Reporting Jim Armstrong
BOSTON (CBS) – An international recall of close to 250,000 Honda and Acura vehicles announced this week can trace its origins back to a sunny afternoon drive on Route 2 West in Concord in October, 2010.
Carrie Carvalho and her boyfriend Rob Marchant were out for a drive in her 2005 Pilot when “it braked spontaneously at about 40 miles per hour, and veered off the road,” Carvalho explains. “The steering locked.”
“We were very lucky,” adds Marchant. “There was a car behind us that had to swerve because it was so sudden and abrupt.”
They got out to see if they could figure out what was wrong, but saw nothing out of the ordinary.
They started driving again, Carvalho says, when moments later “as we went further down the road, it happened again. At that point we couldn’t drive it at all anymore.”
The Arlington resident says she contacted her dealership, Honda Village in Newton, where she had purchased the car in 2008. But they were unable to fix the problem.
Her next step was to contact Honda’s corporate offices. But Carvalho tells WBZ, she was initially told nothing was wrong. She persisted, and eventually a Honda technician came to see her SUV firsthand. According to Carvalho, Honda contacted her a short time later and offered to fix the problem free of charge, but without a warranty on the work and only as long as she signed a non-disclosure contract promising never to talk about the problem. She said no.
(WBZ contacted Honda to confirm this series of events but a spokesman was unable to answer our questions by Thursday night.)
Stymied by what she felt was a lack of support, Carvalho eventually discovered that she could, as a private citizen, file what is known as a “formal defect petition” with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
“It just felt wrong to not go the next step with it,” she explains. “Because it was such a dangerous defect, I was concerned about other people driving on the road with it, obviously.”
This week, two and half years after the initial problem, came the recall from Honda. The company is recalling about 183,000 vehicles in the United States and about 70,000 others worldwide. Affected vehicles include the Acura RL, Acura MDX, and Honda Pilots from the 2005 model year.
In a prepared statement, Honda says the problem is with the “Vehicle Stability Assist (VSA) system in these vehicles. If an electrical capacitor on the VSA control unit was damaged during manufacture, the VSA system could malfunction and apply a small amount of brake force for a fraction of a second, without any input by the driver.”
While she is frustrated it took this long to begin the process of getting these vehicles fixed, Carvalho is happy that the problem has been acknowledged.
Her boyfriend says it’s been a “horrible” process, but that Carvalho “just did a phenomenal job of hitting every angle that needed to be done to get this to where it is now and I’m very proud of her.”
But Carvalho herself shrugs off the suggestion that her efforts have led to a global recall.
“I hope that it opens up the doors for people,” she says. “If they have any problems in the future with their vehicles to feel like they have a platform to speak about it and to be heard.”
Honda plans to contact affected drivers by mid-April.