Honda is recalling almost 46,000 Odyssey minivans from the 2008-9 model years because the struts that support power liftgates on higher-priced models may fail, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
In a document posted Wednesday on the agency’s Web site, Honda said it had concluded that a manufacturing flaw on Odyssey minivan EX-L and Touring models equipped with power liftgates allowed pressurized gas to escape from the struts. The condition could result “in the liftgate closing under its own power, possibly unexpectedly,” the automaker said. Chris Martin, a spokesman for Honda, later wrote in an e-mail that the liftgate may “fall a short distance” before the system’s motor was engaged to support the tailgate’s weight.
Honda was responding to an investigation initiated by N.H.T.S.A. last September after the agency received seven complaints, including two from owners who asserted they were injured by falling liftgates.
That was the second instance in which the safety agency investigated Honda’s minivans for strut failures. The first time, Honda fought N.H.T.S.A. to what amounted to a regulatory standstill.
Citing an “unreasonable risk of injury,” N.H.T.S.A. informed Honda in 2009 that it wanted a recall of 22,000 Odysseys from the 2005 model year. In refusing the agency’s request, Honda said in a letter that it “respectfully declines the staff’s request for a safety recall of these vehicles.” The failure of the struts was an inconvenience, but not a safety defect, Honda said.
Honda also noted in its defense that N.H.T.S.A. didn’t compel Toyota to recall 196,000 Siennas from the 2004-6 model years when owners of those minivans reported similar problems. Toyota refused, and the agency allowed what was called a safety improvement campaign to be conducted instead of a formal recall.
It is unusual for an automaker to openly defy N.H.T.S.A. The agency could have pressed the case and taken either Toyota or Honda to court. Instead, in 2010, N.H.T.S.A. allowed Honda to conduct a safety improvement campaign of its own, in which the automaker installed new struts at no charge to affected owners.
Recalls demand significantly more attention and expense, requiring the automaker to provide the safety agency with detailed reports, including completion rates. A recall is also an admission by the automaker of a safety problem.