Mazda is not aware of any fires related to this condition.

Mazda has tried various hardware fixes for the problem, including adding a spring to the canister vent line, but they haven't been enough to stop the petrol-loving spiders from making their home inside the car and weaving webs.

So, the boffins at Mazda have decided to issue a different fix - a software update.

Software update from Mazda to fix spider problem

In February 2014, as a result of our field investigation, we came to the conclusion that a certain level of effect by the spring was recognized, however, a kind of spider could possibly intrude even with the expanding spring. Furthermore, we confirmed that the PCM software change to control the tank pressure is effective to avoid the possibility of the tank cracking, even under such a severe condition as the canister vent line is clogged by a spider web.

In consideration of the above, in March 2014, Mazda determined that the condition constituted a safety related defect, requiring a recall campaign to the vehicles which has a spring in the canister vent line to prevent spider intrusion and no PCM with modified software to avoid excessive negative of the fuel tank.

Owners of record will be notified of this issue and instructed to take their vehicles to a Mazda dealer to be inspected and repaired. Upon inspection/repair, the canister vent line will be cleaned and when there is a web in the canister vent line, the fuel tank and the check valve on the canister vent line will be replaced with new one. Furthermore the Powertrain Control Module will be reprogrammed with modified software to minimize negative pressure in the fuel tank. The inspection/repair will be performed free of charge to the vehicle owners.

Let's hope we never get to the point where our cars require updates as regularly as our computers, whether it be combatting malicious hackers or real-life creepy-crawlies.

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2 Responses

  1. Heather Sheppard

    April 7, 2014 at 11:11 pm #

    This must be an April Fool!

    • Coyote in reply to Heather Sheppard.

      April 9, 2014 at 8:05 pm #

      It's not. They tried workarounds prior to this (which incidentally is never the correct approach over an actual fix despite what many programmers do; the only time workarounds are correct is when there is no known fix – which the programmer[s] should be seeking sooner than later – hence the latter part of the word. Of course, I don't like motor vehicles let alone working in them so I cannot really remark too much on what is the proper fix so take that as an aside or with a grain of salt) too. Also, the term bug (sort of, see below) in the context of software came to be rather popular after a real life bug was found in a mainframe (I think) that caused failure of the system (and one of the operators made use of it). I'm trying to remember her name. Probably easy enough to find as I have one key ingredient – I remember the day she was born because its a relatives' birthday as well and Google had a doodle for her, last year.

      Right, it was Grace Hopper. You'd think I could remember that with a name that could be somewhat linked to some bugs (like, say, grasshopper?). Anyway, she was largely responsible for (on the team) COBOL and another language (that I believe COBOL was an extension or based on one she was responsible for) and probably others (my understanding is she wrote the first computer programming language compiler – that is to say, the first compiler for a language). The term in fact was debugging, that she made popular rather than bug. But they can be considered related regardless. As I recall, it was a moth that they removed and it (debugging) was a clever thing to suggest because the term 'bug' was already used and here they had a real bug causing a malfunction in a system.

      So while this might seem odd – and indeed it IS odd – it is not the first time something like this has happened. This was many years ago, though, probably only the elderly were around at the time (at least around in the sense of being an adult at the time).

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