American Honda Motor Co. said it plans to recall all 1973-1979 Honda cars sold in this country to check for possible rusting of crossbeams and other undercarriage suspension parts. It was the second major recall by Honda this year to deal with corrosion problems.
A Honda spokesman said the recall notices will not be sent to consumers until early next year, to give the company time to supply dealers with a new kind of antirust paint. "We can't even tell the dealers what to do yet," said the spokesman.
Some accidents have occurred because of the corrosion, which has caused breaks in the lateral suspension arms, front crossbeams and strut coil spring lower supports in some cars, but there have been no injuries, the spokesman said. No details on the number of accidents were provided.
The recall will affect 930,000 Hondas in the 1973 through 1979 model years and will cost $20 million, Honda estimates. Based on a survey it conducted earlier this year, about 2 percent of the cars will require "significant" repairs, Honda said. The company hopes that the new antirust treatment will be sufficient in most cases, the spokesman added.
Last July, Honda and the Federal Trade Commission reached a tentative agreement on a recall of Hondas from the 1975 through 1978 model years to compensate owners for severe rust on the top front fenders. The FTC has not yet taken final action on the program, but assuming that the agency stands by the agreement, Honda will issue recall notices asking owners to check with their dealers to determine elibility for repairs, installation of new fenders, or cash settlements.
The latest recall, on suspension parts, is voluntary, but the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said yesterday that it had "influenced" Honda's decision.
Honda said it became aware of the problem in December, following a rust recall by one of Honda's Canadian subsidiaries, and the U.S. organization began an investigation in this country. In August, the NHTSA informed Honda that it was conducting an engineering analysis of the undercarriage rust problem in response to owners' complaints and the Canadian recall.
An NHTSA spokesman said Honda had planned to limit the U.S. recall to cars sold in 15 northern states and the District of Columbia, where salt is widely used in winter to prevent icy roads, because the company blames its rust problem on road salt. The safety agency argued that the recall should be nationwide, and it prevailed, the NHTSA's spokesman said.
Honda wouldn't discuss its contacts with the NHTSA, but said the recall will cover all states "as a precautionary measure."
The NHTSA was involved in the suspension recall because of the potential safety hazard. The FTC's action, on the other hand, was not safety-related. The commission's Bureau of Consumer Protection contended that Honda knew, "or should have known," that its fenders were subject to "premature" rusting, and that it violated federal law by failing to disclose this to customers.
The July agreement was followed by a 60-day period for public comment, and the FTC received a two-inch stack of letters from Honda owners pouring out of stream of complaints about rust on fenders and other parts.
Many objected to the FTC-Honda settlement plan, arguing that it didn't cover Hondas from the 1973 and 1974 model years, although these also were vulnerable to the rusting problem, that it failed to include corrosion damage beyond the front fender area, that it provided a cash payment ($150 a fender) that was half the actual repair cost, that it failed to require mailed notices to owners living outside the "salt belt," and that it failed in some cases to cover consumers who purchased used Hondas from original owners.