“You want to buy a honda? Don’t you know Honda suspensions fail very frequently” said Shola to Kunle who had fallen in love with a Honda Accord 2015 model and was hellbent on buying one.
“Do the suspensions of Honda vehicles fail often?” I’d be lying if I said “No”.
“Does that means Hondas are very bad vehicles?”… Hold on for a minute.
Honda suspension failures: is it universal?
As an Honda fanboy, I decided to search out the cause of this problem and why it is native to Hondas mostly, and after a few years of research, I found a few things out;
- This issue very rarely happens outside of Nigeria, and at best, is localised in Africa.
- Almost all the online discussion groups and Honda fan pages could not relate to the issue.
This gave a better perspective to my research and I found these to be the issues.
Our calamity of a road network in the country
It is not news to a Nigerian that there are more potholes than 100m of good road in Nigeria. The true test of a driver in Nigeria is how well you can dodge potholes, drive at high speed, avoid hitting people, bikes and other cars, evade road safety, and repeat it every minute. And because of this, our cars dilapidate fast.
If you think I’m lying, buy a brand new Corolla and drive from Ojor to challenge through Iwo road and back every day for 6 months, and let me listen to the music your wheels will be making by then.
All these issues just compound to disfavour Honda cars. It will drive fine for the first few months and like every normal car, the bad roads will get to it, then you will replace the faulty part, only for it to fail a few months after, and then it becomes an endless cycle.
A short excerpt from a post in Hickersville
As we can see clearly stated here, this is the only report I have seen of Honda suspension problems outside Nigeria, and it can easily be tied to a road network that looked exactly like ours.
Double Wishbone Suspension
Cars generally use four types of suspensions:
a. Macpherson struts
b. Double wishbone suspension
c. Multi-link suspension
d. Trailing arms.
Of these four suspensions, the most widely used are :
1. Macpherson struts
The Macpherson struts are conventional, cheap and easy to work on. They are limited in some areas like inability to adjust ride height, camber, lack of performance features etc.
2. Double wishbone suspension.
Honda got involved in formula 1 as early as 1964, and after a short withdrawal period, they returned in 1983 as engine manufacturers for Williams and McLaren teams.
During this period, Honda was involved in the development of formula 1 cars and they decided to implement some of the things they learned in their road cars.
One of the things they implemented amongst others was the double wishbone suspension on the 2nd generation Honda accord in 1987.
The double wishbone suspension was used in race cars because though it is more complex than the conventional Macpherson struts, it allows for more room of adjustments on the suspension like toe angle, camber, ride height (the vehicle is able to sit closer to the ground allowing it to explore higher speeds comfortably).
All these adjustments result in maximum control for the driver in any situation, whether taking corners, swerving, soaking up bumps or exploring extremely high speeds. Personally, I’ve driven many cars very fast and I can only say that the cars I was comfortable with doing 200km/hr and above are Hondas and German machines, all of which use the double wishbone suspension.
Which types of cars use double wishbone suspension?
Double wishbone suspension systems are common on high performance cars and sporty sedans. Popular cars with double wishbone suspension systems include: Alfa Romeo Giulia 952, Lancia Delta S4, Mercedes-Benz (most models), Toyota Tundra, MG Rover TF, Honda Accord and Aston Martin DB7.
The double wishbone suspension is supposed to help the vehicle do well, so how is it a problem?
If you go back and check the types of cars which use double wishbone suspension, you will find out that the only front wheel drive vehicle and the only economy vehicle among them is the Honda Accord.
This brings us to the first reason Honda cars keep having suspension failures:
Problems of the Double wishbone Honda Suspension
- The Double Wishbone suspension is difficult to adapt to front-wheel-drive cars.
Honda was the first manufacturer to utilize double wishbone suspension on front wheel drive vehicles and this allowed them to adjust the handling of their cars to be stable under any condition. When they combined this handling performance with VTEC (variable valve timing and lift electronic control) which allows them to pump out incredible power from small-sized engines, they produced sleepers. (power + control = confident speed)
However, this suspension type doesn’t do well with the many varying motions of a front wheel drive car, that is, the turning left and right under load, the different up and down movements and the pulling force of the wheel in order to move the car.
Now, while most manufacturers found it very difficult to achieve, Honda did it with relative ease. The only problem that came with it is the complexity of repair when compared to other vehicles in its class.
