By on May 30, 2013

Volt Central Stack - Picture courtesy

A post titled “Fix this before someone dies”causes concern at the Chevy Volt enthusiast forum Poster Isteiner describes how he wanted to switch from one driving mode to the other without taking his eyes off the road. The poster says:

“I don’t know why but this time my hand was too low and instead of pressing the Drive mode button four times in succession to switch to ICE, I inadvertently press the Power button four times. By the way the ICE actually came on at that point. The front LCD screen goes nuts and the air conditioning goes off and heat at the highest temperature starts pouring out of the vents. The car starts to lurch forward, like my foot is on the gas peddle slammed to the floor. I put my foot on the brake but when I lift it off the car rushes forward again. Again, my foot IS NOT on the gas peddle! The ICE was revving at it highest point but I finally was able to get the car to the side of the road by slamming my foot on the brake and keep it there till I came to a stop. Then while keeping my foot on the brake, press the Start button again several times until the car finally resets and officially turns off.

I was really lucky that the freeway was light at this time and there was no other car close to me or I definitely would have smashed into it.

A consultation of the 2013 Chevrolet Volt operating manual indeed shows the POWER button in close proximity to the DRIVE MODE button. The manual says that the Volt can be switched off while driving by either holding the POWER button pressed for more than two seconds, or by pressing the button twice in five seconds.  The manual does not cover a behavior as above.

The NHTSA database has at least two complaints similar to the one described in  the  GM-Volt forum, however, in the cases described on the NHTSA database, the car shuts off.

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58 Comments on “Chevy Volt “starts to lurch forward, like my foot is on the gas peddle, slammed to the floor”...”

  • avatar

    And this is why I’m absolutely not a fan of certain new technologies that I feel give the car too much control.

    #1 Start/Stop buttons
    #2 instant-on (Tesla Model S)
    #3 automated driving
    #4 auto decelerate – accelerate
    #5 push button transmissions
    #6 Shift paddles on every gotdammned car

    I prefer old cars with a KEY that I can turn.
    I prefer cars with an auto shift stick I can drop to Neutral.
    I prefer cars with hydraulic steering.

    Funny in the new Fast and Furious movie, they demonstrate a “chip gun” which could override a vehicles computer and turn the steering wheel whatever direction it chooses. It’s not far off from reality – the new cars with telematics can be ovveridden by police and the car can be forced to decelerate. Couple that with electric steering and automated cars and God knows what could happen.

    When the rest of the world is in high-MPG, automated cars, I know ONE MAN who will be driving around in some inefficient, “non-green” monster that’s a threat to “civilized humanity”. When Skynet becomes self aware, everyone else is screwed when their computer locks them into the car and drives them into the ocean.

    • 0 avatar

      Oh, boy! I get a trip to the ocean!

      FYI, keys, autos and hydraulics fail, too.

    • 0 avatar

      As long as I’m thinking about it, the component in the vehicle that is most likely to fail and cause an accident or other tragedy is the human.

      • 0 avatar

        I was listening to an interview last night on NPR with a professor from Carnegie Mellon who’s been working on self driving cars. He said 93% of all auto accidents are due to human error – NOT mechanical. 30,000+ people die in this country each year due to auto accidents.

        I love my cars, but I can’t wait for the auto driving car. Think about it – worry free drinking and riding! I can read, I can eat, I can work all while getting to where I need to go. Who wants to drive while sitting in traffic, or being on a road trip? Driving is fun about 5% of the time when you get the empty curvy road. The rest of the time it’s a real pain in the ass.

        • 0 avatar

          I’d be curious to see if that 93% includes “not bothering with maintenance” as human error as well.

          If it is NOT included, I’d like to know how many of the mechanical failures were due to actual mechanical failures due to manufacturer defects vs lack of maintenance.

          I have seen so many cars that have had absolutely no/minimal maintenance done that they frighten me.

