Help, my Honda radio is on the blink


Question: A few days ago, the display on the radio of my 2003 Honda Accord went on the blink. The radio still works, but I can’t see any of the stations.

I called Honda customer service and mentioned that I’d done some research and found that the radios on the 2003 Honda Accords had this problem. She looked into your corporate records and told me that there was a class-action suit and Honda would repair the defective radios for seven years or 110,000 miles. She told me that since that time has elapsed, Honda could not take care of the problem.

She told me that Honda sent a notification to me. I told her that I never received any notification. She pointed out that if the notification was not delivered, it would have been sent back to Honda.

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I would like to keep this car, unless it quits on me, but a radio without display is very inconvenient to use. I called a local Honda dealer and I was told that I have to pay $150 just for diagnostic.

I’d like Honda to authorize the repair of the radio by a Honda dealer. I sincerely appreciate your consideration of my request.

Narendra Goel, Chicago

Answer: Honda was under no contractual obligation to fix your radio. Your warranty expired long ago and as you point out, the class-action settlement didn’t apply to your vehicle because you were past 110,000 miles and it is 2013.

But Honda has a reputation to uphold (full disclosure: I own an Accord, too). So while the car manufacturer wasn’t under any obligation to repair the radio, it would have been a meaningful customer-service gesture — especially in light of the fact that the radio has a known defect.

You found my customer-service wiki with the email addresses for Honda’s managers and appealed the company’s denial to John Mendel, Honda’s executive vice president for sales, by sending him a brief and polite email. (Email addresses at Honda are [email protected]).

“Almost immediately, I got a call from Honda informing me that Honda will take care of my problem, even though the warranty had expired,” you told me. “I went to the Honda dealer and the car was fixed.”

Honda also offered you a $100 voucher, which can be used on a future purchase.

I love this story because this is how the appeals process should work. While rules are rules, a supervisor or manager should also be able to see when they should be waived. Honda took a big-picture view of your repair request. Instead of charging you $150 for what would have probably been a minor part, it realized that you would probably buy your next car from Honda if they fixed this.

Something tells me you will.

And all this without me having to get involved. Stories like this make me feel great about my own car purchasing decision. But I may need to freshen up my resume and start looking for a new job.

Should Honda have agreed to fix the radio even though it didn't have to?

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38 thoughts on “Help, my Honda radio is on the blink

  1. I drove an ’89 Integra which had a notorious igniter issue. It was recalled long after the warranty expired, but I put off taking it in for a couple of years.

    It finally quit on me, on the way to a job interview. I did get the job offer. However, I took it to a shop when it was sort of working again, and they told me to take it to a dealer. The closest dealer agreed to pay for a tow the next morning and the car fixed even a couple of years after the recall was issued.

    That’s what I would expect but probably won’t get these days.

  2. My 2001 Ford Escape has the same radio problem! Maybe that nice man at Honda will fix mine too. 🙂 Glad everything worked out.

  3. Sweet ending! My first car out of school was a Honda Civic and it took me through some harsh winters in Canada and all the way back to sunny Texas. Loved that car and great customer service!

  4. When a 10 year old radio fails – even with a “known issue” – it’s time for the consumer to take responsibility for it, not the manufacturer.

    1. Why? The consumer did nothing wrong. Why should the consumer be on the hook for the manufacturer’s error. A car radio, being mostly solid state, should outlast the car.

      1. You’d be surprised. The consumer-grade electrolytic capacitors in most car stereos have a finite lifespan. They have considerably higher capacitance than other common capacitor types. However, the electrolyte will eventually evaporate and performance will degrade.

        I remember popping open a PC at work to see why it failed. I noticed an electrolytic capacitor that was missing its cover. I looked around and saw the shell had landed somewhere at the other end of the motherboard.

      2. In almost all of my factory radios, the tape mechanism, or CD mechanism fails after a few years (not solid state). I love the new iPod connectors. No need for tapes or CDs anymore. I have a 9 year old 20gb iPod click that I keep in my car permanently linked to the stereo, though it has a moving hard drive, but hasn’t failed me yet. If it ever does, Ive seen them for under $20 on eBay. Amazing considering it was $199 when I bought it.

