Honda will replace air bags nationwide if drivers ask

David Shepardson
Detroit News Washington Bureau

Washington – — Honda Motor Co. said it will replace air bags nationwide if customers complain, even though it is currently limiting its newest recall of vehicles with Takata air bags to about 2.8 million vehicles sold or registered in high-humidity states.

Honda disclosed the fact in a document posted on the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration website in recent days.

“It is our practice to repair these vehicles outside of these regions at the request of concerned customers. Additionally, we have a customer service procedure that addresses our individual customer needs and concerns and encompasses, as appropriate, the replacement of air bag inflators and the provision of or reimbursement for temporary alternative transportation,” Honda said in the document dated Nov 6.

Honda spokesman Chris Martin defended the action and said the Japanese automaker is “doing this not because these vehicles have been secretly included” in the recall “but simply if a customer owns” vehicles outside the recall and is concerned, the company would take steps to make owners satisfied as it would with other issues. Martin said Honda has “no reason to believe that there is a concern” for safety issues outside the high humidity areas.

Late Tuesday, Martin pointed to a Nov. 6 statement on Honda’s owner website that referred to the practice that he hadn’t mentioned when The News first asked how all owners would know of the program. That statement said for concerned customers in “certain” vehicles, Honda would replace air bags “as appropriate” and provide for reimbursement for temporary alternative transportation.” The statement was not included in Honda press releases.

Martin said Honda has replaced some air bag inflators not covered by the recall but didn’t know how many.

Sen. Ed Markey, D-Massachussetts, said NHTSA, “not Honda, should have been the first to call for this nationwide replacement of deadly air bags. NHTSA should require a nationwide recall, and should require Honda and other affected car companies to immediately announce mandatory nationwide recalls to protect American drivers.”

Honda is recalling about 2.8 million vehicles registered or initially sold in high-humidity areas including Florida, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas and Hawaii, along with Puerto Rico and U.S. territories. By contrast, nine other automakers are recalling vehicles only in Florida, Hawaii and the U.S. territories. Since 2013, Honda has recalled more than 5 million vehicles in the United States, and the 10 automakers have recalled more than 7.8 million vehicles.

Honda also said it has added California to its regional investigation campaigns “after there was a single abnormal deployment of a driver’s frontal air bag inflator in a vehicle not covered under an existing inflator recall. We added California to investigate potential causes of that single event.”

Honda said it will provide free rental cars if it doesn’t have enough parts. It said if it ran out of replacement parts, it would work with customers to address their needs until parts are available, including the provision of or reimbursement for temporary alternative transportation,” Honda said.

Unlike Toyota Motor Corp., Honda will not deactivate any passenger airbags in the event that there are not enough spare parts.

The callback covers 2003-2005 Honda Accord, Civic, CR-V, Element, and Pilot; 2003-2004 Honda Odyssey; 2003-2005 Acura MDX; and 2005 Acura RL.

Many in Congress want the recalls expanded nationwide. Honda recently reclassified its callback from a safety improvement campaign to a formal recall. A Senate hearing is set for Thursday.

This isn’t the first time in recent weeks Honda hasn’t publicly disclosed all information about the air bag recalls linked to five deaths worldwide from exploding air bags sending metal fragments into drivers. Last week, Honda disclosed the fifth death — a pregnant woman in Malaysia — even though it told NHTSA more than two months ago.

NHTA said in documents posted that it first learned of the Malaysian death from Honda on Sept. 11. Honda said it was expanding its recall of vehicles by 170,000 — though none in the United States — in the aftermath of the Malaysian incident.