The “Earth Dreams” nightmare
The reason these SUVs have started trembling can be summed up in three letters — MPG.
Honda had big plans for its popular SUV in 2015, and it started with squeezing out a few extra miles per gallon.
First, they gave the CR-V a direct-injected, 4-cylinder engine known as “Earth Dreams.” We’ll save complaints about the name for another day. Then they swapped out the old standby, 5-speed automatic transmission for the new and shiny continuously variable transmission (CVT).
This new engine and transmission combination improved fuel economy by reaching maximum horsepower at lower engine revolutions per minute (RPM).
Lower RPMs means the engine isn’t working as hard → not working as hard means less gas is used → less gas means better fuel economy → better fuel economy means the marketing department can get all excited about EPA estimates again.
All hail, the mighty MPG.
Honda CR-V EPA Fuel Economy Estimates
|Model Year||EPA City (MPG)||EPA Highway (MPG)|
To Honda’s credit, the new setup worked. Compared to its predecessor, the 2015 gets 17% better MPGs around town and just under 10% on the highway. Not bad, but ….
Lower engine RPMs come at a cost
One well-known issue in the auto industry is that as you lower engine RPMs at low speeds (or idle), you increase noise and vibration.
“This car is severely vibrating including car back seat, toys/things on car back seat are vibrating and making noise. I have requested American Honda and dealer to buy back this car but they denied and this dealer doesn’t want to see my car again.” — 2015 CR-V owner
Owner’s can’t decide if this is a transmission or an engine problem, but one thing is clear — all the vibrations and noise is giving owners headaches, backaches and serious distractions while driving.
There Are Lawsuits That Claim the Vibrations Can Actually Make Occupants Sick
Within weeks of buying her brand new CR-V, Linda Oakes said the vehicle started shaking violently at a stop light. Oakes said the steering wheel was visibly shaking in her hands. The car had a whopping 500 miles on it.
Oakes took her rattle-box to three different dealerships in the area. Technicians acknowledged the SUV had a shaking problem, but said there was little they could do. The corporate offices agreed.
In January 2015, Oakes filed a lawsuit in the California Central District Court, saying:
- The 2015 CR-V is prone to severe vibrations at slow speeds and idle
- The condition exists from the time the vehicle is sold and worsens over time
- The vibrations are distracting and can lead to headaches and queasiness
The lawsuit accuses Honda of knowing about the problem, but selling the vehicles anyway. Gotta protect that bottom line, after all.
A consolidation of lawsuits
Time wore on. Vibrations got worse. Headaches were had.
As additional lawsuits were filed, Honda asked that they be consolidated before one California judge. The plaintiffs, meanwhile, wanted the cases heard in a more centralized location like Ohio. And as David Wood of CarComplaints.com points out, the plaintiffs are getting their way:
“The Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation consolidated and transferred the cases into the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio. Those cases will be heard before Judge Michael H. Watson, who appointed attorneys Eric Gibbs and David Stein of the Gibbs Law Group to serve as interim co-lead counsel.”
Honda Admits the CR-V Has a Vibration Issue
Honda has acknowledged that a “small percentage” of owners have reported vibration issues. I think we have a different definition of small, but regardless this is a big step for the automaker. They did, however, stress:
- That the vibrations pose no danger of present or future component failure
- That the 2015 Accord has the same engine and CVT combination, without any vibration complaints
According to Honda spokesperson, Chris Martin:
“We’re working to come up with solutions that will address several different customer perceptions of the vibration at idle. While it is annoying to some, it is not noticed by most, and it does not represent a detriment to the safety or reliability of the vehicle."
The emphasized part feels like a sly way of rolling your eyes at the people complaining about this issue. Still, Honda went on to release a series of videos to address the problem.
CR-V Vibration Issue
The first Honda video starts with a pat on their own back for improved fuel economy, but it goes on to say that they’re aware of the issue and performing testing.
While the video doesn’t provide any additional information or a solution, it’s quite nice to see an automaker say “we’re working on it,” rather than just ignorning it.
Activity Update on 2015 CR-V Vibration
The second video, which was posted on 11/04/2015, starts off with the same introduction as the first. Maybe that’s why the first video was removed from their channel.
However, the video goes on to say vibrations are typically experienced in one of three “driving modes.” That same information was posted to a technical service bulletin the next day.
There are fixes, it’s just unclear how effective they are
On November 5th, 2015, Honda sent out technical service bulletin (TSB) 15–046 to its dealers outlining the problem and possible solutions. Think of TSBs as a set of instructions for the dealer on how to handle customer complaints and possible repairs.
Honda stressed that this is an optional update for owners who feel an “unwanted amount of vibration.” They’ve narrowed their focus down to three driving modes:
- Driving mode 1: The vehicle is stopped, but in gear.
- Driving mode 2: The vehicle is accelerating and between 1,000—1,200 RPMs.
- Driving mode 3: The vehicle is cruising at 40–50mph and between 1,800—2,200RPMs.
Honda then outlines a potential solution for each new scenario.
Owners who complain about vibrations in driving mode 1 are supposed to get new radiator cushions, transmission mounts, and front head restraints. To me this just sounds like Honda is trying to eliminate things that make noise and hope you never come back.
The solution for driving mode 2 is more involved. First, the dealership is supposed to update the “PCM software”. PCM stands for powertrain control module which is a combined electronic control unit of the ECM (engine control module) and TCM (transmission control module). Additionally, the dealer is instructed to install a “tailgate damper kit.”
Driving mode 3 gets the PCM update, but no tailgate damper kit.
Does the fix impact MPGs?
You have to assume that the PCM update increases the engine’s RPMs at low speeds, but Honda says it should have very little impact on the vehicle’s MPGs. Approximately a 0.7 MPG drop in combined city / highway.
Of course, we all know there’s a difference between lab-driving, and real-world driving, so the real impact is still undetermined.
Five things you need to know about the 2015 CR-V vibration problem
In conclusion, here’s what we know about the issue so far:
- It’s caused by the combination of Honda’s new direct-injection, “Earth Dreams” engine and continuously variable transmission.
- Honda made these changes to improve vehicle economy and, according to lawsuits, ignored the vibration side-effect
- There are multiple, pending lawsuits about the problem. Honda wants them consolidated in a CA court.
- Honda doesn’t deny the problem exists and has given dealers instructions on how to address the vibrations. There’s no word yet on how effective the solutions are.
- There is no recall for this issue.
Actions You Can Take
This step is crucial, don't just complain on forums! The sites below will actively manage your complaints and turn them into useful statistics. Both CarComplaints.com and the CAS will report dangerous trends to the authorities and are often called upon by law firms for help with Class Action lawsuits. Make sure to file your complaint on all three sites, we can't stress that enough.
Step 1: File Your Complaint at CarComplaints.com
CarComplaints.com is a free site dedicated to uncovering problem trends and informing owners about potential issues with their cars. Major class action law firms use this data when researching cases. Add a Complaint
Step 2: Notify the Center for Auto Safety
The Center for Auto Safety (CAS) is a pro-consumer organization that researches auto safety issues & often compels the US government to do the right thing through lobbying & lawsuits. Notify the CAS
Step 3: Report a Safety Concern to NHTSA
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is the US agency with the authority to conduct vehicle defect investigations & force recalls. Their focus is on safety-related issues. Report to NHTSA