        1. While that may be true of the mechanical parts, this was not a mechanical failure. It was a failure of an electrical part that was known to have a defect.

      3. If the issue was that a manufacturers defect caused a head gasket, axle, or transmission to fail prematurely (*cough Ford Windstar *cough) I’d agree that the manufacturer should step up. On the other hand, if your radio fails after 10 years I think crying to the manufacturer ridiculous. Suck it up, have a new radio installed if you really have to have one, and appreciate the fact that for a couple of hundred bucks you own a car but don’t have a payment. I think Chris twisted Honda’s arm on this one, and they absolutely should have laughed at both him and OP on this one.

        1. Did you even read the story? Chris did nothing, the OP contacted Honda on his own. I think someone else should be laughed at here.

  5. Since the radio has nothing to do with the drive train, I don’t understand the mileage limit in the settlement. I can see the time limit just so Honda is not on the hook for a busted radio 20 years down the road. As for the notification not coming back to Honda, that could easily happen if the person moved and the new resident just tossed the notification when it came. Honda did the right thing, but I think it should have been resolved at a lower level than it was.

  6. This has always been my first reaction also…..”..rules are rules, a supervisor or manager should also be able to see when they should be waived”

  7. Great story, great ending. Although I do not believe Honda was obligated to, they nevertheless fixed the problem and kept a customer happy. Even though the OP had to appeal to a higher level, the senior manager saw a small issue and decided not to make a mountain out of a molehill, and keep someone happy. Well done, Honda. Now, IMHO, that is respectful customer service which will generate customer loyalty.

  8. It’s a 10 year old car. Who knows how many miles it has. That’s a perfectly reasonable lifetime for a car radio, if not ideal. Since the lawsuit would have elapsed anyway, the fact she does not remember getting a notification is irrelevant.

    A used unit sourced from a junkyard or eBay probably would have been fine. It was nice that Honda decided to do the repair for free after escalating, but I don’t see how it would have been bad if they refused.

    1. Don’t know about that. One of the things about Honda radios of certain vintages were that they were designed with a code to be entered if the power was ever completely cut off. Such a code could be unknown if the original dealer package (manual and assorted stuff) were lost. They were designed in at a time when Honda factory radios were direct drop ins for a standard DIN chassis mount. I had a factory radio with such a code stolen even though they didn’t have the restart code.

      Of course that’s gone by the wayside (and car stereo places are becoming increasingly harder to find), but even then I think some of the specialized factory units are hot commodities on the used and/or stolen market. I kind of liked the availability of drop in units, but now the factory units have things such as controls on the steering wheel and voice activation.

      1. My old Honda had the DIN radio with the code. I bought it used and there was no original material. I didn’t know about the code, and after replacing the battery it was locked. I went to the dealer and they were able to get the S/N off the back of the radio (Easy to remove), and put it into a computer, and gave me the code. They did this for free which surprised me. A year later the radio conked out and I got an aftermarket one which I thought was much better. They also sold adapters to allow me to still use the in dash controls, but at the time I didn’t want to spend the extra money. I am not sure if they would still do this with all the stolen stereos out there. But I woudl hope they would if the customer had the receipt showing they purchased it legitimately.

        1. I remember reentering the code for my ’95 Integra GS-R several times after replacing the battery or even sometimes just disconnecting the battery to “reset” the engine computer if performance was odd. And back then, any of the Acura models only had the Acura badging outside and on the radio. Everything under the hood said Honda, and all the replacement and maintenance parts I got said Honda. I even remember going to some Honda dealers for common parts because those dealers had them cheaper.

          I still can’t figure out why anyone would want to steal a factory radio that fits in a DIN chassis. The code came in the form of a numbers printed on sticker sheets, and placed in a Ziploc style bag. I kept this in the center console and it was still there after the thieves rifled through all my stuff. They actually took a lighter that had never been used (I popped it in a few times, but otherwise I don’t smoke and there were no ashes on it) but left behind a crisp $5 bill that I had in the glove box. When I went to retrieve my personal belongings, the $5 was in plain sight.

