Plain Dealer Auto Editor
Honda is recalling about 600,000 of its popular sport utilities and minivans in the U.S. and Canada because the automatic transmissions may fail, the automaker announced Wednesday.
The five-speed transmissions made in Russells Point, Ohio, near Marysville are used in some 2002, 2003 and early 2004 Honda Odyssey minivans as well as 2003 and early 2004 Honda Pilot sport utilities. Also covered are 2001 and 2002 Acura MDX sport utilities.
This is the second major problem Honda has experienced with its transmissions. In September 2002 the automaker announced it was extending the warranty on the five-speed automatic transmission on certain 1.2 million Honda and Acura cars to seven years or 100,000 miles.
Honda decided to recall the transmissions – at an estimated cost of $153 million – after finding 10 transmission failures, Honda spokesman Chuck Schifsky said.
"The reasoning is that we want to look at every problem and take it seriously," he said.
He said all the failures occurred in vehicles with more than 60,000 miles.
But the problem may be larger. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration consumer complaint section has at least three dozen complaints about various transmission problems on the Odyssey and MDX.
"Early transmission failure seems to be a problem with this car. Dealer knew immediately what was wrong," wrote one consumer.
Schifsky said those miscellaneous complaints did not play a role in Honda’s decision.
"Other automakers should follow Honda’s lead and recall rather than stonewall," said Clarence Ditlow, director of the Center for Auto Safety in Washington, D.C. "It is refreshing to see an automaker take responsibility for a defect."
Owners will be notified by mail if their vehicles are affected, and there will be no charge. Dealers will inspect the transmissions – which should not require disassembly – and make a "modification to increase the flow of transmission fluid," Honda said. If there is evidence of damage, the transmission will be replaced.
If the transmission is damaged, owners would probably notice extra noise. In rare instances the transmission could fail and lock up, "creating a potential safety hazard," Honda said. Of the 10 transmission failures Honda examined, "several" locked up, Schifsky said.
Schifsky said there is no plan for an extended warranty because Honda is confident it can fix the problem.
If Honda’s dealerships can handle the work without inconveniencing customers and the problem doesn’t result in any injuries, Honda’s solid reputation should not be damaged, said John Tews, a spokesman for J.D. Power and Associates, the market research firm.