Honda said in a statement that over time, brake pedals can feel "soft" and must be pressed closer to the floor to stop the vehicles. Left unrepaired, the problem could cause loss of braking power and possibly a crash, Honda spokesman Chris Martin said.
"It's definitely not operating the way it should, and it's safety systems, so it brings it to the recall status," he said.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has reported three crashes due to the problem with minor injuries and no deaths, Martin said. Honda notified NHTSA of the recall on Monday, he said.
Honda has traced the problem to the device that powers the electronic stability control system, which selectively brakes each of the wheels to keep the vehicles upright during an emergency situation.
When the device, called a "vehicle stability assist modulator," tests itself when the vehicles are started, it allows a small amount of air into the hydraulic brake lines. Over time, an air bubble in the lines can cause a loss of braking power and require that the pedal be pushed farther toward the floor than normal to stop the vehicles, Martin said.
"Although not all vehicles being recalled are affected by this issue, we are recalling all possible units to assure all customers that their vehicles will perform correctly," Honda said in a statement.
Under the recall, which Honda said it volunteered to do, Honda said that owners should wait to get a letter from the company before scheduling a repair because the parts are not yet available. Letters should go out toward the end of April.
Drivers who fear that they've lost braking power should have their dealer check the brakes sooner, Martin said. The dealer can "bleed" air bubbles out of the hydraulic lines, which should fix the problem until the parts arrive for the final repair, he said.
Honda technicians will put plastic caps and sealant over two small holes in the device to stop the air from getting in, Martin said.
The automaker is still preparing a list of affected vehicles. After April 19, owners can determine if their vehicles are being recalled by going to www.recalls.honda.com or by calling (800) 999-1009, and selecting option number four.