Honda May Set the Record for the Longest Running Rolling Recall

Seven years after Honda issued the first Takata airbag recall, it continues to add more vehicles to the tally. Its never-ending rolling recall – a scheme automakers use to quietly keep adding more makes and models as deaths and injuries keep occurring – has gone from 3,940 model year 2001 Accords and Civics to up to at least 8 million vehicles, spanning a giant chunk of its fleet. And that number is soft because it is impossible to break down Honda’s web of overlapping recalls, varying explanations, and numerous recall extensions to determine an actual number.

Despite Honda’s public statement that it is “committed to addressing the needs and concerns of our customers and making clear that we stand behind the safety and quality of our products,” the beleaguered automaker continues the secrecy that led to the massive Takata airbag recall.

Honda just announced that it is recalling another 104,871 driver’s side airbags with Takata inflators. This latest recall (15V153) is an extension of the earlier nationwide recall (14V351) of 5.4 million vehicles. Honda’s March 16 Part 573 recall and noncompliance report explains how it discovered earlier this month:

“Through a process of matching Takata airbag inflator part numbers to individual VINs based on factory production records, as a method of data confirmation, Honda discovered that a total of 88,549 units of the 2008 Honda Pilot should have been included in 14V351. Additionally, Honda identified certain 2001 Accord (5,454 vehicles) and 2004 Civic (10,868 vehicles) that had not been properly identified by VIN as being produced for the US market, and is adding those vehicles to 14V351.”

Honda’s explanation of a small data collection error sounds straightforward: During our effort to conduct a thorough investigation, we learned that a smallish number of specific vehicles were left out of the list. But this isn’t exactly the story of a quick turnaround. After Honda discovered this error, but before it reported it to NHTSA, the automaker launched a “multi-million dollar print, digital and radio advertising campaign” which urged owners “to take immediate action to check for open recalls to replace Takata airbag inflators.” The list of affected models in this blitz never mentions the vehicles in this newest recall.

 In a March 12 press release, John Mendel, Executive Vice President of the Automobile Division of American Honda Motor Co., Inc., proclaimed:

“The goals of this campaign are to save lives and prevent injuries. Honda hopes that this new consumer information campaign will bolster our existing and continuing efforts to reach our customers and maximize the vehicle repair completion rates associated with recalls to replace Takata airbag inflators. These ads are a strong call to action from our company designed to break through the clutter, grab the attention of customers driving affected vehicles, and urge that they get required repairs as soon as possible.”

Left off the press release’s summary of affected models? The 2008 Pilot that Honda already knew it was going to recall. Also missing was any indication that Honda would be adding more VIN numbers to the 2001 Accord and 2004 Civic recalls – which might have “urged” customers who had already checked their VINs and thought they were safe, to check again. There’s no mention of the latest recall on Honda’s website.

Vehicle owners using Honda’s VIN-look-up database, are almost always informed that their vehicles are part of one of the 2014 recalls. But often, a specific vehicle has also been among those recalled in one of the previous campaigns between 2009 and 2013, before the cover-up of the widespread danger blew wide open. And there is overlap in many of those recall populations, confusing the situation even more. So, customers who had never received a notice have no way of knowing that their vehicle has been under recall for years. They can’t know their own vehicle’s recall history unless they check the VINs and build dates included in all 10 Honda recalls.

And The Safety Record has another bone to pick: In touting December’s Recall 14V351 as a nationwide campaign of 5.4 million vehicles, Honda has encouraged the misperception that this represents the sum total of the U.S. recall population. But this month the automaker added more. And by the way, Recall 14V351 replaced driver’s side airbags. Several recalls of passenger side airbags are still in effect, covering about 2.7 million vehicles.

We’ll believe Honda’s claims of transparency when they start giving the public accurate numbers of how many vehicles and when they were actually recalled.