          My neighbor wants a “fair” kbb price for her 07 mazda5, which I took for an inspection at a trusted indy mechanic who told me it looked like nothing but oil changes (& brakes maybe once) had been done in 7 years/63k miles…

          • 0 avatar

            Has she washed or waxed it in the 7 years? A woman 2 houses down from me has a mid-2000s Lancer that was originally red but now it’s kind of pinkish because I don’t think she’s ever waxed it and rarely washes it.

        • 0 avatar


          Actually, and ironically, I fully agree. And I am a driving enthusiast, with four vehicles, all performance related, all stick shift.

          But here is why fully self-driving cars may be a good thing:
          1) Most American drivers are no longer skilled drivers;
          2) We don’t have decent universal public transportation;
          3) Commuting is not fun anyway for most people;
          4) Commuting time can be used productively in other ways;
          5) FWD cars are not meant for real performance driving anyway.

          So, let’s diminish accidents by engineering out the most failure-prone part of the system: the human being. And for those folks (like me) who care to use a Z4 for a blast in mountains, then that option is always available…

          Flies in the ointment: what happens when you try to use-autodrive in a snowstorm? The human brain is pretty good at distinguishing small differences in where the road actually is during a white-out: will the image analysis systems on board an auto-drive car do that successfully enough? What about a rain-slicked road at night? Or will the system constantly “beep” every two minutes to demand manual intervention after I just starting reading my novel once again. That would be a pain…


          • 0 avatar

            While I agree with you on all points and will add another:

            6) Highway system is inadequate, but self-driving cars in a peleton could easily fix that and have great gas mileage.

            The catch is the bit about “then that option is always available…”. Don’t count on it outside a trackday (at least a few decades after they become common). I imagine that horse people are legally allowed to ride on most roads, but I don’t see it happening. Eventually the non-driving generations will be close enough to a majority that insurance companies and other busybodies will insist that unsafe-human-piloted-vehicles will be banned outright. Fortunately it will take a long while after autodriving cars are available and I don’t see them happening quickly.

      • 0 avatar

        And human error appears to be the case hear. Sure the car could have had the power and mode buttons designed to avoid this particular scenario.
        But in this instance driver inattention is the cause.

    • 0 avatar

      I prefer a clutch pedal as well.

    • 0 avatar

      Gotta go with bigtrucks on this one. Give me a good ole ignition barrel and a stick shift I can disengage if something goes wrong. I’ll take simplicity any day over computer-assisted-everything any time.

      • 0 avatar

        While it is true that human error causes most accidents, my philosophy is simple:

        If I drive fast enough, I can keep all the Toyota, Nissan, Hyundai and Honda driving humans BEHIND ME so they can have wrecks in my rearview mirror.

        The police will be too busy cleaning up their corpses to hand me speeding tickets.

        • 0 avatar

          As a motorcyclist I generally prefer traffic infront of me. If they are behind me and I have to stop for some reason I can do it easily by leaving myself plenty of stopping distance.

          If I’m infront of them and have to suddenly stop, I’m worried that the people behind me won’t.

          btw: Better hope the toyotas aren’t modded supras, and the honda isn’t an s2000 and the nissan isn’t a gt-r or they may not be behind you for long.

    • 0 avatar

      Actually push button transmissions and startstop buttons are pretty old technologies, though I too prefer keys and sticks for my shifting.

      • 0 avatar

        I have yet to find any cases where push button start is superior to the rotating barrel. I can’t shake the feeling that it is new shiny for the sake of newness, not technical superiority.

        • 0 avatar

          Not exactly push button start, but proximity lock and unlock usually are bundled with push button start.

          I’m a father of a 9 month old. Proximity locks are a heaven send when you have your hands full of an infant, their diaper bag, and whatever else you might have. Fishing around in your pockets for keys while you wrangle the kid is irritating.

          The other instance where I love proximity lock/unlock is when I go mountain biking. I can get my keys stashed away deep in my hydration pack (so they don’t fall out) while I’m getting everything ready to ride. When I’m ready to hit the trail, I touch the door handle and my car and keys are secure rather than tucking everything away after I’ve locked the car.

        • 0 avatar

          I had a ’13 Challenger as a rental. It was so convenient never having to fish out the key fob. Just walk near the doors, push button to start/stop car, then push the little piece on the door handle to lock.

