TORONTO - Honda is recalling hundreds of thousands of vehicles in Canada and the United States after some of the Japanese carmaker's customers complained about the feel of brake pedals.
Although the issue has no connection to similar problems with Toyota vehicles, Honda admits there is a heightened sensitivity in the industry to consumer complaints because of the public beating Toyota has been taking, particularly in the United States, over safety concerns with its vehicles.
"There's certainly heightened awareness of the issues," said Honda Canada spokesman Richard Jacobs. "I think the climate certainly is more awareness or more concern about anything of this nature."
In Canada, the recall affects 24,680 Odyssey minivans and 4,137 Element sport utility vehicles from the 2007-08 model year. In the U.S., Honda Motor Co. is recalling 344,000 Odysseys and 68,000 Elements.
The recall follows complaints that brake pedals felt "soft" or had to be pushed lower and lower over time before the vehicle would stop.
Honda said this is due to air leaking into part of the anti-lock braking system. Over a period of months or years, the air can accumulate and result in the "soft" or "low" brake pedal feel.
"It really is the brake feel. It's not brake performance," Jacobs said. "This comes on very, very gradually, so it's not going to just suddenly happen. It's not going to startle a consumer."
The company says there have been no confirmed accidents in Canada related to the problem and it will begin contacting customers about the repair at the end of April. The repair is a "straightforward process" that involves draining the excess air out of the brake modulator and then sealing it, Jacobs said.
Customers who are experiencing brake problems should bring their vehicles in for repairs immediately.
A series of recalls due to safety concerns at Honda's rival Toyota have resulted in a "wave" of recalls at other automakers, partly due to heightened consumer awareness and corporate responsiveness, said David Cole, chairman of the Center for Automotive Research in Ann Arbor, Mich.
Toyota has recalled about 8.5 million vehicles worldwide because of acceleration problems and braking flaws. Regulators in the U.S. have linked 52 deaths to crashes allegedly caused by accelerator problems, and the recalls were the subject of three recent congressional hearings and a parliamentary hearing Tuesday in Canada.
In Canada, 270,000 Toyota vehicles were recalled over "sticky" accelerator pedals, and another 3,300 Prius hybrids were recalled due to inconsistent brake feel.
Other companies that have issued recalls in recent months include General Motors, Nissan, Ford, and Chrysler.
"We're just in one of those periods of high levels of sensitivity to this, and I think this too should pass at some point," Cole said.
One of the difficulties with both Toyota's sticky accelerator problem and Honda's current recall is that the issues are linked to wear and tear over time, which is virtually impossible to test for.
"Nobody in the auto business can yet predict perfectly the impact of age on something. You do accelerated testing, you run stuff at low temperatures and high temperatures and dust and salt, but age itself is something that is important and you just can't evaluate it quite as easily," Cole said.
"You're not going to wait 15 years before you put new technology in just so you can get the age data."
The increasing complexity of new vehicles and a movement toward standardized manufacturing processes worldwide are also resulting in more frequent and bigger recalls, analysts say.
Honda Canada employs approximately 4,600 people at two plants in the southern Ontario town of Alliston, where it builds the Honda Civic sedan, Acura luxury vehicles, and Honda Ridgeline trucks, as well as engines.