Mazda recalls sports cars with defective ball joints


Washington, D.C. – June 1, 2017 – Mazda North American Operations has recalled more than 35,000 sports cars with defective ball joints. The campaign affects RX-8 sports cars manufactured between April 10, 2003 and May 7, 2004, according to documentation filed with the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration. The Japanese automaker is unsure what percentage of the vehicles named in the recall contain the damaged part.

The Defect
Affected models are equipped with ball joints that have been improperly caulked and can therefore damage the joint socket. This structural instability puts immense pressure on the suspension and can even cause the joint to separate from the socket in affected vehicles that are bearing abnormally large loads. Such an event drastically decreases driveability – a symptom of loss of steering control – and compromises occupant safety.

Timeline of Events
In December 2005, Mazda received a field report from a dealer in the U.S. market mentioning the problem, according to a defect timeline filed with the NHTSA. While the automaker was unable to recover the failed part, it ultimately launched an official investigation to further explore the problem cited in the report. Quality assurance personnel closed the inquiry four months later without identifying the root cause. Mazda continued to monitor field reports to look for additional occurrences. In September 2007, the car maker received a report from the Japanese market in which the driver described losing steering power while racing. QA personnel started an official investigation.

Engineers conducted tests between October and November of that year and determined that heavy loads were to blame in this instance of steering loss, after which Mazda resumed field monitoring. The company received two more reports from Japanese drivers between July and September of 2008, both of which detailed sudden steering failure during racing events. Engineers tested these vehicles and determined that the ball joints in both had fractured while the autos were supporting abnormally large loads. Mazda continued to monitor incoming field reports.

The automaker received another field report during the summer of 2009. While the vehicle addressed in the complaint was not used for racing purposes, it did feature a performance suspension. Engineers determined that this fixture had nothing to do with the steering failure but noted it just the same. From October to December 2009, Mazda received two additional field reports pertaining to vehicles used in competition.

Over the next two years, the number of field reports multiplied, most of which applied to RX-8s involved in racing events. Even so, the automaker did implement design changes in late 2012 to reduce the likelihood of steering loss. It also continued to investigate the problem and collect related field reports, eight of which materialized between 2013 and 2014.

In the spring of 2015, another driver in the Japanese market reported that his race-ready RX-8 had suddenly lost its steering power, forcing Mazda to resume more focused investigative efforts. Then, in June, an owner with no experience on the track filed a field report mentioning the problem. QA personnel for the car maker further analyzed ball joint separation in this non-racing model and restarted monitoring efforts to pinpoint other instances in which overloaded RX-8s used exclusively for commuting suffered steering control loss due to ball joint separation. From July to December 2015, Mazda conducted further tests.

In January 2016, engineers for the car company began considering the possibility that the defect was not the result of race-related stress but a symptom of faulty assembly processes. Two months later, QA personnel conducted detailed examinations of existing production workflows. Between April and August 2016, Mazda continued this work and started developing field screening procedures for RX-8s already on the road. Over the course of September and October, these plans were finalized. By April 2017, engineers at the car company were fairly certain the problem was related to defective parts.

On May 29, 2017, Mazda officials decided to launch a voluntary recall campaign.

The Solution
The automotive organization will order dealers to replace the lower control arms in affected RX-8s with new assemblies containing properly caulked ball joint sockets, free of charge. Mazda plans to notify owners July 15, 2017 and owners July 30, 2017. Individuals in need of more immediate assistance are encouraged to contact Mazda customer service or the NHTSA.

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