A Line Worker Might Have Tightened Your Balljoints, But Honda Isn't Totally Sure

Image: Honda
Image: Honda

Back when I was in college, I worked in an auto parts factory owned by Japanese suppliers. The twin principles of kaizen and kanban effectively ran my day to the second. If anything went wrong with any part of the production, the whole thing would be shut down until the fault was found and either fixed or improved to the point that it would never fail again. It was obvious very early on that the single variable of the assembly plant that Japanese businesspeople can’t engineer out is the American line worker. It is often in our nature to find a shortcut or workaround in an effort to avoid causing trouble.

Based on Honda’s account of the cause of a recall of 245 Ridgelines and Passports, that seems to have been what happened here.

According to Honda:


Due to a lack of maintenance to the steering gearbox workbench (pallet & clamps), the steering gearbox was improperly secured to the workbench, triggering an alarm during the tightening procedure. To subvert the alarm, the operator inappropriately performed the procedure by applying the torque wrench to the torque analyzer rather than the part itself.

If I can translate automaker-ese, I think this is basically saying that the fixture in the part of the assembly line where steering components are assembled together was faulty, and rather than shutting down the line and risking the ire of their superior, this worker simply found a workaround. Instead of using the “torque analyzer” to determine if the bolt was tight enough, the worker instead ran the torque wrench into the torque analyzer and gave it a couple ugga duggas until it rang up the right input.

These 245 cars affected by the recall were built over the course of two days (the 21st and 22nd) in September of last year. It seems that the worker did torque the nuts, though the steering box may not have been in the fixture properly, so they may not have been torqued to the right spec, and the torque analyzer didn’t get applied to the nut, so there’s no proper record of it being torqued. In a case of an overabundance of caution, Honda is having all cars built on that line for those two days inspected and torqued.

The company even estimates that around one percent of the 245 vehicles are “involved with defect,” meaning that between two and three cars might actually need the inner ball joint to be torqued.

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