LOS ANGELES — Honda is going to replace the front bumpers on about 12,000 Fits it has already sold because the small car did not perform well in a key crash test.
The automaker announced the free program Thursday, at the same time the influential Insurance Institute for Highway Safety said a crash test of the 2015 Fit equipped with a redesigned bumper structure earned an “acceptable” rating on its small overlap crash test. The test simulates a wreck in which the front corner of the car hits another car or solid object at 40 mph.
“This is the first time that we know of that a manufacturer has called back vehicles after making a structural change like this to improve crash-test performance,” said Russ Rader, spokesman for the insurance industry group.
Honda will retrofit the existing cars with a new steel beam behind the plastic covering of the front bumper. The new beam has stronger welds that hold the bumper together and better distribute the crash energy, a company spokesman said.
In the original test, the Fit received a “marginal” rating.
Other automakers, including Honda, have called back cars after IIHS crash tests revealed flaws in their vehicles. But those cases involved airbags that could be reprogrammed, or fuel system parts that could be strengthened to prevent leaks — easier changes to make, Mr. Rader said.
The bumper replacement “is unprecedented,” said Scott Oldham, editor of car-shopping Web site Edmunds.com.
Technically not a recall — failing an IIHS crash test does not imply a specific safety defect that triggers action by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration — the bumper problem represents the type of issue that automakers have become increasingly sensitive to in recent years.
Honda maintains that the Fit was safe even before the bumper change, noting that it did well on other crash tests. But the automaker said it didn’t believe it was fair to have customers penalized for buying an early 2015 model year Fit, built before June 9.