[UPDATED] There is a Dangerous Problem with the Honda Clarity

UPDATE July 23, 2019
This problem has not yet reappeared, even with my personal testing. I was close to zero on a Palm Springs-hot day (was 108º F) and the engine raced when at 0 battery, but I didn’t lose power. I’ve been working with American Honda’s customer support for a few weeks now. They kept steering me back to the dealership but they have found nothing. The Clarity does not log any data so I purchased an OBD II connector with an iPhone app, so am keeping an eye on any aborrent behaviors (like the check engine light coming on and staying on for 36 miles but no errors were seen). Will update again if need-be.

My wife and I had a terrifying loss of power in our new 2019 Honda Clarity yesterday AND we were in rush hour traffic on CA-73 (a toll-road that runs from Newport Beach to I-5 in Laguna Niguel, California) driving along at 70MPH.

Here is what happened and how we discovered afterwards that this is an isolated, but seemingly common, quite dangerous issue with the Honda Clarity PHEV.

LOSS OF POWER IN RUSH-HOUR TRAFFIC

It’s late afternoon yesterday (May 31, 2019) and we are headed home from an appointment up in Huntington Beach, CA. We are driving on CA-73 in the Clarity’s HV Mode. When the battery drops to two bars — the baseline where the car’s computer stops the drainage from the battery to power the car — the engine is supposed to kick-in but it began REVVING and then lost ALL POWER.

Since we were going up a hill, the Clarity immediately dropped from 70mph to 40mph in seconds and kept dropping. Pushing the accelerator to the floor did nothing except redline the engine and it gave NO POWER TO THE WHEELS TO MAKE THE CAR GO.

Due to the rush-hour traffic on all sides (and cars coming up behind us at 70mph or greater), we *barely* are able to make it to the shoulder with cars honking and speeding around us! It was a truly terrifying experience. No matter what I did, I couldn’t get the car to power itself. I had to turn the car off, then back on, put it in “Sport” mode, and then we were able to drive it like it should work when the battery is depleted.

Just so you know, the Clarity Plug-In Hybrid has 3 modes: ECON, Sport and HV. ECON is battery-only. Sport is what you’d expect: it uses the battery and ICE (Internal Combustion Engine) to power the car simultaneously. HV mode uses the engine and the electric motor to power the Clarity as efficiently as possible in order to achieve the highest possible MPG.

In seconds I was switching between these modes in an attempt to get SOME power to safely get the car to the shoulder. My wife suggested turning on the hazard flashers which I did, and fortunately several cars slowed down so we could coast over to the side of the road and turn the car off.

After the adrenaline rush subsided, I was stumped that the car wasn’t smart enough to either warn me or, more importantly, to simply self-correct and not put us in to such a dangerous situation.

FOUND OUT I’M NOT THE ONLY ONE

Returning home, I find DOZENS of postings showing this is an issue many people have experienced. I concur with most that this is a DANGEROUS situation and HONDA HAS BEEN SILENT on this major issue.

CAR COMPLAINTS
I’ve found about 15 places where people have described the exact issue we experienced, but some also discuss other situations where the car had this revving-no-power problem (revving is also euphemistically called “angry bees”) even without a depleted battery. At CarComplaints.com there are several, including many like these:

January 15, 2019: “3 days after purchase I was driving on an interstate when the car suddenly lost all power. I managed to pull to a slow lane but the lack of power continued for another 5 minutes. It had been running on battery just prior and I had 2 bars of power left. The outside temperature was about 15 degrees. The internal combustion engine began to race but only began to give adequate power to the wheels after 5 minutes. A terrifying experience. Honda checked out the car and said nothing was wrong. I am hearing of other cases being reported like mine.”

Steve Borsch note: This is what happened to us, but the outside temperature was approximately 67 degrees. In the next two CarComplaint’s posts I’ve bolded specific items of note:

January 09, 2019: “Car revs up when driving down the highway but drops speed to 10mph. It has done this 2 times once in town and once on US-23 while driving 70mph. There are several complaints about the car doing the same thing to other Clarity owners and this is a highly dangerous situation that Honda should take care of! Reineke Honda in Findlay Ohio had my car for about 3 weeks and while test driving it the car did the same thing for the service manager Mike Stevens. They took a control box off a brand new Clarity per Honda’s suggestion and I am driving the car and had no new problems so far. They were not sure this would fix the issue but so far it hasn’t happened again. This is a dangerous failure in the car and I am lucky I wasn’t driving in Columbus, Ohio the 2nd time the car did it or I would have been rear ended! Honda needs to make sure this problem is fixed!!!”

