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Honda Extends Warranty on 1.2 Million Vehicles

Autos: The firm's U.S. unit moves to answer owners' complaints about transmissions.

September 21, 2002|JOHN O'DELL | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Moving quickly to satisfy Honda and Acura owners worried about transmission failures in their cars and minivans, American Honda Motor Co. said Friday that it would extend the transmission warranties on 1.2 million vehicles to seven years or 100,000 miles from the date of purchase.

The move comes after The Times reported Sept. 11 that the company, a unit of Honda Motor Co. of Japan, had replaced almost 16,000 four-and five-speed automatic transmissions during the last three years. Owners of the affected vehicles had complained of erratic shifting and in some cases spontaneous downshifting into low gears at highway speeds--a situation some owners said caused them to lose control of their cars.

Mike Spencer, a spokesman for Torrance-based American Honda, said Friday that a new count of faulty transmissions replaced by the company's dealers in the U.S. had boosted the total to 24,000, or 2% of those sold.

Spencer said Honda "wanted to do the right thing for our customers--service is a cornerstone of this company."

He said owners of Honda and Acura models covered by the new warranty would be notified by mail.

No accidents or injuries have been reported in connection with the transmission failures.

Extending the warranties may be insufficient to satisfy all customers, however.

Some Honda and Acura owners who contacted The Times after its report said they wanted their cars recalled and the transmissions replaced before something could go wrong.

Honda has said a recall is not necessary, and government regulators agree.

The extended warranties more than double the basic three-year, 36,000-mile transmission coverage on Honda models and add three years and 50,000 miles of protection to the Acura warranty.

Spokesman Spencer said the extended warranties cover automatic transmissions in all 2000 through 2001 Honda Accords, Odyssey minivans and Preludes; all 2000 through 2002 Acura TLs, including the Type-S; all 2001 through 2002 Acura CLs and CL Type-S models; and early 2003 Acura TL and CL models, including the Type-S.

Honda said it identified the transmission problems earlier this year--a weak bearing in four-speed models and a weak third-gear clutch pack in the five-speed models--and redesigned them.

Although customers also have reported transmission failures in 2002 model Honda Accords and Odysseys, Spencer said the company was not extending coverage on those models because its research shows they are not affected by the same problems.

A spokesman for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said that although the agency has received complaints from Honda and Acura owners, the staff that screens reports for safety issues has not recommended that an investigation be opened.

Several Honda and Acura buyers contacted The Times to voice concerns about buying Honda and Acura vehicles in the wake of the report that thousands of the cars' sophisticated automatic transmissions had failed and been replaced.

Tustin residents Collin and Jerri Corkum, who bought a 2003 Acura TL in March, said they were worried that Honda was not offering to recall and replace all of the transmission.

Collin Corkum said he had asked his Acura dealer and representatives of NHTSA for advice and been told there is nothing he can do unless the transmission fails.

"Must we drive in fearful apprehension until it happens? Or should we sell this car now at a great loss before everybody knows its track record and the lineup for replacement is several miles long?" he asked.

It is that kind of customer concern, Spencer said, that Honda is trying to end by extending transmission repair coverage on potentially affected vehicles.

James Hossack, an industry analyst with AutoPacific Inc. in Tustin, said: "This is not only a smart move, it is a necessary move. If you've got a problem like this, you need to own up to it and fix it and do it quickly and openly."

The American unit of Honda rival Toyota Motor Corp. recently received complaints from several thousand customers of major engine damage caused by an unusual buildup of oil sludge in various Toyota and Lexus models.

The company said there was nothing wrong with the engines and that customers were at fault for not following recommended engine oil change procedures.

Hundreds of customers responded with proof of regular maintenance. Toyota ultimately extended warranty coverage on the engines but maintains that the problem is with improper maintenance, not engine design.

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