WASHINGTON -- U.S. auto safety regulators are investigating claims that the airbags in 2003-04 Honda Odyssey minivans can deploy without a crash.
In a filing on its Web site, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says it started a preliminary evaluation of the Odyssey on Thursday. The investigation affects an estimated 320,000 minivans.
NHTSA says it has received complaints from six Odyssey owners whose airbags deployed in the ordinary course of driving. Three of the six owners reported that they were injured by the airbags, but no crashes have been reported.
Late last year, Chrysler Group recalled about 745,000 units of the 2002-03 Jeep Liberty and the 2002-04 Jeep Grand Cherokee to fix a similar airbag glitch.
Toyota and General Motors recalled about 900,000 vehicles in January for similar problems. They were the 2003-04 Toyota Corolla and Toyota Matrix, as well as the Pontiac Vibe, built with Toyota at the New United Motor Manufacturing Inc. joint-venture plant in Fremont, Calif.
Those recalls stemmed from a NHTSA investigation that concluded that the airbags deployed because a spike in voltage stressed the integrated circuit system in the airbag control module. The supplier, TRW Automotive in Livonia, Mich., noted that the Odyssey used some of the same components.
Honda, in a statement, said today it is aware that NHTSA initiated the preliminary evaluation "based on a small number of complaints regarding the frontal airbag system" in the Odysseys in question.
"Honda has been monitoring this issue since responding to a NHTSA information request involving their investigation of another manufacturer last year," the statement said. "Honda will continue to cooperate with NHTSA through the investigation process, and will continue our own internal review of the available information."
NHTSA typically starts a preliminary evaluation when consumer complaints or manufacturer service bulletins suggest there may be a harmful defect.
Once that evaluation is complete, the agency begins an engineering analysis or closes the inquiry. Based on the outcome of the engineering analysis, a vehicle may be recalled or the inquiry may be closed without further action.