Chevrolet Bolt EV Charging Should Be Limited To Reduce Battery Fire Risk: NHTSA

Following additional reports of Chevrolet Bolt electric vehicles (EV) catching fire, federal safety officials are warning owners to limit the vehicle’s battery charge capacity and continue parking the vehicles outside and away from structures, even if it the vehicle already been “repaired” as part of a recent recall.

The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) announced the new Chevrolet Bolt EV warning on July 23, following reports of three new fires involving vehicles that already received interim or final recall repairs offered by General Motors in the wake of a recall announced last year.

In November 2020, General Motors recalled approximately 70,000 model year 2017, 2018 and 2019 Chevrolet Bolt cars, due to problems where the battery may overheat and catch on fire, even when the vehicle is parked.

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General Motors reportedly first learned about the Bolt EV battery risks in July 2020, after warranty claims were filed that indicated vehicles were catching 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.

While GM and its parts supplier worked to develop a remedy for customers, an interim remedy was released instructing owners to activate either the Hill Top Reserve (2017 and 2018 models) or Target Charge Level (2019 models) feature in their vehicle to limit the charge level to 90%, until a software update is completed.

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.

An independent investigation opened by NHTSA officials had identified a total of 12 reports of the batteries overheating, emitting smoke or smoldering, in which five of the reports resulted in actual fires starting in the engine compartment.

In the most recent announcement on Friday, NHTSA officials warned of three recently reported Chevrolet Bolt EV fires, two of which involved vehicles that received GM’s final recall remedy, and one involving a vehicle that received the interim remedy only.

Officials now warn the battery cell packs in the recalled vehicles still 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.

GM will issue a new recall for the impacted Chevrolet Bolt electric vehicles that will fully replace the battery modules, according to the NHTSA warning.

Until the battery modules are replaced, customers should set their vehicle to the 90% state of charge limitation either using Hilltop Reserve mode (2017 and 2018 model years) or Target Charge Level mode (2019 model year), and recharge the battery on their Bolts after each use to avoid running the battery below an estimated 70-mile range. These recommendations should be followed regardless of whether customers have received the interim or final recall remedies.

Vehicle owners are also being urged to park their cars outside and away from any structures, to avoid the risk of further damage or injury if a Chevrolet Bolt does catch on fire before the defect can be properly repaired.

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 Chevrolet Bolt 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.

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.

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