CLEVELAND - An exclusive 5 On Your Side investigation has uncovered a potential safety issue involving 1.5 million 1999-2002 Honda Accords based on complaints filed with federal safety regulators.
As a result, the Center for Auto Safety is calling on Honda to issue a voluntary recall due to rust that is quietly eating away at a major structural component.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration confirms it has received 11 complaints since 2009 of sub-frame rust that owners say has left their vehicles unsafe to operate.
There were no reports of crashes, injuries or deaths.
The sub-frame is a key structural element that holds helps hold a vehicle together.
In each case, the rust is located on the passenger side -- just below the drain for the vehicle's air conditioning system.
Tom Hites is a Cleveland area resident who first became aware of a rust issue last August.
"I heard a big clunk from the front end," said Hites.
He immediately headed to a local garage near his home where he was advised his sub-frame was rotted through and the vehicle was unsafe to drive.
That came as a surprise to Hites who has years of Honda service records that failed to indicate his sub-frame was rusted through.
"Nobody says anything," said Hites.
"All of a sudden, from the last oil change to this one, all of a sudden the sub-frame is rusted out."
Records we obtained from NHTSA detail similar complaints, including sub-frames that were described as "unsafe, failed inspection and in dangerous condition."
WEB EXTRA: Read the complains filed here: http://on.wews.com/RnUGn6
Hites provided Honda with photo's showing water from the air conditioning drain hose dripping onto the passenger side sub-frame, but was told there was nothing the company could do.
There was no rust visible on the drive side sub-frame.
A spokesperson for Honda said the company has also received 11 complaints but does not believe there is a defect and has not issued safety bulletins to warn consumers.
Honda described the location of the air conditioning drainage hose as "incidental" and not "causal" and insists the location of the rust would not be "easily seen during routine maintenance."
The company said a design change in the location of the drainage hose on 2003 Honda Accords was unrelated.
Even so, our 5 On Your Side investigation brought Hites Honda Accord to a local garage where a certified mechanic with 30 years experience said the rusted sub-frame could be easily seen during oil changes, tire rotations or break repairs.
Wally Parker operates Wally's Auto Service and said the rust would be 'hard to miss.'
"The minute we got it up there on the lift," said Parker, "we spotted it."
Another local mechanic even took his own video of a rusted Honda Accord sub-frame and posted it on YouTube.
Chris Wells operates Preppy Boys Auto Service and described what he saw.
"We picked up a camera and started pokin' at it -- and it just disintegrated," said Wells.
Meanwhile, the Center for Auto Safety in Washington is now calling on Honda to issue a voluntary recall.
Executive Director Clarence Ditlow said, "There's not question this is a safety concern."
"What you have are hundreds of thousands of owners driving the roads on a vehicle that may suffer catastrophic frame failure due to corrosion," said Ditlow who is calling on Honda to notify owners to have their vehicles inspected.
It's not the first time that auto makers have been faced with rust issues.
Toyota issued a voluntary recall of 110,000 2000-2003 Tundras for rust problems in 2010.
"Sooner or later," said Ditlow, "someone is going to be killed, there's going to be a big product liability lawsuit and Honda very well may wind up paying more in litigation costs that in doing what they should be doing -- which is do a recall today."
Ditlow agrees that while the rust issue is beyond the warranty period, Honda has a obligation to "notify owners to inspect vehicles, on their own, and if they find sub-frame rust either replace it or get rid of the vehicle."
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