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As Honda Keeps Racking Up Recalls Will it Tarnish Maker’s Quality Reputation?

Honda logs 3 big recalls in one week – impacting 1.7 million vehicles.

by on Oct.08, 2012

The Honda CR-V -- a 2006 shown here -- has faced a number of recalls this year.

It was a busy week for Honda, the maker announcing three separate recalls impacting 1.7 million vehicles – even as federal safety regulators revealed a new investigation that could eventually lead to the recall of yet another 600,000 Honda minivans and SUVs.

The latest developments put Honda firmly on track towards repeating last year’s dubious achievement as the maker to recall the most vehicles in the U.S. market. Of a total 15.5 million vehicles recalled in 2011, 3.8 million of them carried badges for Honda or its luxury brand Acura. This past week’s recalls alone accounted for nearly 45% of last year’s total.

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Even before the latest series of recalls was announced, George Peterson, chief analyst with AutoPacific, Inc., warned that Honda “needs to be worried” about the impact the ongoing series of recalls could have on its traditional reputation for building some of the market’s highest-quality products.

The latest service action involves 266,000 Honda CR-V crossovers produced during the 2002 to 2006 model-years.  The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration determined that a switch in the driver’s door Honcould melt if it comes into contact with rain or other liquid, leading to an electrical fire.

The problem could occur even if the vehicle is parked – leading the government safety agency to suggest owners should not use the affected vehicles until repairs are made.  Honda, however, disputed that warning, claiming a fire is likely only if a large amount of liquid somehow enters the door and comes into contact with the switch.

The maker says it knows of four fires caused by the problem, though it has no reports of crashes or injuries.

Honda says customers can inspect their vehicles and the maker says in most cases it will only need to install a cover to prevent liquids from coming into contact with the switch. Official notice of the recall will go out next month, Honda saying inspections and repairs will be made at no charge to consumers.

But the question is what cost the ongoing recalls might have for Honda – beyond the actual price tag for making repairs.

Last week began with word of a recall involving 573,417 Honda Accord and Acura TL sedans due to a potential fire risk.  The maker had previously recalled 52,613 vehicles for the same problem.

Several days later, Honda announced it would recall 820,000 Civic compacts and Pilot SUVs due to a problem that could cause their headlights to unexpectedly fail.  The maker had already recalled 550,000 vehicles for that same problem earlier in 2012.

Then, on Friday, NHTSA announced it had begun a probe of 577,000 older Honda Odyssey minivans and Pilot SUVs because a shift interlock may fail, allowing a motorist to remove the vehicles’ keys without being shifted into Park. If that happens it may be possible for the vehicles to unexpectedly roll, especially if parked on an incline. At least two injuries have been linked to the problem, one involving a motorist whose leg was crushed.

Honda officials have repeatedly said that quality is a key to maintaining their competitiveness in a crowded American market.  And the maker scored the top spot among mainstream brands in the latest J.D. Power Initial Quality Survey which measures “out-of-the-box” quality of vehicles in the market for 60 to 90 days.

Nonetheless, company officials have also acknowledged that the steady stream of recalls could be a problem for their reputation. While senior officials were not available to comment on the latest string of safety related actions, Honda’s top American official John Mendel recently told that last year’s recall of 3.8 million vehicles “was an incredible challenge.”

That’s all the more so, industry experts warn, as the quality gap between manufacturers closes.  While Honda might have been the leading mainstream maker in the 2012 IQS, noted J.D. Power analyst Dave Sargent, key import and domestic players were not far behind.

What’s made the problem worse for Honda has been the poor reception many of its recent products have received – notably the latest-generation Civic, as well as more niche models like the CR-Z and Insight.

Honda is counting heavily on the current launch of its all-new Accord to rebuild its image and momentum.  The brand’s sales have been on a sharp upswing, however, in part driven by Honda’s overall recovery from the March 2011 Japanese earthquake and tsunami that left it short of product for most of the rest of last year.

But having safety related recalls land in the headlines at such an aggressive pace could give some buyers pause to consider other options, analysts like Peterson warn.

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4 Responses to “As Honda Keeps Racking Up Recalls Will it Tarnish Maker’s Quality Reputation?”

  1. bryanrmorris says:

    I feel ignored and unloved by Honda. They have steadfastly refused so far to recall my 2006 Element. Where’s the love?

    • Paul A. Eisenstein says:

      Hi, Bryan,
      A couple calls to NHTSA reporting, oh, a leaky gas tank, wheels that fall off and maybe windows that mysteriously go up-and-down on their own, smoking in the process, might get someone’s attention!
      Paul A. Eisenstein

  2. HoboRat says:

    Honda still gets away with murder though. They recall the old Civics and hybrids for a headlight switch but no on ever forced them to recall and fix the cvt transmissions that Honda admitted were bad and had to recall in Japan. Thousands of owners had to pay out of their own pockets for repairs of a Honda defect and Honda covered their own butts by changing the warranty to prevent them from losing more money and forcing more customers to pay. The dealers were in on it as my own dealer kept telling me for over a year the shudder and noises were nothing to worry about, until it failed, then it was “oh, thats the cvt problem, you owe us $1600 to fix it since your warranty expired a few months ago.” Lies and deception to protect their reputation. The government didn’t care about defective transmissions …. but a headlight switch … OMG … that’s a safety hazard. Where’s the justice for the cvt owners?

    • Paul A. Eisenstein says:

      Hi, Hobo,
      In comments following our story on Toyota’s loyalty numbers you’ll find a comment from another reader who questions whether this site is too harsh on the Japanese. I tend to think we’re just trying to strike a fair balance…as we do with all makers. And, per your point, I believe there’s been a bit of a shift over the last few years that makes it more difficult for makers to simply rest on their laurels, whether they be Japanese, domestic or European.
      Paul A. Eisenstein