By on March 23, 2012

General Motors will be replacing the 120-volt charging cords that come with the Chevrolet Volt after one utility company had their cord melt during charging. There have been other anecdotal reports of malfunctioning cords being replaced by General Motors at fan sites like GM-Volt.com

GM initially blamed wiring problems in the electrical outlets, but the company has announced that they will replace all the 120V chargers in all 2011 and some 2012 models, with a new unit. About 9,500 charging units will have to be replaced. A GM spokesman said that the chargers are being replaced to  “offer a more consistent charging experience.” We presume that will allow owners to avoid the melted-G.I Joe-esque charging plugs as shown in the photo above.

The new design features a revised plug and a thicker cord for the 120V outlet side of the unit. Photos of melted and damaged cords have appeared on the internet since the first problems emerged late in 2011. While the 120V charger is not meant to be a primary charger, it is often used by owners to top up their car’s battery when a proper charging station is not available.

Worse than burns are inconsiderate jackasses unplugging your 120V charging cord while the vehicle is charging, and leaving the also-charging electric scooters untouched. Ask me how I know.

Get the latest TTAC e-Newsletter!

46 Comments on “Chevrolet Volt 120V Charging Cords To Be Replaced By General Motors...”


  • avatar
    jhott997

    Can we please stop dumping on the poor old Volt. Don’t you know the Volt is a game-changer, the pinnacle of GM’s engineering prowess, the standard of the world. These ill-advised and ill-timed “fire stories” are just no fair.
    Please, support the taxpayer, the UAW and GM. Buy GM!

    In all seriousness:
    “GM initially blamed wiring problems in the electrical outlets”
    That is GM’s MO: blame others and shirk responsibility and run from accountability. The “new” GM is the old GM. When does the Volt Death Watch begin?

    • 0 avatar
      golden2husky

      To those who actually know something about electrical systems, being concerned about the receptacles would be one of the first things to consider when the plug on a cordset overheats. That heat is caused by excessive resistance. A very common cause of such resistance is a worn receptacle with a high current load plugged into it. Old receptacles don’t grip the prongs tightly, leading to high temperatures. Excessive length cords can add too much resistance as well, as will mutli-tap adapters. Crappy cordsets made from too light a guage wire can do the same thing. Perhaps GM should use a heavier guage cord with a real 20A plug on the end. That would at least ensure that a homeowner would have a dedicated 20A circuit but that would limit charging options away from home…

      • 0 avatar
        ExPatBrit

        And $1 a piece Chinese Leviton outlets from Home Depot ain’t gonna cut it when you are plugging and unplugging 365 days a year.

        Try to make things “idiot proof” and you just up with better idiots.

    • 0 avatar
      vento97

      > The “new” GM is the old GM.

      Meet the new GM….same as the old GM

      – The Who

  • avatar
    Mark45

    In top photo was the car plugged into a 3 way adapter?

    • 0 avatar
      LectroByte

      That’s what it looks like to me. Not sure if the Volt’s cord was at fault there or not.

      • 0 avatar
        Dawnrazor

        Almost looks as if the 3-way adaptor is what actually overheated, rather than the cord plug. Hard to imagine that any company with the engineering resources of an automaker would actually botch this.

        If it turns out that GM really IS supplying substandard charging cables, then that’s just pathetic. Calculating the appropriate wire gauge for a given current load is among the most basic of electrician work (and correctly manufacturing said cables ain’t rocket science either), and if GM cannot even get this correct without “bean counters” and/or the “that’ll do” mentality they’re famous for screwing things up, then the game really IS over as far as I’m concerned.

      • 0 avatar
        redmondjp

        Exactly. 99% chance that the 3-way adapter is at fault here. Why? If the female receptacle does not have sufficient clamping force on the contacts, a high-resistance connection is present which gets very hot when a high-current load is drawn through it (such as when trying to recharge an electric car). These days, poor-quality, low-cost, imported electrical cords and splitters are the rule and not the exception, unfortunately.

        Go to your favorite big-box home supply store, grab anything with a 2-prong plug on it and try plugging it into various extension cord ends, a cheap 99 cent duplex receptacle, and then a commercial-grade receptacle. Feel the difference in how hard it is to separate the plug from the receptacle in each case. Don’t be fooled by the high force caused by overmolded plastic or rubber on some cord ends and splitters, as this doesn’t necessarily mean that the contacts inside are grabbing tightly.

