Chevy Volt Fire Risk Subject of NHTSA Investigation

Federal investigators have launched a probe into the safety of the Chevy Volt, following crash tests that resulted in the vehicle’s battery catching fire. 

Last week, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) announced that it is initiating a formal investigation into the Chevy Volt fire risk.

General Motors Co. has reportedly agreed to offer all owners a free loaner vehicle until the investigation is resolved.

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The inquiry will look into whether the vehicle, which is powered by a lithium-ion battery, poses an increased risk of catching fire after certain types of crashes. Depending on the results of the investigation, regulators could decide whether to call for a Chevy Volt recall.

The NHTSA says it appears that side impact crashes involving the Chevy Volt that damage the vehicle’s battery compartment and coolant line can lead to a fire. However, in some cases, that fire might not ignite for days after a Volt has been in an auto accident.

Side collisions into trees and poles appear to be a particular concern, as that may turn the battery inside the vehicle and increase the risk of fire.

The concerns came from the NHTSA’s own New Car Assessment Program (NCAP) crash tests. On three separate occasions, the NHTSA has subjected Chevy Volts to side impact crashes that eventually resulted in the batteries either heating up or bursting into flames.

The first test was in May, when the NHTSA conducted a side impact to test how well the vehicle protected occupants. Three weeks after the accident, the damaged vehicle’s battery caught fire. This month there were three more tests. One resulted in no increase in battery temperature or fire, but the two other cases resulted in damaged batteries smoking, sparking and catching fire. One incident occurred hours after the crash and the next occurred about a week after a crash test.

NHTSA investigators are working with General Motors, the Department of Energy and the Department of Defense to test the Volt’s lithium-ion batteries and to better understand the implications and risks of Chevy Volt battery fires.

The NHTSA noted that there have been no consumer reports of Chevy Volt battery fires following side impacts, but warned that the tests were conducted in a way meant to simulate likely real-world damage. Chevy Volt owners whose vehicles were not damaged did not have anything to worry about regarding this potential defect, NHTSA officials stated.

While the investigation is underway, the NHTSA advises Chevy Volt owners and passengers to treat the vehicle just like a gasoline-powered car that has been in an accident. They should exit the vehicle safely and move a safe distance away if possible. Emergency responders should check the vehicle for markings to make sure it is electrically-powered. They then need to be cautious to avoid shocks and should disconnect the battery if possible.


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