Honda Odyssey Owners Report Transmission Troubles, Inconsistent Response from MakerBy Michelle Krebs March 10, 2010
Toyota vehicles are dominating headlines lately with recalls and rebuttals, but just as annoying to Honda Odyssey owners are the transmission problems they are experiencing -- problems some owners believe Honda is unwilling to acknowledge or address.
Since October 2006, members of Edmunds' CarSpace Forums have contributed more than 1,400 individual posts to a thread called Honda Odyssey Transmission Problems that details not only their Odyssey transmission issues but also the action - or inaction - they've seen from Honda dealers and parent company, American Honda, in response.
Owners of some 2007 and newer models are reporting a distinct "judder" from their Odysseys when driving between 20 and 45 mph -- an issue that Honda addressed in a 2009 technical service bulletin and is repairing under warranty. However, by far the largest group of transmission complaints involves Odysseys from model years 1999 through 2004.
According to Edmunds.com's recent analysis of complaints to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), consumers cited transmission-related problems with 2001 through 2004 Odysseys more than five times as often as they did for the Toyota Sienna or the Chrysler Group's Caravan, Grand Caravan and Town and Country minivans during the same model years.
Source: Edmunds.com analysis of NHTSA data Years represent model year of complaint; not the year complaint was filed.
In the typical experience, drivers of these Odysseys notice erratic shifting, a flashing "D" light in the gauge cluster and sometimes the illumination of the traction control light and/or the check engine light. One owner describes it as a rather harrowing experience: "It gave us just a few minutes of funny noises and then locked up. It was a very curvy road, hilly road -- a dangerous and scary place to have a car just stop. We were lucky we weren't rear-ended at high speeds."
After getting their cars inspected, owners are told that the transmission has failed and must be replaced, usually with a re-manufactured unit, a repair that can cost $4,500 or more.
Needless to say, this comes as a surprise to most. As one noted, "Don't they realize the reason people buy Hondas is so that they don't have to worry about ending up in this type of situation?"
To its credit, Honda recognized the issue early and voluntarily extended the Odyssey's original transmission warranty to 7 years or 100,000 miles for the 1999 through 2001 model years. That warranty was further extended by 9 months or 9000 miles in response to a 2006 class-action lawsuit.
Later, in coordination with NHTSA, the car maker also issued a recall meant to permanently address the problem for 2002 through 2004 model year vehicles.
But that's not what most consumers are posting about today. Rather, the issue now - reflected in the fact that fully one-third of the posts are from 2009 onward - is that neither of these actions appears to have fully addressed the root cause of the transmission failures.
As the owner of a 2000 Odyssey reports, "I had my transmission replaced at 102K miles under the full Honda warranty. I thought, whew, won't have to worry about that one again. Wrong! 40k miles later, my transmission fails again!"
Says another, "Second transmission was paid for by Honda at 77,700 miles. It failed this past Saturday at 120,000 miles or after only 42,000 miles. I got 100,000 miles out of the original front brakes! But I couldn't get that many miles out of either transmission!"
Dozens of different owners report similar repeat failures of the transmission, some coming as soon as 30,000 miles after a complete replacement of the unit.
Honda spokesman Chris Martin told AutoObserver.com the automaker believes the percentage of a second transmission failure versus the high volume of Odyssey models sold is likely relatively small.
"But," he acknowledged,"that's little consoliation to the customer."
Martin said the customer has the option -- and should exercise that option -- to request financial assistance -- "goodwill" from the dealer or from Honda directly -- for a fix.
Honda's Inconsistent Response
One post explains, "Call American Honda and report your problem like I did. They will take your info and assign you a case number. A case manager will call you within the next two days and work things out with you."
But, with the recall work having been carried out and the extended warranties now mostly expired, Honda has no standard response to these requests, which complicates and aggravates the situation for owners, who must plead their individual cases.
Honda's Martin acknowledged that each complaint is evaluated on a case-by-case basis. "Each one is a totally different situation," he said. Factors considered are the age and mileage of the vehicle and customer loyalty and the customer's history of purchasing Honda products.
Not surprisingly, the results, owners report, are decidedly mixed.
"I wrote a letter to Honda customer service and I was able to get them to pay 25%. It's not much but at least it is something," posts one owner. Another recounts getting a slightly better offer, "a 50/50 split on a $4,600 repair charge."
Meanwhile, others disclose they got nothing at all. One says, "I went round and round with Honda of America. We had previously owned 6 Hondas...and that meant nothing to them." Another: "Had the recall done as soon as we were notified (31k), had the blinking D problem just after our extended warranty expired at 107k (replaced 4th gear switch - $300) and now at 121k the transmission must be replaced (estimated $4850). I opened a case but Honda has denied me."
The CarSpace thread is filled with differing and often contradictory stories like these - as well as detailed advice about how to get the most from your Honda case manager, including tips like "be persistent and polite," "do not blame or curse Honda or the dealership for the failure" and "have your paperwork handy, including service records." One warns, "They try to lowball you on their first offer, so if you hang in there and plead for more money it may help."
Another suggestion: "Have your wife call Honda. Have her remind them that she's a mother of small children." An owner who tried this after getting nowhere himself reports back that his wife called and "10 minutes later, Honda America was paying half."
Given the varied responses they've received, many owners seem to believe that case managers are there "so Honda can pay less or reject the case." States one, "Don't think they are here to help consumers."
Mixed Owner Reaction
Unsurprisingly, this hasn't exactly inspired confidence in the brand. As one owner reasons, "Either the transmissions are defective and you should stand behind your product and make it right or they aren't defective and you shouldn't pay anything."
Still, some feel the automaker has treated them fairly, even generously. "Honda is not obligated to do anything for you when a warranty is no longer in effect," points out a 2002 Odyssey owner who was "grateful" to get a $1,000 reimbursement after having to replace the transmission outside the warranty period. "Think about this," the owner continues, "I no longer had a warranty, but Honda still agreed to do something for their customer."
Another thinks that extending the transmission warranty to 100,000 miles on affected vehicles "shows great integrity" when "other manufacturers probably would wait until a law suit occurred" and promises to continue buying Hondas despite experiencing multiple transmission failures.
Indeed, many who have experienced such failures, as disappointing as they've been, appear willing to give Honda another chance. An owner whose 1999 Odyssey is on its third transmission says that "other than the transmission issue and a few typical/known problems, the 99 has been a great van for us."
A different owner has already decided to spring for "the totally redesigned, hopefully improved transmission, 2011 Honda Odyssey" when it rolls into showrooms this summer, explaining, "I have driven Hondas all my life and this was the first time it has given me problems. I am willing to forget this and will give them another chance."
So is Honda's quiet approach to this problem working? Certainly, the company stands to benefit handsomely from the far more public scrutiny of issues that rival Toyota is now facing.
However, new posts are being added almost daily to the Honda Odyssey Transmission Problems threat - not to mention to similar threads for other Honda vehicles from the early 2000s that employ the same transmission, including the Honda Pilot and V6-equipped Honda Accords as well as the Acura MDX and some Acura CL and Acura TL models. And, as one owner noted, "it certainly can't be good for business when a person googles 'Honda Odyssey' and 'transmission problems' shows up at the top of the results."
And that's the word on the street. -- Mark Holthoff, Edmunds.com manager of Customer Support