February 09, 2019: “On approx 6 occasions, when EV power is used up, the car switches to ICE mode with issues. When traveling up hill, it feels like the transmission is not engaging. The vehicle losses power, and does not accelerate. The ICE revs extremely high without speed gain. Have also experienced a downhill situation with nearly full EV in EV mode. Vehicle feels like it disengages drivetrain. When pressing the accelerator, there was no response. One feels helpless when this occurs. Most of the time, the car had switches from EV to HV automatically, without issue. But, the above phenomena has happened 6 times in the last year this is unsafe. The vehicle was sold as an EV, with a gas engine to take over when EV runs out. At no time was there any explanation regarding potential situations that would cause the vehicle to become unsafe and lose power. One should not have to ensure reserve EV power for potential power loss situations. When these situations have occurred, upon shutting off the car and exiting, there is a strong smell of burning rubber and other material similar to transmission and brakes, or hot metal. Clearly something is overheating, and if the vehicle was not shutdown and allowed to cool, a reasonable person might conclude that significant damage to the engine, electric motors, EV battery, or transmission would take place. I am no longer driving the vehicle as a pure EV for city driving. The fear of power loss without control is extremely upsetting, and consequently, not getting the value of vehicle. My spouse will not drive the vehicle as driver or passenger if the trip is to exceed 20 miles in one direction. My gas savings has dropped considerably as I am unable to risk running out of EV before my trip ends. This vehicle has been taken to the dealer 3 times, and inspected by Honda of America. They deny there is anything wrong with the vehicle.

WHAT’S NEXT, HONDA?

What do I do next? More importantly, what do YOU do next, Honda? Almost all postings I’ve read say that dealer investigations turn up nothing and are a waste of time. I suspect it’s because the fundamental software code is at fault, something a dealer cannot fix.

HONDA: This is clearly a software issue since the switchover from HV Mode’s battery/engine, to only the engine, does not happen correctly. You must fix this before someone (or multiple people) die in a horrific crash and you are found to be at fault for not addressing this issue.

WHERE IT HAPPENED: Here is where it happened to us yesterday — we were headed southbound on CA-73 up a hill and the ‘shoulder’ we had to pull over on was on a bridge over El Toro Road, with cars racing by at top speed:

WHY A TWEET AND THIS POST: The primary reason I tweeted Honda today and am writing this post (and will tweet it too), is to document what happened, where it happened, and to have an audit trail in case something happens to me or my family while driving this car … or Honda does nothing to fix this issue and puts an unknown number of Clarity PHEV owners in continued jeopardy.

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16 Comments

  1. Yannick on October 20, 2019 at 5:13 pm

    Been fighting Honda for 16 months for the same exact issue + another multitude of electronic issues (engine not stopping, dash going black, range way off, radio issues, car not starting at all, 17 issues altogether). I was bullied by Honda’s lawyers, Thousand oaks Honda dealership refuses to take my car in after I brought it multiple times, they tell me that nothing is wrong. Finally last week the District manager who had told me that his priority was to “make me happy” told me: You are on your own! Anyone wants to go in on a class action? Contact me at yannicktruchi@verizon.net



  2. Steve Borsch on October 20, 2019 at 7:55 pm

    Here’s my suggestion since you mentioned Thousand Oaks so I assume you’re in California too: Connect with a Lemon Law lawyer like I just did.

    Though I have to collect all of my service paperwork from the dealer, these CA lemon law attorneys (http://thelemonlawattorneys.com ) I’ve connected with may, after reviewing my case, take it on. The CA lemon law means they can get the car companies to take positive action for you *and* I think they get compensated by the car companies for the legal work. I’ll update this post (or write a new one) once I play this out.



  3. Sam Chau on November 5, 2019 at 5:58 pm

    I have the same problem on my <3months old Honda Clarity PHEV on gas mode. I left the car at dealership yesterday, they test drove it and did not find any issue and asked me to pick up the car as there is no problem with it.



  4. Mary on November 8, 2019 at 12:19 pm

    I have a Honda Clarity 2018, and the engine is revving, making such a loud noise. I almost sounds like it is blowing up. i just purchased the car in June, and I don’t know what to do about this. After reviewing your comments, It doesn’t sound like Honda is looking into this issue. Any suggestions?



  5. Steve Borsch on November 8, 2019 at 10:29 pm

    I would go to the dealer with the car and have them check it. Some forum posts I’ve read see people calling it “angry bees” as the engine revs up…but it’s because the engine is small and runs to charge the battery as well as provide forward momentum.



  6. Stephen Golden on November 15, 2019 at 7:45 am

    I have had my Honda Clarity since June of this year. Last month it was at the dealership due all the fault warning appearing on dashboard, it appears to be fixed. Today it is back at the dealership, lost all power to the drive wheels. Engine would sound like it was at 8000 rpms. Pulled over turn engine off restarted the engine run a few minutes similar problem but I could get the car up 25 miles per hour.



  7. Yannick on November 15, 2019 at 9:40 pm

    Please let us know if your dealer was of any help. I went to 3 dealers and none of them have helped. It’s been deny, deny, deny! They maintain that nothing is wrong with the car when I have 16 different problems.

    Would love to prove them wrong.

    Someone got a new control unit and of course it fixed all issues including high rev, another got a dealer to find excessive dust in some parts and it also fixed the problem.

    But for dozens of people it has been a nightmare and Honda has done NOTHING.



