BMW April 2022

The Honda Motor Co. is recalling roughly 350 000 vehicles in China to resolve a cold-climate engine problem and quell a barrage of customer complaints that has hit the automaker over the past month.

The recall covers the CR-V crossover and Civic compact car equipped with a 1.5-litre turbo engine, Honda’s joint venture with Dongfeng Motor Group Co. said in a recent statement. The company is calling back those vehicles to resolve a problem caused by an unusual amount of uncombusted petrol collecting in the engine’s lubricant oil pan.

The problem in some cases caused a strong odour of petrol inside the vehicle and in other cases the vehicle’s check-engine light came on. Honda and Dongfeng plan to resolve the problem by updating the engine’s gasoline injection control software.

Honda officials said there had been no reports of accidents. They said the engine oil problem doesn’t affect the engine or the car’s performance. The measure comes after CR-V and Civic owners turned to the Weibo microblog – China’s Twitter equivalent – and other means to air their complaints since mid-January. The recall points to an emerging pattern in China where customer complaints spiral out of control as they are aired out on Weibo, forcing an automaker to respond.

Years ago the kind of recall Honda recently announced could have been handled through a so-called customer service action, industry officials and experts say. That refers to what the auto industry calls a “quiet recall,” which is less damaging financially and imagewise, where an automaker fixes a non-safety problem, often free of charge, whenever the customer comes to the dealership.

“Without Weibo, it would have gone on for years,” said James Chao, chief automotive analyst for IHS Markit in the Asia-Pacific region. “That’s the way it was for the industry in the pre-Weibo, pre-Twitter era.”

Honda did not disclose the scale of the recall in its statement, but a Beijing-based spokesman and other company officials said Honda and its joint venture partner are likely to call back roughly 350 000 vehicles. “We’re still trying to determine the precise number of cars affected,” the spokesman said.

Normally uncombusted petrol ends up accumulated in the lubricant oil pan but evaporates under heat from the engine. Such evaporated fuel is by design put back into the engine combustion chamber as fuel. The issue involving the CR-V and the Civic has occurred in northern China where temperatures can dip well below the freezing point and when drivers of the affected vehicles drive short distances frequently. On short runs, Honda engineers believe the engine doesn’t warm up enough to help un-combusted fuel accumulated in the lubricant oil pan to evaporate.