        Hospital-grade receptacles (which cost between $10 and $20 each) are the best, as you don’t want the cord falling out of the socket on life-support equipment. It takes two hands to pull the plug out of one of those receptacles!

        And for you Volt and EV drivers out there, don’t cheap out on your extension cords! If you have a bad connection on a molded cord end, cut it off, and buy the most expensive replacement cord end that you can find. Hubbell make some good ones. Refer to above about contact force. Test it. Also, if the cord ends get hot (slightly warm is OK), you have a problem!

      • 0 avatar
        Dr. Kenneth Noisewater

        Yeah, most cheapass extension cords are not rated for constant 13+ amps or so that a Volt will draw. I’d say 14ga wire up to 25ft, 12ga wire up to 50ft.. Me, I picked up a 25′ 12ga wire just to be on the safe side.

    • 0 avatar
      Hank

      My first thought, too. No thinking individual would plug a laptop into that, much less a $40,000 car.

    • 0 avatar
      tced2

      Most folks have no concept of the amount of energy required to move a car. It’s a lot. And that energy cannot be safely transported over an 18-gauge extension cord plugged into a 3-way adapter in any reasonable amount of time. Yes, you might charge the vehicle in days of trickle charging over such a setup but not in hours.

  • avatar
    highrpm

    I used to laugh at these articles and how nothing has really changed about the half-assed “engineering” that they put out.

    This Volt is just one hilarious story after another. It catches on fire. The cables melt. Nobody wants it and the plant gets shut down for months at a time.

    I used to give the GM fanboys a hard time about the Government Motors thing and about how their GameChangerMobile is a turd. But lately it’s just been too easy – there’s no sport in it anymore…

    • 0 avatar
      tced2

      “It catches on fire”
      Is an oversimplification of a one or two time incident not involving normal operation of the Volt. The vehicles that had a fire were used in an extreme side collision test. The vehicles caught fire several weeks after the collision while in storage. The batteries were not discharged in compliance with GM recommendations after the collision test. The fire was a result of coolant leaking into the battery. GM has since reinforced the coolant lines to lessen the chance of leakage.
      Perhaps the lesson learned is to not sit in an extremely damaged Volt several weeks after the collision.

  • avatar
    Contrarian

    This helps show the folly of dreaming about cars that can go hundreds of miles on a 6 hour charge. On mass scale, the huge amount of energy that would have to be delivered in that short time wouldn’t just require massive changes in the electric grid, but also would pose a huge safety hazard.

    Oil is still, and will be for a long time to come, our best means of locomotion. All this other stuff is just science fair entertainment for car companies and bored politicians playing with taxpayers’ dollars.

    I would guess that the chargers were getting more agressive than the outlets and cords could handle, but not quite enough to blow the breakers.

  • avatar
    gslippy

    Whatever the problem with this cord, it’s not totally GM’s fault.

    That cord should/would have been tested by an outside compliance agency to certain standards, subject to whatever conditions GM established for it.

    Look at the bright side – if GM had sold more Volts, this replacement program would cost a lot more money.

  • avatar
    daviel

    Good move GM. I want to buy a Volt, and like most new models, they’ll have the bugs worked out soon enough. Well done.

  • avatar
    Robert.Walter

    Pathetic mistake. If even that can’t be without problem, then little wonder they fukced-up the battery thing as well.

    Has nobody in that company heard of an FMEA?

  • avatar
    Zackman

    Obviously the charging cord wasn’t “UL” approved…

  • avatar

    Had the opportunity to test a Volt out for a week. There are some apects of the car I did not like but overall, I was pretty impressed with it.

    Volt fire? Beyond was was pointed out above, lets not forget that there’s an excess of 300,000 gas powered vehicle fires each year. The vast majority of them don’t even occur as a result of an accident. One of co-workers had the pleasure of experiencing this on her car.

    “On mass scale, the huge amount of energy that would have to be delivered in that short time wouldn’t just require massive changes in the electric grid, but also would pose a huge safety hazard.”

    This is a pretty interesting study about NYC adopting electric vehicles: http://www.nyc.gov/html/om/pdf/2010/pr10_nyc_electric_vehicle_adoption_study.pdf

    Dave

  • avatar
    bills79jeep

    For the glass half-full crowd: Due to low sales numbers, the replacement program costs will be low.