  8. Steve Borsch on November 16, 2019 at 4:45 pm

    I’ve been solely working with the dealer that sold me (Rancho Santa Margarita Honda) but they, too, have been no help … even though they’ve “serviced” the car several times in its first 7,000 miles since May 26th when I bought it.

    After all I’ve read and investigated on the issues like these with the Clarity, I’m 98% certain that it’s their ECM (electronic control module) which houses the software that runs the car. ONLY American Honda can truly diagnose a problem in software, since dealers don’t have the right tools or knowledge (nor access to the ECM’s software or firmware).

    By the way, it’s Saturday and I climbed in the car to move it out of the garage as we were headed to a family luncheon. THE CAR WOULD NOT START … FOR THE *FOURTH* TIME!



  9. Karen on December 6, 2019 at 3:10 pm

    What if EVERY time this occurs we call roadside assistance? Honda must track that. I can’t even put a number on how many times this has happened to me. Conditions do not matter.



  10. Steve Borsch on December 6, 2019 at 3:42 pm

    That is what I’ve done, Karen, so there is a record of each time something has happened. Especially when the car wouldn’t start four times! Even though my wife and I have AAA, each time I called Honda Roadside Assistance since I needed a jump or, in two of those cases, the car towed to the dealership and so Honda had a record of the problem.

    All my Honda Clarity posts are here.



  11. Steve on January 24, 2020 at 9:13 pm

    My son has a Honda clarity 2018 which we bought in Utah. He is iat college in Los Angeles area. His lithium ion battery died and Airport Marina Honda says he will need a new battery. It is only 6 months old and has just 2300 miles. Turns out Honda doesn’t have any replacement batteries in USA and he was told it would be shipped here from Japan in about two months. After reading your reviews I am worried about his safety even after his battery is replaced. Honda America is rude and uncaring. They told him he could still drive it despite the flashing warning lights and constant audible alarms saying he has no airbags, low tire pressure, brake system problems, vehicle stability assist malfunction, and power steering system problems. They would not give him a temporary loaner since their “American Honda expert” deemed it safe to drive. Our dealer in Utah says they don’t service them in Utah anymore and the dealer at Airport Marina Honda is saying it up to Honda America since he didn’t buy it there. He even has an extra total care auto warranty but apparently it is only good at the dealership in Utah. So frustrating. Will never but from Honda again. Not sure if this fits any class action case you are pursuing but will definitely be reaching out to a lemon law lawyer next.



  12. Marcia on February 3, 2020 at 11:45 am

    I have had some similar problems with my Honda Clarity, though not as severe as yours. I had the car for over a year and maybe 18000 miles on it with no problem, but then one day I passed someone and the engine kicked on and would not shut off the rest of the way home even though there was plenty of EV charge left. I noticed a burning rubber smell when I parked the car. Ever since then, the engine occasionally runs, for no particular reason, when in EV mode with plenty of charge remaining.



  13. Steve Borsch on February 3, 2020 at 1:17 pm

    Hi Marcia,

    My guess is that you might have pushed the accelerator down past the point where you feel a little bit of resistance? That’s the point where the engine will kick in and, if you’re going up a hill or at high freeway speeds, it can keep running.

    No idea on the burning smell though. But in my research to try to uncover what might be up with my own Clarity, I did discover that, like the Chevrolet Volt always did, the engine is set to run by the car’s Electronic Control Module (ECM) at periodic intervals to keep the small internal combustion engine (ICE) in peak condition.

    A few weeks ago I talked with another Clarity PHEV owner at a grocery store. He was bugged that 99% of the time he can drive back and forth to work in EV mode only, so why would the ICE engine ever need to come on? When I told him what I’d discovered about it needing to run periodically, he said “Oh, of course, I had a buddy with a Volt and he told me the same thing.” I didn’t feel so dumb then! 😉



  14. Marcia on February 3, 2020 at 3:00 pm

    Adding to my previous comment, the dangerous problem you describe should be reported to the National Transportation Safety department, where, if they get enough complaints and agree this is a dangerous malfunction, they will force Honda to address the problem with a recall. Here’s a link to their webpage for starting such a complaint:
    https://www-odi.nhtsa.dot.gov/VehicleComplaint/?_ga=1.203170257.1767629473.1491918395&gclid=Cj0KCQiApt_xBRDxARIsAAMUMu8IHYqEjrzCWbXB2uDR4yzoYEMT5u46A8QIzVvf8AwZABfl0kaxCKkaAtQfEALw_wcB&gclsrc=aw.ds



  15. Steve Borsch on February 4, 2020 at 6:25 am

    My issue was added some time ago and there are others there too. The NHTSA obviously must have a set number of complaints before they “force” a manufacturer to take action. When I did my initial research last year, I’d only found 33 complaints online at NHTSA, Clarity Forum and InsideEVs where people had experienced the unintended loss of power. Maybe that’s not enough?



  16. Catherine on February 4, 2020 at 1:19 pm

    Thank you all who have taken time and posted your experiences. I don’t own a Clarity, and was curious about the experiences people have had with them. I wish you all well, and hope between Honda and the NHTSA you will get satisfaction, and this car will be made safe for all.



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