Jayne O'Donnell, USA TODAY
When Honda on Thursday announced a recall of nearly 250,000 Honda and Acura vehicles worldwide for brake problems, including 183,000 in the U.S., it said it had "several complaints" from U.S. owners.
But National Highway Traffic Safety Administration documents show there have been 205 complaints just on 2005 Honda Pilots braking inadvertently.
The recall of 183,000 vehicles in the U.S. also includes the 101,000 Pilots SUVs, 60,000 Acura MDX SUVs and 21,000 Acura RL sedans, all from the 2005 model year. It also includes 800 of Acura's 2006 MDX models.
Carrie Caravalho of Arlington, Mass., petitioned for NHTSA to look into the problem. She was riding in her 2005 Pilot at about 45 miles per hour in October 2011 when it started braking and the steering locked, causing her to veer off the road, she said in an interview Thursday. Thinking it was a fluke, she got back on the road and it happened again.
"It's not like it brakes a for second," says Carvalho. "It takes control of the vehicle."
Honda now says the defect is in the vehicles' stability control system, which helps the driver keep control, sometimes by selectively applying braking. Oxidation in wiring or a loose bolt can cause the sudden braking. Honda spokesman Chris Martin acknowledges the company is aware of far more incidents than Caravalho's.
But when Carvalho contacted the dealer and Honda, she says they wouldn't do anything about it. Even though she was afraid to ever drive it again, she's had to keep making payments as the SUV sat in her driveway.
Martin says the braking incidents are very infrequent and difficult to duplicate.
"It probably really comes down to being able to duplicate and demonstrate what happened to the vehicle," says Martin. "All of these vehicles are outside of the warranty. The dealer has to actually to be able to see something happening" to fix it.
Another 70,000 vehicles, including the Odyssey minivan, were recalled in Canada, Australia, Mexico and Germany. They were produced from March 2004 through May 2006. But the U.S.-model Odyssey is not recalled.
Honda's stability control system integrates braking, traction control, stability control and "brake assist," which is designed to reduce stopping distances during emergency braking. NHTSA said in its investigation report that the allegations of unexpected braking appeared to be related to inappropriate activation of the brake assist function.
Some of the other incidents were even more dramatic than Carvalho's.
Martin says he doesn't know the details of Carvalho's case personally but that the company will handle incidents like hers on a "case by case basis."