        • 0 avatar
          VA Terrapin

          Convenience is a big selling point in all sorts of products. Things don’t necessarily have to be technically superior as long as they’re more convenient.

          Being able to start your car while keeping your keys in your pocket doesn’t sound like much over a traditional key in ignition, but even a little thing like that can’t help but sell itself. Think for example if you’re wearing dirty work gloves, or if you’re wearing thick mitts during a cold night.

    • 0 avatar

      That would be 2. The MPG sucks but it is paid for and when the zombies come I’ll be ready LOL.

  • avatar

    Pedal not peddle.

    They need a flip-up guard on that power switch.

  • avatar

    Softball pitch to VoltsOnFire if he’s still around.

  • avatar

    Since when did driver error become a product design flaw? Oh, that’s right, in 1987.

    • 0 avatar

      While there is obviously some driver error, a look at the photo shows poor ergonomic design. What’s with all the poorly marked, uniformly spaced tiny beige buttons?

      It does look like GM made a feeble attempt at giving the power button a different feel – it has that chrome border and appears to be slightly recessed. But unless you’re blind, most people don’t notice these things. How many people notice a nickle has a smooth edge, and a quarter a rough edge?

      The power button needs to be both visually and tactilely different. I like the suggestion of a flip up cover. At the very least, it should have a hood over the top 1/3 of the button, to make it obvious to someone who is groping while driving.

  • avatar
    doctor olds

    When Audi was destroyed by false media allegations of unintended acceleration that became urban legend.

    “Pedal Misapplication” became the manufacturer’s responsibility, and the nanny state blossomed.

    The NHTSA enforcement branch,in my experience, has been searching very hard for a REAL technical problem years before and especially years after that embarrassing outcome.

    IMO Because they are politically driven, unelected bureaucrats, they may tend to imagine problems that actually do not exist, but grab press. They all want to get the big one! Media loves it too! If they get it right, it is usually by accident.

    Most recently, Toyota was maligned in similar fashion.

    • 0 avatar

      The Audi unintended acceleration was real. Their lame fast idle valve that made the engine run at 2000 or more rpm if the coolant temp was lower than 160 degrees gave the engine the power it needed to cause it while the hydroboost brake booster that can not be powered through when it does not have hydraulic pressure, placed after the hydraulic self leveling system and a less than reliable accumulator that also had to be filled before brake assist was possible made for the perfect storm. You could have 30 sec or more of a brake pedal that while hard as a rock did nothing to apply the brakes. Make it a warm day so they engine will run at 2500 rpm thanks to the primitive fidle valve and drop it in gear 2 sec after starting and you have your unintended acceleration.

      • 0 avatar

        The only 5000 that might have been available with self leveling was the 5000CS Turbo quattro, significant in that it was only available with a manual transmission. No unintended acceleration there. I had a 5000S, the one named by all the ambulance chasers. It wasn’t available with self-leveling in the US. My 5000S 5-speed did suffer complete brake failure shortly after I bought it. An accident did not result. It was the master cylinder that failed, not the brake booster. Once I replaced the master cylinder, I never experienced anything odd in the way of brake pedal feel, and I can assure you that I was looking for it after driving from Radford to Blacksburg with the brake pedal resting on the floor.

      • 0 avatar

        @ scoutdude

        I owned a 1985 Audi 5000CS turbo. It did not have hydraulic suspension, I can assure you. I’ve read the explanation you proffer before, and it’s not true, simply because none of the cars sold here had the hydraulic suspension. Some twit or other has posted pictures of a non-available option’s hydraulic circuit and hypothesized. Great, all the other brains at the time managed to miss this hydraulic circuit picture – I wonder why? Because it was irrelevant.

        I have seen a woman drive an Audi 5000 backwards at high speed from a parking spot, across a two lane highway and into the pharmacy where we were parked, luckily missing us. Her brake lights were not lit. The unbroken one lit up fine afterwards when we pushed the brake pedal, police verified.

