Post and Courier
September 2, 2014

Car Talk — Separate recall notices on same possible fire-inducing problem leave Honda owner in fits

Posted: 11/30/2013 12:01 a.m.

•Q. I have a 2007 Honda Fit. A couple of years ago, I got a recall notice that said there was a defect in a part in the door and that the Fit might catch fire because of it. A fix was in the works, but Honda suggested that Fit owners not park their vehicles inside the garage until after the part was replaced. Interestingly, the fires were caused by water getting into the door when it rains ... outdoors ... where Honda wanted us to park our Fits. Ignoring the fact that the fires are caused by rain, I parked my Fit outside until I got the warranty work done to fix the problem. Last week, I got another letter from Honda stating (ahem) that the first fix didn’t work quite as planned, and that a new fix will be rolled out soon. In the meantime, they suggested that 2007 Fit owners not park their vehicles in the garage, since they might catch fire. They said to park them outside, where, presumably, the rain can get in and cause them to ... catch fire. My question is, even after this second fix for the same issue, should I ever park this vehicle inside my garage again, ever? What if the second fix doesn’t work either? Just sign me ... Nervous•

TOM: Yeah, that is a conundrum, isn’t it? Honda did, in fact, recall some 140,000 2007 and 2008 Fits because water, or a spilled Starbucks Venti Frappuccino, could get inside the door when the window is open, work its way down and corrode the master window switch.

RAY: Window motors require a lot of electricity in order to lift that heavy piece of glass ... and do it in less time than, say, it takes my brother to get to work in the morning (which usually doesn’t happen ’til around noon). And since that master switch controls all of the car’s window motors, there’s a ton of juice coming into it. So if the switch corrodes and shorts out, it could potentially lead to an unplanned and unwanted marshmallow roast.

TOM: When Honda first recalled the cars for this problem, they fixed it by putting some plastic material around the master switch, which they then sealed up with tape. What they discovered later was that the tape wasn’t doing the job and could still let water in, leading to corrosion and the above-mentioned marshmallows.

RAY: So now they’ve decided to just replace the switch itself with an upgraded and redesigned switch — presumably the one they started using after 2008, about which we know of no complaints.

TOM: Of course, they didn’t have 140,000 of these new switches on the shelf, so what they want to do is inspect your Fit and look for signs of corrosion on your switch. If they see any, they’ll replace the switch right away. But if there’s no sign of corrosion, they’ll ask you to wait until they can make more switches, which probably will be a matter of months.

RAY: So until you get the new switch, your Fit is still technically vulnerable to this corrosion and fire syndrome. So if they ask you to wait, I would continue parking the car outside.

TOM: Yeah, I definitely would not park it in your garage, unless three other conditions exist: (1) The garage is detached from your house, (2) you have replacement cost insurance coverage on it, and (3) you’ve been wanting to redo the garage anyway.

RAY: Actually, Honda says that rain or other liquids can get inside the door only when the window is open. So your car should not get any worse if it’s parked outside with the windows rolled up.

TOM: But if the switch has begun to corrode, obviously you don’t want to risk parking it in a structure that’s attached to where people sleep.

RAY: And I wouldn’t leave any priceless Renaissance paintings in the car until you get it fixed, either. Good luck.

•Q. Can I check my oil with a paper towel or an old towel, or is it best to use a shop towel? I’m wondering if the lint from paper towels affect the oil’s protective qualities.•

TOM: No. I mean, if you throw the whole roll of paper towels into the engine, you might have a problem.

RAY: Or if you were wiping off the dipstick by dipping it in a box of cat litter.

TOM: But a tiny bit of lint from a paper towel or a cloth towel won’t hurt anything.

RAY: The engine has an oil filter, and anything large enough to cause any trouble is quickly trapped by that filter and taken out of the system.

TOM: And anything small enough to get through the filter is either (A) oil, or (B) small enough to be “absorbed” by the oil and held in suspension, where it can’t do any damage while the oil circulates.

RAY: So you can check your oil with a pure heart. And with the Quicker Picker-Upper, if you like.

Got a question about cars? Write to Click and Clack in care of this newspaper, or email them by visiting the Car Talk website at www.cartalk.com.