Honda announced in December 2011 that it is expanding, for the fourth time, an air bag recall because of too-powerful air bag inflators that could hurt or kill drivers by, in effect, blowing shrapnel into their chests.
The initial recall was announced in the U.S. in November 2008. The recent action involves about 873,000 vehicles and makes five total recalls for the problem. Honda spokesman Chris Martin says the automaker now has recalled about 2.8 million vehicles worldwide for the air bag issue, 2.5 million of them in the U.S.
The five recalls include certain 2001-2002 Accord, 2001-2003 Civic, 2001-2003 Odyssey, 2002-2003 CR-V, 2003 Pilot, 2002-2003 Acura 3.2 TL and 2003 Acura 3.2 CL vehicles.
The problem is blamed for two previously disclosed deaths in 2009 and another 18 injuries. The latest injury happened in Florida on Aug. 1, and that prompted Honda — which thought the four previous recalls had covered all suspect vehicles — to announce the latest expansion.
The danger comes from air bag inflators made by longtime Honda supplier Takata. The inflators were manufactured improperly and are too powerful. When they are triggered in a crash, the air bag system can’t handle the extra pressure and parts explode, blasting the driver with bits of metal and plastic.
The need to expand the recall so many times “identifies some pretty bad process control” at both Honda and Takata, Martin says. He says the automaker initially was told by Takata that only a small number of vehicles were at risk, so the initial recall was limited. “We were told there was this very small lot of air bags included. Then we got an expanded list, and that turned out not to be true,” Martin says.
Eventually, Honda “went really deep into Takata’s information, and now we’re recalling all that could be affected,” he says, and Honda expects the latest announcement to be the last.
Honda discovered that its system for tracking replacement air bags, installed when vehicles were repaired after crashes, was faulty. “We don’t have a really good system to track which car the dealer put the (replacement) air bag into,” he says.
So the latest U.S. number includes about 603,000 vehicles that Honda has to examine to find about 640 of the potentially faulty replacement air bag modules.
The recalls are costing Honda a fortune — hundreds of dollars to $1,000 per vehicle, according to mechanics answering questions on Internet sites — but Martin wouldn’t disclose a specific amount.
Takata also supplied faulty safety belts used by about a dozen U.S. and Japanese automakers, triggering a huge recall in 1995.