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Honda recalled cars with Takata air bags in 2002: documents

By Paul Lienert

Honda recalled a small number of cars equipped with Takata Corp air bags in March 2002, two years before the first known injury that Honda and Takata have linked to a defective air bag inflator, Reuters has learned.

In its March 2002 recall notice, retrieved by Reuters during a search of U.S. safety databases, Honda told U.S. safety regulators that inflators in passenger air bags could rupture because of improper welds.

Since 2008, Honda and nine other manufacturers have recalled more than 10 million cars in the United States and more than 16 million world-wide for ruptured Takata inflators that have been connected to five deaths in Honda cars, including one in Malaysia.

Government documents on the 2002 Honda recall raise questions about when Takata and Honda became first aware of potential problems with ruptured air bag inflators and whether they had acted fast enough to inform U.S. safety regulators.

The 2002 notice could also trigger more intense scrutiny from U.S. lawmakers, regulators and investigators given that Honda’s senior executive told a U.S. Senate hearing last week that the automaker first learned of an inflator rupture in 2004.

“This remained the only rupture we were aware of until three years later,” Rick Schostek, Honda North America executive vice president, told the hearing.

Honda and Takata did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the 2002 recall.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) on Wednesday said it is “actively investigating” Honda and has received the automaker’s response to the agency’s Nov. 5 special order seeking documents and details related to air bags and inflators, going back to 1998.

In its 2002 recall notice, Honda said a dealer in November 2001 reported an “improper deployment” of a Takata air bag in a Honda Accord, and that Honda and the Japanese safety equipment maker immediately began an investigation and inspected the vehicle.

No passenger was seated in the car when the air bag deployed, Honda said. No injuries were reported.

The Japanese automaker recalled 2,686 cars, including the 2000 Accord and the 2000 Acura TL, according to NHTSA records.

Honda in September 2009 informed NHTSA that it was aware of an “unusual deployment” of an air bag in one of its cars in May 2004 – the first public notice of an inflator-related injury.

The 2009 letter to NHTSA was connected with the expansion of a November 2008 recall of nearly 4,000 Honda cars because the driver-side air bag inflator could rupture and spray metal fragments into the vehicle interior.

Honda expanded the driver air bag recall to 440,000 cars in 2009, and eventually to 2.5 million by late 2011. Since then, Honda has recalled another 5.1 million cars in the United States to address issues with both driver and passenger air bag inflators that could rupture.