  • avatar
    LeeK

    I wonder how long it will take for manufacturers tp provide charging cables that can’t be stolen or disconnected when the car is left unattended at a charging station? I’ve been surprised that this feature wasn’t provided at the get-go.

    • 0 avatar
      aristurtle

      You’d need a standardized mechanism for the cable to lock to both the vehicle and the charging point. I suppose something like the Kensington lock port that laptops have could work.

    • 0 avatar
      gslippy

      Locking cables may pose a safety risk because they can’t simply be pulled straight out in case of fire.

      You’d also have to ‘lock the lock’, so that only you could release the cable – expensive and cumbersome.

      But really, anyone with an axe can disable the charging cable, locked or otherwise.

    • 0 avatar
      Dr. Kenneth Noisewater

      I have a padlock that I lock to a cable lock looped thru one of the spokes in the alloy wheel. In order to steal the charger connected that way you’d either have to cut the cord, snip the cable or remove the wheel. So it’s not terribly great but good enough to deter casual theft in a mildly secure environment (parking garage with a patrol).

      I haven’t had to use that rig lately though as there’s been enough public chargers that I’ve been able to leave my charger in the garage.

  • avatar
    Kevin Kluttz

    “Hard to imagine that any company with the engineering resources of an automaker would actually botch this.”

    You’re dealing with General (lack of sense) Motors here. Engineering resources? They designed the W-bodies. Come on.

    And now they are trying to burn rich people’s houses down. Took some notes from Ford’s cruise control debacle, did you?

    • 0 avatar
      Zackman

      “They designed the W-bodies.”

      I’m very thankful for that, I might add.

      • 0 avatar
        28-cars-later

        Agreed. I’m not sure were the insult was in that comment, maybe because they were so late in coming to the market in the 80s and the first gen had issues? Well midsize Honda’s had glass trannys for several model years, Toyota’s lately get recalled every 20 minutes for something, and Nissan’s CVT transmissions seem to have a shelf life of 50K. Japan has really fallen from grace in the last ten years, but the import lemmings still take the plunge without question, and never forget to bash GM. Oh and Honda my bro comments to me the other day the new CRX looks like an Pontiac Aztec, way to go and ugly up a half decent looking ride. Believe me GM has committed *many* deadly sins in the past thirty years, but give credit where credit’s due. The trucks have won awards, 97+ W and H bodies are generally solid runners, the Cruze was pretty successful, and if they could just stop f*cking up Cadillac they might have a world class luxury brand.

    • 0 avatar
      Mark45

      Designing the accelerator pedal so close to the floor that the floor mat would cause it to stick was great engineering.

      • 0 avatar
        28-cars-later

        That’s what I’m talking about lol. Although I always wondered if something else was going on with those cars and the floor mat thing was a cover story (such as the computer randomly messing up and accelerating or something to this effect).

  • avatar
    Kevin Kluttz

    Amyway, that’s not a 3-prong adapter because it has three prongs on it. Adapters have two flat prongs and a ground wire.

  • avatar

    The volt cord is pretty stout. The car also looks for a good ground in order for charging to commence. (A friend learned from attempting to plut it in that he had a poor ground on his outside outlet.)

  • avatar
    Lokki

    “lets not forget that there’s an excess of 300,000 gas powered vehicle fires each year.”

    Yes, nothing to see here, move along, move along…

    Note: (actually your numbers are off by almost 50% here – 184,500 out of 254,000,000 vehicles). I’ll let you work the percentages, but statistically there are not very many ICE vehicle fires…

    http://www.nfpa.org/assets/images///Graphs/VehicleFiresBIG.jpg

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Passenger_vehicles_in_the_United_States

    • 0 avatar
      dejal1

      Thank you. On a %age basis car fires are not a big deal (unless it happens to you). The chances are very small. For now, EVs have issues. I’m sure somewhere down the road this won’t be a concern, but for now, I would be concerned.

      Does anyone remember aluminum house wiring problems for houses and “Modular” homes about 30 years ago. I know corrosion was a big problem, but wasn’t overheating also a problem where the connections would loosen? I’d hate to draw a ton of juice through that kind of wiring to feed the car.