When you put all these together, it is easy to understand why the double wishbone suspension fails faster in an Honda car than in Benz and BMW which do not have the pulling force of the shaft on the suspension because they are rear wheel drive.
2. It is a very complex system that uses more parts and is therefore more expensive – to design, produce and maintain than other types of suspension, including the MacPherson strut suspension. More parts in a system means more propensity for failure as wear and tear goes on.
3. Another major problem is that all these parts depend on one another to work fine, and once one of them starts to fail, they begin to pull on each other predisposing the whole system to failure.
If one of the many parts fails, the whole system needs to be serviced and repaired, which tends to take longer than other suspension systems.
Unavailable reliable and durable parts.
The spare parts market in Nigeria is a very pitiable one. Only in Nigeria will you prefer to buy parts removed from faulty vehicles that were used overseas than to buy new parts. This issue is something that isn’t experienced in the US and other developed countries.
The major problem with the Nigerian market is that most of the vehicles we use here are at least 10 years old. In that timeframe, the car manufacturers would have discontinued the production of those cars, and would only produce a little amount of original parts, and these will go to the whites because of their proximity to the manufacturing location..
For cars over 15 years since, the company would most likely have stopped producing anything on that vehicle. To put this into perspective, Toyota Camry (big daddy) is 17 years old!
This leaves the consumers at the mercy of used (sometimes faulty) parts, or low quality China-made ones.
My personal experience
I’ve personally used three Honda vehicles, one 1994 Accord and two 1999 Honda CRVs. The Accord only ever had the suspension failure once in all the 8 years of its use and was fixed easily.
However, the first CRV had a different story. The car never had issues for the first 3 years, it drove like a dream, was the first car I did 180km/hr with, and boy was it comfortable to control!
All these changed when I had an accident in 2011, it was so bad that two tires spoilt, an alloy rim shattered and the whole right front suspension assembly was destroyed and had to be re-assembled. From then on, it was a 2 – 3 month schedule with the mechanic to replace the “kingpin”, the lower arm ball joint, at an unplanned junction.
How much was the kingpin? #1500. At a point, just by turning the wheel, I could tell when next it was going to fail.
I then sat down with my mechanic and asked him if this is how I was going to continue experiencing this issue because apart from that, I had no other problem with the car. It was then that he made me understand that that same kingpin that sold for #1500 new and #2500 tokunbo, had an exact same look-alike which would almost be indistinguishable from it others that were being sold for #14,000 (fourteen thousand naira). This part is a maximum of 14cms tall and 5 cms wide.
I asked him why he didn’t recommend it to me, and he made me see the problem with our automobile spare parts industry in Nigeria:
- Most people don’t want to pay for value
- The fake and the real can not easily be told apart, so he can easily be duped, whereas, duping is the order of the day.
- What if he is duped and the part fails? Won’t I lose trust in him?
At this point, I understood why the problem is native to Africa and Nigeria especially. The car didn’t have any issues until I had the accident and the parts had to be replaced with the ones in the country which means the original was swapped for the fake.
Abroad, they can easily walk into Autozone and pick up the original new part from off the shelf and put it on their vehicle at a scheduled time of service written in the owner’s manual unlike here in Nigeria.
You may say, but Toyotas also have fake parts and they do fine, the answer is that most Toyotas use Macpherson struts, not double wishbone suspension, so the effect of a bad part is not easily felt because the different parts of the system aren’t dependent on each other to function well.
All these issues just compound to disfavour Honda cars. It will drive fine for the first few years and like every normal car, the bad roads will get to it, then you will replace the faulty part, but the kingpin will just start failing anyhow because the part is faulty or the mechanic didn’t do it right.
Mind I say that my dad and I then got a suspension specialist and spent heavily on the CRV, to our amazement, for about a year, we didn’t have any cause to fix it again till we sold it.
Hondas are not bad vehicles, they just need the right parts and specialist hands.
2011 till present…
In 2011, Honda suspensions were entirely redesigned. Honda decided to abandon the double wishbone suspension and moved to the Macpherson struts in a bid to save cost and to move to a simpler and more reliable working system.
Since that time, there have been almost no occurrence of these suspension failures.
Quick fix for the lower ball joint suspension
Some mechanics have found an indigenous solution to the ball joint failure. Read here
To know how to carry out daily checks on your car, click here.