Brake problems on Honda Odysseys and Elements have forced the automaker to announce it will recall more than 410,000 vehicles beginning next month.
The vehicles affected are 2007-08 Odysseys and Elements, whose brake pedals can go soft and require drivers to push down farther to get their vehicles to stop.
The problem happens very gradually, so most owners of the recalled vehicles can wait until April 19, when Honda will begin notifying them to contact a dealer to have the problem fixed. The information of who's affected will also be available online here or by phone (800-999-1009, option 4). The company's alert is available here.
"This [brake problem] is not something that's going to happen to you overnight," says Chris Martin, a Honda spokesman. However, if the brakes already feel soft and unsafe, owners shouldn't wait until April 19.
"If they really feel there's a safety problem with their brakes, they should absolutely contact a Honda dealer and have it diagnosed," Mr. Martin adds.
The fix for the recall problem is free once the recall begins, but the dealer's diagnosis may not be, especially if technicians detect some other brake problem and the vehicle is out of warranty, Martin warns.
The brake recall stems from a problem in the assembly of what Honda calls a vehicle stability assist modulator. That's the part of the braking system that causes the brakes to pulse during a hard stop.
In a tiny percentage of cases, Martin says, the modulator's access holes (which allowed pieces inside the modulator to be assembled) were not correctly sealed. That allows the system to suck in a minute amount of air every time the modulator does a self-check (when drivers start their minivan, for example).
Over months or years, that air accumulates and mixes with the brake fluid, causing the soft feel that some Honda owners were complaining about. Honda technicians will plug and reseal those holes for recalled vehicles.
The problem doesn't affect later model Odysseys and Elements because, for other reasons, Honda changed the way their modulators were assembled, Martin says.