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NHTSA Upgrades Investigation Of Honda Odyssey Brakes Complaints

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WASHINGTON, Oct 23, 2009; John Crawley writing for Reuters reported that U.S. safety regulators this week upgraded their investigation of complaints of potential brake problems in Honda Motor Co's 2007-08 Odyssey minivans that may have contributed to 10 crashes -- the fourth notable probe or recall involving a major automaker in the past month.

Up to 343,000 Odysseys, one of the most popular minivans in the United States, are covered by the review, according to details of a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration investigative report that was dated Oct. 19.

The safety agency and the manufacturer have received about 600 complaints alleging "soft" or "spongy" pedal action on the anti-lock brakes. Vans in some cases took longer to stop and some rolled through stop signs or traffic lights, the government said.

Safety regulators and Honda have reported 10 crashes with seven injuries, none fatal.

NHTSA's preliminary analysis was launched in May and included 2006-08 vans. But investigators determined the matter overwhelmingly concerned the later models.

Safety documents show that investigators have upgraded their probe to an engineering analysis, which can precede a recall. The government gave no indication a recall would be the next step, however.

Investigators are looking at whether air is entering the braking system, causing the problem. Honda has said air may indeed accumulate after the engine is started but that the condition would not worsen braking performance even if the height and feel of the pedal is different at times.

Ford Motor Co announced this month that it would expand by 4.5 million vehicles its largest ever recall -- involving faulty cruise control deactivation switches in mainly older model vans, SUVs and trucks.

Toyota Motor Corp said in September it would recall about 3.8 million vehicles due to floor mats that can come loose and force down the accelerator.

NHTSA on Oct. 7 launched an investigation of Toyota's 2000-01 Tundra pickups following complaints alleging severe frame corrosion.

Editing for Reuters by Gary Hill