          1. Actually, the Honda I mentioned with the radio was a 1995 Acura TL. I think it was the first year they made the TL. I got it used for $1,800 at 140K and put another 100,000 on it before selling it for $2K and buying a Honda/Honda, rather than an Acura/Honda. On the TL, everything said Honda as well, all the parts, the motor, and the stereo. I even took it to a Honda dealer to get the code. The Honda I mentioned below where they showed me how to fix the radiator was and actual Honda/Honda. I tend to just call them all Hondas.

            You have some strange thieves in your area. In my area they still seem to go just for the stereo, but usually only the aftermarket ones. That and they vandalize the cars, without taking anything, which I don’t understand the point of.

          2. There was more taken than just the radio. They took the instrument cluster, all the factory seats (front/rear) including one that had a big tear, and the power steering pump. They even ripped through the A/C lines to get to the pump. All the factory aluminum alloy wheels (with almost new tires) were gone, and the car was abandoned with three steel wheels with bald tires plus the compact spare. They rifled through all the stuff in the car but frankly didn’t take anything other than the lighter plug. I had a lot of useless stuff stored in the trunk.

            That car had 137K miles on it and was starting to use oil. I barely drove it since I had a newer car. The settlement I got from my insurance company was better than what I could have sold the car for in a private sale, and my insurance rates didn’t even go up. Not only that, but I got a prorated refund of my insurance since I no longer owned the car after handing the keys to the insurance company.

          3. Oh wow, I am so sorry. I thought it was just the lighter.

            My mom used to have a Civic and it had the factory stereo taken, then she replaced it and it was taken again within a month, so she didn’t replace it and a month later the whole car was taken. It wasn’t recovered and she was given a check, then 3 months later it got pulled over and the driver was a father with his son who had been living in the car. The car was on 4 donuts, the headlights were gone, and the father and son had very nice ski equipment and season passes. There were also a lot of drugs found stuffed into the back seat. They had also added a stereo to the car. I always though it was very bizarre, and glad I finally convinced my mom to move.

          4. My car was stolen in a really nice neighborhood with normally low crime rates. In fact the way I found out about it was that a cop rang my front doorbell at about 1:30 AM asking if I knew where my car was. I said it was across the street, but looked and it wasn’t there. He said it was seen in a construction zone where they’d been conducting a stakeout to catch thieves stealing construction materials. My car was seen along with another car that was reported stolen I had a hard time sleeping that day and even called into work that I needed a day off. I got a call the next day that my car had been recovered (in a somewhat remote upscale neighborhood in the hills) with a description of what condition it was in, which didn’t quite match what I saw when I finally saw it. The paperwork to pay my last respects to my car was a pain. I had to go to two police stations. The first was my city’s to get a release. The second was the city where my car was recovered so that I could take the paperwork to the storage lot. All in all, it took almost two weeks before I could get my belongings, although an insurance adjuster was allowed in to assess the condition of the car. They declared it totaled and frankly I was already looking to sell the car.

            I had stuff stolen from the car in the same neighborhood a few years earlier. Mostly it was stuff in the car, although I was stupid enough to leave my checkbook in there in a leather organizer. Someone actually returned my checkbook with a note, stating that he’d found it in a dumpster in what I would call **ahem** and inner-city neighborhood.

            Strangely enough, the cop who took the report for my first car snatch and grab was the same one ringing the doorbell. Of course it’s a small city with a small police force.

          5. Wow, I am very sort that happened, what a nightmare. It was much easier for my mom as the insurance company already owned it when it was recovered. But to this day she has not been happy with any car she has had since. Nothing compares to her 1996 Civic.

    2. Agreed. And we do know it had more than 110,000 miles on it (I believe). However for a Honda that’s noting. My last one was still running strong at 240,000 and I sold it just because I wanted something different.

    3. It was nice that Honda decided to do the repair for free under pressure
      Under pressure? From whom? Chris never got involved.