        On my car, Reverse would take up to 3 seconds to engage from Park, warm engine. But it was inconsistent, could be less and usually was. So you select R, turn round to look, give it gas, and then nothing until wham! R engaged and off you went, pushing harder on the gas due to the acceleration. That was the fault I observed.

        Idle valves and hydraulic suspension? Black magic voodoo, like the “expose” here on TTAC on Toyota accelerator pedals, when it was the floor mat. People love conspiracy theories. The Audi problem was blamed on floormats, too, and mine was retrofitted with a bright orange peg that came out of the floor to anchor the mat.

        • 0 avatar

          You bring up a good point about the crappy ATs the 5000 was equipped with.

          I’ve experienced the failed accumulator issue on more than one customer’s car and when there is no hydraulic assist it just won’t stop the car. It probably didn’t help that Audi had their own proprietary ($20/qt wholesale in the 90’s) fluid and many people seeing a good old fashioned PS pump likely added some incorrect fluid. Who knows what effect standard PS fluid may have had on the seals in the booster and accumulator nor the effect of mixed fluids.

    • 0 avatar
      doctor olds

      Actually, even the government and trial lawyers, after a multi year investigation concluded there was no defect and the incidents were due to driver pedal misapplication. I don’t know about any other issues in the cars, nor can I speak to the Audi’s braking capability.
      but I do recall that Audi sales collapsed as a result of an imaginary issue.

      They wanted it to be real, but it was not. I can’t recall the Network that broadcast it, but a video was made of an Audi that actually had been modified by drilling a hole between oil passages within the transmission case, which purportedly could cause the transmission throttle valve cable to pull the throttle open. The video showed front tires smoking, as I recall. It was just as fake as the rockets and improper gas cap used to create the side saddle truck fire video Harry Pearce called NBC on.

  • avatar

    Sounds like a good old Software bug within the car’s ECUs.

    This should be brought up to GM, even more if it can be reproduced by the same sequence of events, so they can debug it (the ECU suppliers actually).

    Welcome to our SW driven world

    • 0 avatar

      The people who supply the PCM have nothing to do with the software it is running, that’s all GM and can be fixed in a matter of minutes with a re-flash if there is indeed a problem that can be identified.

      • 0 avatar

        Current ECUs have usually 2 or more SW suppliers, from any OEM. I can assure you that GM does have SW suppliers, although I don’t know if the engine controller in specific for the Volt has GM SW only.

        What the OEM does is put out the specifications of what the SW must do, that is the main algorithm of the functionality of the module. Sometimes they do and provide to their suppliers very high level code that must be translated and interfaced to the actual SW put into the ECU. But most of the times they only provide specifications, nothing more.

        I’m in the Auto supplier industry, so I think what I’m talking about. :)

        • 0 avatar

          I was referring to the calibration software not the OS.

          No the Volt doesn’t share it’s PCM with other vehicles GM or otherwise. It has to control both the EV system and the engine and no other vehicle uses a power train anything like it.

          Long ago GM started using generic ECMs and eventually PCMs that fit many different powertrains. Once they knew which particular engine (and trans) it was going to run the popped the correct Mem Cal chips in them with the proper software for the particular calibration and affixed a sticker to it. If there was an update needed to solve a drivablity or emissions problem they popped the chip out and either replaced it with one with the new program or erased it and re-programed it. That set up is what led to the performance chip market and the reason swapping GM EFI onto a previously carb’ed engine is so popular. A few dollars for a chip burner and you can make it run just about any engine no matter how wild it is.

          With the introduction of OBDII GM and many other automakers switched to using flash memory to store the calibration software which can be easily downloaded in the field. That gave rise to the performance tuner market that in addition to a slightly different engine calibration allows you to change the shift points, rev and speed limiter and adjust the speedo reading for different gears and tire diameters.

        • 0 avatar
          doctor olds

          @cacon- GM buys some SW from outside, but not generally for powertrain controllers. They actually have a group with hundreds of folks who develop powertrain control SW inside the company.

