More Troubles for Honda: 2.5 Million Recalls

August 10th, 2011

2012 Honda Civic

Even before the terrible earthquake/tsunami disaster in Japan, Honda seemed to be losing its way. I wrote a story in May of last year about that.

More recently our estimable tgriffith told you about Consumer Reports’ slam of the new Civic (above)—for bad brakes and handling, a choppy ride and, yes, an inferior interior. CR rated the Civic 11th out of 12 small sedans, and that made big news in the car world.

Now the company is getting slammed again, this time with a recall of 1.5 million U.S. cars and another million in China and Canada for an automatic transmission problem affecting 2005-2010 Accords, Elements and CR-Vs.

The UK’s Financial Times (subscription required) noted it was one of Honda’s largest recalls ever, “equivalent in size to 70 per cent of the 3.5m vehicles that Honda sold last year.”

Why is this happening to the “once proud” leader in small cars? For years, Honda (and the Civic in particular) was the one to beat, the best-engineered, best-made, best-selling. Now it’s being seriously challenged by, of all companies, Hyundai, formerly producer of some of the world’s worst-made cars.

2012 Hyundai ElantraNow, cars like the Elantra (right) are nipping at the Civic’s heels, because Hyundai is on a roll and Honda appears to be the victim of cost-cutting. And/or it’s gotten lazy and arrogant.

The company has also been producing some of the ugliest cars on the street, like the Odyssey and the Crosstour. The Accord has become a big tank.

Honda is rapidly becoming the old-style GM of Japan and may be on the way to losing its brand equity. Yet it still has enormous marketing clout in the U.S. and around the world, with legions of fans.

Recalls in and of themselves don’t signify poor quality, but they can illustrate a pattern. Ford last week recalled some 1.2 million F-Series pickups and has been taking heat for a transmission problem in Mustangs.

Whether and how quickly Honda responds to the strong signals of deteriorating quality and value will tell the tale. So far, in the last two years, it has been squandering its reputation.

Will Honda emerge from its recent troubles and regain its position as world leader in small cars?

—jgoods

Find Used Cars in Your Area at CarGurus

Used Honda Civic
Used Honda Accord
Used Honda Element
Used Honda CR-V
Used Hyundai Elantra
Used Honda Odyssey
Used Honda Accord Crosstour

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  1. Tim J
    | #1

    I’ve thought for a long time that Hyundai was the new Honda. Looks like I was right!

  2. | #2

    Hyundai cut their teeth building knock off Japanese cars improving on Japanese quality is second nature some of the old Hyundai excels & accents were ok better than their Mitsubishi donor, These guys know what their doing and theyve studied the markets and players for decades Hyundai diesel cargo vans are a great drive and a hard worker and more comfortable than Toyotas Hiace, Hyundai are selling a lot of vans here These guys are taking market share with what people want at good prices.

  3. Randy
    | #3

    I’ve always had mixed feelings about Honda. I’ve seen dozens of them in tear down, where the cars are disassembled into their component pieces and laid out on tables. In GM’s teardown center in Warren, there were generally a dozen or more similar models laid out side by side for comparison, and you could get a very good feel of how different manufacturers build cars.
    Frankly, Honda excelled in engines years ago, but the rest of the vehicles were a bit on the cheap side.
    My wife decided to buy a Civic wagon back in the 1980′s. It ran great, but it had a cheesy automatic transmission and suffered from internal body corrosion that resulted in all the windows and locks freezing up. The air conditioning failed just past warranty because the condenser coil rotted out.
    In other words, Honda doesn’t make very good cars. To add insult to injury, when I did find myself looking at Hondas a few years back, I found them making antilock brake systems optional and/or forcing you to buy much more expensive models to get them. I won’t drive a vehicle without ABS, and Honda’s anti-safety approach to profits turned me right off.
    In any given price range, I don’t think you can do worse than Honda these days. Toyota, Huyundai, Nissan, even Kia are better choices. You can probably only do worse with brands like Mitsubishi.

  4. Dimi
    | #4

    I got my own experience with Honda Odyssey 2002. In addition to several small issues like rear windows openers to be replaced and a few more, I got a serious issue with the transmission when it started switching to neutral in the middle of intersection, or one night it was simply locked in the parking position in the middle of the night when we both with my wife were caught in a few miles from our home for a few hours expecting a towing truck to deliver this junk to the dealership to get it fixed. I’ve never seen it before but the indicator were whowing P and D positions at the same time and the transmission stick was completely locked. To my surprise the dealer was able to start the engine and switch the transmission just 5 hours later in the morning. A few weeks later when it shifted to neutral in the center of Scottsdale causing a serious trouble to all the cars around I came to another dealership and made them repalce the transmission. I knew that this transmission was recalled in many cars, but it should not until you start complaining. Well, I spent a few days in a rented minivan, although it was free for me, it was unconvenient for a few more reasons. I finally got my Honda Odyssey EXL back and an hour later I got the “Check Engine Soon” signal on. The guys in the dealership talk me that the new just installed transmission was dead as well! Nice work Honda!!! A few more days of waiting and I got it back again with the third transmission. But what I did – I called Honda USA and explained them the situation mentioning that if the next transmission fails again they have a pretty big chance to get into trouble. Meanwhile I found on the Internet that one woman while driving this car on the freeway got the transmission switched to Parking on her 65 m/hr. Luckily nobody was killed. But it caused a complete destruction of the tires and something else. Honda took this car and repaired with no questions asked including the wheels. But how can we trust this car after all that? Good questions. The only two positive things that I got from this history are: I got 35,000 miles of additional warranty for the transmission. I hope it will not die pretty soon, because the second one died in just a few miles. I don’t need to change the transmission liquid, it was done when I got a replacement. But these are very weak positives comparing to what could happen if this trans got locked on the freeway in the middle of the desert in the middle of some terrible night. What should be my next car? I got no idea, but I cannot trust this brand for sure.

  5. jgoods
    | #5

    @ Dimi
    I’ve heard stories before about Honda transmissions, but this one is truly incredible. Congratulations on keeping your cool. When things like this happen, a person is trapped into not only having to keep the car but fearing the worst each time you drive it.

  6. Jim
    | #6

    Well,after three new accords and one civic I am moving over to Hyundai. My engine light came on at 50K, took it 1/1/2 miles to a local shop because of my bad experience at a Honda Dealer here in las Vegas as they have a F rating at the better Business Bureau only to get a reapir est of over 3000 dollars, timing chain tensioner failed leading to immediate damage to the head. Next car will have 100k warrenty. This should not have happened with American Honda and the dealer telling me I failed to maintain the Vehicle, even though I provided it’s entire service history,then telling me it was because I did not have a F rated dealer service my car. Was always a Honda fan, nevermore, customer service has gone right out the window.Hyundai here I come for mine and my sons next cars. Thought I was going to own Honda’s my whole life. SAD it is.

  1. | #1
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