  9. I owned a 1995 VW Passat, In 2006, I had just picked up my daughter from school and was driving home. As it was April in New England, the weather was rather cool and foggy

    I turned the heat on to help warm the cabin a little, and was treated to scalding hot coolant shooting out of the vents next to the steering wheel, scalding my hands and splashing onto my face. Thankfully, I had closed the passenger side vents, so my daughter was unaffected.

    I did a little research and found that some Passat, Jetta, and Golf models produced in that time frame had a pressure relief valve made from a plastic with a pesky habit of fusing shut over time. In the event of a heater core failure, this valve is supposed to prevent the coolant from entering the vents.

    I called VW of America and explained what happened. They asked for pictures of my hands and face as well as a report from my doctor, and paid to have my car taken to the local dealership for evaluation.

    The valve issue was identified as part of the problem, and my car was repaired at no charge (vs the almost $2500 it would have cost due to the electrical damage to the dash cluster) They also said if I was not satisfied with the work or was not comfortable driving this car any longer, they would offer me $6500 trade in value for any car, VW or not, on the lot at a VW dealer. I did not take them up on the offer, however, about 4 months later, a Check showed up in my mailbox from VW of America for $6500….not a trade-in-funny-money-check….but an actual check.

    My car kept right on chugging for another 4 years until I traded it in.

    1. VW was quite happy to pay you and stave off a potential very pesky lawsuit. I’m sure they breathed a sigh of relief after the statute of limitations passed and no papers arrived. It was a win win situation.

      1. No doubt, but unlike most people these days….I am not sue happy….Poop happens, parts fail, but how a company responds is what is important to me. VW did right by me.

        1. Glad they did right, and glad to see more not sue-happy people. I had an incident once, and all I wanted was the medical bills paid. Nothing else. The company bulked until Chris got involved.

  10. This poll is hard for me. I don’t think Honda Should have to replace it, but I think its nice that they did. I didn’t vote today.

    I too am a Honda fan, and have found that they do always go above and beyond. In fact, I bought a used Honda quite a few years back from a private party and it was inspected and okay, but when I brought it in a year later for another service, they found a problem with the radiator. A mount was broken and the radiator was starting to crack. It was going to cost $700 to get a new radiator. The mechanic took me out into the parking lot and showed me the problem, and how I could replace the mount myself, gave me the rubber mount for free, and said with it re-mounted, it would easily go another year before the crack broke all the way through. Well, the radiator last 2 full years after that.

    If I were the OP, I would have accepted the fact that the stereo wasn’t under warranty, and replaced it myself. If Honda had offered to go above and beyond, I would have accepted, but if they stated they wouldn’t, I would have accepted that. I honestly would have never thought to complain to a consumer advocate and demand that they replace something that broke well after the extended warranty expired. I am sorry if I sound like an old curmudgeon, but I think this is another case of the entitled-squeaky wheel getting the grease.

    Also, when my old Honda stereo did die (Perhaps it was still under warranty, I didn’t check), I bought an aftermarket one for much less than the factory one, installed it myself (Very easy instructions), and it sounded much better than the factory one. Don’t get me wrong, I still love Honda and am on my fourth one right now and will definitely buy another.

  11. Just to clarify a few legal points
    The notice was for a class action settlement. If she didn’t receive adequate notice then the settlement doesn’t bind her. All she needs to do is establish that at the time of the mailing she had a different address.
    Also, the warranty isn’t the final word in a case like this. A warranty deals with problems that occur with the specific unit that you purchased. However, in a recall situation, the fact that the warranty has expired has no bearing.
    Depending on the circumstances behind the recall, I can see several ways to establish that the statute of limitations has not expired.

  12. Right thing to do except if the word gets out, Honda will have to fix many. I have an 03 bought less than a year ago. Wouldn’t ask after so long. Also there was no guarantee.

  13. It was a 10 year old car….what is the LIMIT here? There’s a point of ridiculousness here.

    1. I agree, it was working for 10 years, and the fact it went wrong had nothing to do with the class action suit, this is the sort of thing that can happen to any 10 year old car.

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