          I worked with SW and Calibration engineers through the years. The engine teams generally had only a few “SW” engineers supporting 5 to 10 times as many calibration engineers who dial in the calibrations for specific vehicles. From that background, I remember my amazement when I first learned that there were so many people engaged in the software development activity! When I departed in ’08, the SW team was housed at a separate location from the main powertrain engineering facility.

          Volt has 2 million lines of code, if memory serves, all GM proprietary. The Engine ECU has no effect on this purported condition, as it does not drive the vehicle.

  • avatar
    schmitt trigger

    The day an automaker incorporates Microsoft Windows 8, I will become extremely concerned.

    Way back the US Navy started automating many of a ship’s functions using COTS (Commercial Off The Shelf) software. There was a well documented case, where a Navy destroyer lost power and was left stranded for several hours due to a software glitch.

  • avatar
    30-mile fetch

    So if you stab blindly for a button on the dashboard that you should know good and well is next to the ignition, and miss, this is the car manufacturer’s fault? Some people accidentally move their auto transmission lever into R from D as well. Can’t fix all user error.

  • avatar

    I question the veracity,intellect, and driving skills of somebody who can’t be bothered to spell pedal correctly on a supposedly life or death forum post.
    That said, I think cars with keyless ignition should have a big red EPO button in a prominent place instead of inconsistent power button pressing patterns.

  • avatar
    Carlson Fan

    We live in world where nothing is ever our fault. It’s always something someone else did or didn’t do. I wouldn’t even need my eyes to tell me if I had my finger on the power button or drive mode.

  • avatar

    This is what you get when trying to coordinate two powertrains in one design package – I don’t blame the driver for this one.

  • avatar

    Last year I rented a GM van (2011 Chevy Traverse – it’s a van, no matter what you say) and drove it over the Rocky Mtn passes on I-70 in March. The weather wasn’t bad, but at elevation roads were slick. The van had two buttons below the “radio area” (you know where I mean) – one to turn OFF the traction control, the other to turn on the rear window wiper. They were next to each other. Now, had I turned off the TC and killed some A4 / Subaru Colorado family, would it have been GM’s fault? No; I wouldn’t “blindly stab” for a button, any button. But it seemed incredibly stupid at the time, and apparently my experience was nothing.

    As a side note, I was behind a left-lane blocking Volt today for about 20 miles on 65 mph freeway. If only he’d powered down inadvertently.

  • avatar

    He was probably stabbing blindly because his eyes were glued to his iPhone.

  • avatar
    VA Terrapin

    Ultimate blame lies with the driver for not looking at what button he was pressing, but GM deserves some blame as well. The power button is poorly placed. Most other cars have this button next to the steering column where the ignition normally is, not on a part of a center stack where you would normally find things like a heated driver seat control or a 12V outlet. Also, continuously pressing the power button while driving should cause the engine to shut off, not surge.

    Hopefully, this is just an isolated incident, or the driver is withholding info that can explain the strange behavior of the Volt.

    • 0 avatar

      The rule of thumb in software development is to create applications as idiot proof as possible. Of course there will always be a bigger idiot. What were chevy engineers thinking when they put these buttons that close and why does the car rev even after applying the brake pedal? Aparently GM has learned nothing from the toyota sua fiasco. A car like the volt can’t afford any negative coverage.

  • avatar

    Having recently purchased a Volt, I’ve been following that thread on the gm-volt forum. A few comments:
    1) The driver was dumb for doing that.
    2) The driver was dumb for not shifting into neutral.
    3) Others have not been able to duplicate his reported problem in their own cars.
    4) If GM covered the power button, people would complain/sue for not being able to shut off the car in an emergency without opening the cover.
    5) My 1987 Audi 5000S had a throttle that would indeed stick. There was a pivot point on the side of the auto tranny which would rust and/or get gummed up with dirt. Fortunately, even my room-temperature IQ was sufficient to shift into neutral and turn off the engine while braking.

    • 0 avatar
      doctor olds

      @HiFlite999- Re: your Audi: yes, and a stuck throttle, unpleasant as it is, is still not the alleged “unintended acceleration”, supposedly the throttle could pull wide open on its own. A very different thing, Maybe still manageable as you described but more startling.

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