      • 0 avatar
        golden2husky

        Aluminum wire caused fires because the aluminum oxide that formed on the aluminum was a poor conductor (unlike copper oxide). When the resistance built up where the wire was under a receptacle screw, the connection would get hot as more current was trying to pass through it. Eventually the connection would get to the point where it would catch fire….

  • avatar
    George B

    Following the supplied URLs, it looks like the Volt cord is being changed from 16 AWG with folded sheet metal prongs on the plug to 14 AWG with higher quality thick metal prongs on the plug. However, I bet the real problem is with cheap extension cords and adapters as others have pointed out. Hope the new cord is long enough to to avoid using an extension cord in a typical home garage.

  • avatar
    PlentyofCars

    They are doing this backwards. A proper power cord and receptacle plug, hard-wired into the charging station, that goes to the car, would solve the problem.

    No chance of getting it wrong if the power cord is supplied by the charging station, and plugs into the car.

    Imagine the chaos if you could attach your own hose to the gasoline pump.

  • avatar
    geozinger

    I saw this on Yahoo this morning. One thing that bothers me about the photo is there’s no source for it. There’s no way to know where and when the photo was taken and in what context.

    Assuming this is the actual photo of the charging cord used by the utility, I’d be embarrassed to admit that my utility used such a hokey way to connect to a power source.

    I would imagine that folks who work at a utility company would have the resources to hook up a higher capacity charger rather than the charging cord. This is of course, assuming that the charging was taking place at the utility company.

    Obviously, there have been other complaints about the charging cord, and finally GM is doing something to address them.

  • avatar
    D in the D

    Wow. There is a lot of ignorance among the B&B on this one. Apparently the urge to bash GM triumphs over any shred of science or engineering. Nice. THINK first…

    • 0 avatar
      Patrickj

      I’m a long way from being a GM fanboy, but they are likely not to blame here. There are a bunch of fake UL approvals and unmarked wiring devices (like the 3 prong splitter) out there.

      On the other hand, a car charger is one of the few plug-in devices that sits and draws 13+ amps all the time for hours. Even an electric heater usually cycles off by thermostat every once in a while.

      I’m with Dr. Kenneth. I’d use a 12 gauge cord to go any distance with that kind of current, whatever the book says.

  • avatar
    Toad

    As much as I don’t like GM in general or the Volt in particular, I don’t think this is problem is completely GM’s fault. Specifically, the Volt draws a lot of amperage when recharging on 120v and if the person plugging it in does not use an appropriate cord and/or plug arrangement heat and even fire can result.

    However, most people do not understand how electricity works; the concept of watts, volts, amps, or resistance is totally lost on them and always will be. That’s why we have thousands of house fires every year caused by idiotic use of extension cords, power strips, and home outlets. People understand that power comes out of the wall socket…somehow… and that you should not touch live wires. That’s it.

    GM knows this, and their engineers should know that most car buyers do not think like engineers. That means the car, and the charging system needs to be idiot proof. If the cutting edge early adopters that are using the Volt cannot safely/smartly/sanely plug it in, how is my mother in law going to get it right? She’ll use an 18 gauge lamp extension cord to charge the car if she can (why not? It plugs into the wall, right?). Or uncle Bob will wire up his own concoction made up of stuff he found at a garage sale.

    The charging system needs really smart engineering to compensate for really dumb people. That is not news; engineers have had to do this, especially with cars, for a long time. This problem can be, and has to be, solved quickly before a house or building burns down and kills somebody; if that happens the Volt will end up on the ash heap with the Vega and Citation.

  • avatar
    TheHammer

    This story is the proverbial Pinata for the “B&B” to pile on the Volt (and GM). Knock it off already. I remember when it was policy not to talk about recalls. This isn’t even a recall!

  • avatar
    obbop

    I blame Ohm.

  • avatar
    Southerner

    Those 99 per-centers can be nasty—unplugging high minded, high earner’s free fill-ups like that.


Back to TopLeave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.

Subscribe without commenting

Recent Comments

New Car Research

Get a Free Dealer Quote

Staff

  • Contributing Writers

  • Jack Baruth, United States
  • Brendan McAleer, Canada
  • Marcelo De Vasconcellos, Brazil
  • Vojta Dobes, Czech Republic
  • Matthias Gasnier, Australia
  • W. Christian 'Mental' Ward, Abu Dhabi
  • Mark Stevenson, Canada
  • Cameron Aubernon, United States
  • J Emerson, United States