Highway safety officials are urging the owners of nearly 70,000 Chevrolet Bolt vehicles to keep their electric cars parked outside and away from structures, due to the potential for the battery to overheat and catch on fire, even after many previously recalled vehicles were supposedly repaired.
The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) issued the Chevrolet Bolt battery fire warning on July 14, indicating the high-voltage battery underneath the back seat’s bottom cushion may contain defective battery cell packs, which could smoke and ignite internally, even when the engine is turned off.
The warning involves approximately 70,000 model year 2017, 2018 and 2019 Chevrolet Bolt EV cars manufactured by General Motors LLC of Warren, Michigan, which were first subject to a Chevrolet Bolt recall in November 2020.
General Motors reportedly first learned about the Bolt battery risks in July 2020, after four warranty claims reported the vehicles caught on fire. GM opened an investigation with its battery parts supplier, LG Electronics, to collect field parts which initially determined the cells of the batteries may short out when the battery is fully charged or at near full capacity.
As an interim remedy, customers were instructed to activate either the Hill Top Reserve (2017 and 2018 models) or Target Charge Level (2019 models) feature in their vehicle, which limits the charge level to 90%, while the investigation continued to identify the root cause. However, many claimed the remedy was sub-par, and limited the distance the vehicles can travel.
While GM continued to investigate, NHTSA officials opened an independent investigation into more than 12 Chevrolet Bolt battery fires, including instances where the battery overheated, emitted smoke or smoldered. In at least five of the incidents, officials reported the Chevy Bolt engine compartment caught on fire, resulting in injuries from smoke inhalation.
By April, General Motors announced their engineering department traced the overheating and fires to what it called a “rare manufacturing defect” in battery modules, which may cause a short in the cell. The auto maker indicated that a software update to look for deficiencies in the batteries would be offered to customers as a final remedy.
In the latest announcement on Wednesday, officials warned of two recently reported Chevrolet Bolt EV fires in New Jersey and Vermont, which involved vehicles that have already received GM’s latest recall repair.
As a result of the latest fire reports after the software upgrade, officials warn the battery cell packs in the impacted vehicles have the potential to smoke and ignite internally even after repairs, which could spread to the rest of the vehicle and cause a structure fire if the vehicle is parked inside a garage or near a house.
According to the NHTSA, the Chevrolet Bolt vehicles should be parked outside, regardless of whether the interim or final recall remedies have been completed.
Chevy Bolt Recall Lawsuits
Since the initial recall was issued, which only offered a partial remedy and limited the battery capacity to 90%, General Motors has faced a number of Bolt battery class action lawsuits pending in multiple different U.S. District Courts nationwide.
Each of the complaints raise similar questions of fact and law, alleging the lithium ion batteries not only pose a fire and injury risk, but also that the battery repair remedy now limits the maximum state of charge, and reduces the number of miles the vehicles can travel. Plaintiffs say they would have paid significantly less or chosen a different electric vehicle had they received adequate warning of the risks.
Plaintiffs claim General Motors not only knew, or should have known, of the battery defect, but that the company also delayed an investigation to increase profits while putting customer safety at risk.
The lawsuits claim GM knew of the potential battery problems since July 2019, when it received the first report of a spontaneous fire occurring when charging a Chevy Bolt. However, rather than promptly opening an investigation, the manufacturer is accused of delaying an investigation to continue selling its remaining inventory before switching over to a new battery design for 2020 models.