NHTSA Cautions Against Leaving Chevrolet Bolt EVs Indoors

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has issued an alert pertaining to Chevrolet Bolt owners, as the vehicles’ LG Chem battery packs could have a propensity to catch fire. On Wednesday, the safety organization recommended that the cars be left outdoors (ideally a healthy distance from anything flammable) and never left unattended while charging.

This defeats one of the largest perks of owning an electric vehicle (at-home charging), as customers will be required to buy extra-long cables and monitor their car outdoors for hours as it takes on energy. Owning a horse would be less work.

Sadly, it’s not the first time we’ve seen reports of spontaneously combusting EVs. There was a stint where China was releasing weekly reports where electrics caught fire whilst charging and we’ve seen incidents in the West where owners lost their garage to charging or battery-related mishaps. While only some of these incorporated the Chevrolet Bolt, LG Chem’s batteries have been a reoccurring theme and encouraged a round of lawsuits — though the supplier typically faults the manufacturer’s installation and/or charging programs.

General Motors launched a recall on 2017-19 model year Bolts back in November but the NHTSA warning is new and follows the burning of one model owned by a member of the Vermont House of Representatives. Democrat Timothy Briglin chairs the state’s House Committee on Energy and Technology and was a major advocate for electric vehicles. Last week, Vermont State Police confirmed that his Chevy Bolt caught fire in the driveway. Damage was believed to have originated from the rear seating area where the battery is located, mimicking the other fires.

While EV fires haven’t been the norm, they’re happening at a pace that’s definitely undermining public trust. This is especially bad considering large swaths of the industry and most governments are hellbent on transitioning entirely over to alternative energy vehicles in the coming decade. Automakers and suppliers clearly need to do better because purchasing modern EVs still requires trading off some of the conveniences of internal combustion vehicles to get the benefits of at-home charging and quiet operation. Under normal circumstances, deciding between them involves some contemplation on what your driving needs actually entail. But owning a car that won’t catch fire is a prerequisite for most consumers and unlikely to be something they’ll be willing to compromise on. Even early adopters who just want the hottest, newest item won’t feel comfortable rolling the dice when the stakes are this high.

Owners of the Chevrolet Bolt should absolutely take the NHTSA’s warning to heart and leave the car outdoors until after this problem has been solved. We wouldn’t even judge you if you did the same with any other all-electric model that has been the subject of fire reports over the last couple of years, even if the manufacturer issued a software update that supposedly fixed the problem. Because that’s what happened to Representative Briglin, though his formal commitment to electrification remains steadfast.

“I’m very concerned that GM get out in front of this and get on top of the safety issues related to these three model years [2017-2019],” Briglin told Forbes in an interview. “I don’t think that there is any question that EVs are the cars of the future. They’re easier to drive, they’re less expensive to drive, they’re better for the climate, this [Bolt] battery issue is going to get figured out.”

Your author is less inclined to believe that EVs are automatically better for “the climate” (Briglin presumably meant environment), without additional context, or that they’re guaranteed to be less expensive to own. But they do offer a unique driving experience and some unique benefits that appeal to a particular type of customer. It should also be stated that isolated EV fires are bound to get more media attention than any other random automotive barbeque. Unfortunately, some of these electric models are seeing fire reports at a frequency that certainly seems to indicate there’s a safety issue worth addressing. The industry needs to deal with this, lest it run the risk of putting the public off electrification.

[Image: General Motors]

Matt Posky
Matt Posky

A staunch consumer advocate tracking industry trends and regulation. Before joining TTAC, Matt spent a decade working for marketing and research firms based in NYC. Clients included several of the world’s largest automakers, global tire brands, and aftermarket part suppliers. Dissatisfied with the corporate world and resentful of having to wear suits everyday, he pivoted to writing about cars. Since then, that man has become an ardent supporter of the right-to-repair movement, been interviewed on the auto industry by national radio broadcasts, driven more rental cars than anyone ever should, participated in amateur rallying events, and received the requisite minimum training as sanctioned by the SCCA. Handy with a wrench, Matt grew up surrounded by Detroit auto workers and managed to get a pizza delivery job before he was legally eligible. He later found himself driving box trucks through Manhattan, guaranteeing future sympathy for actual truckers. He continues to conduct research pertaining to the automotive sector as an independent contractor and has since moved back to his native Michigan, closer to where the cars are born. A contrarian, Matt claims to prefer understeer — stating that front and all-wheel drive vehicles cater best to his driving style.

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  • Master Baiter Master Baiter on Jul 16, 2021

    There are many things that can go wrong in the manufacture of LiIon cells that can lead to internal shorts, so it's hard to predict when these things will happen. Every manufacturer is at risk. My next new car will probably be my last, and probably be an ICE version. I know enough about batteries to know that I don't want 100kWh of them sitting in my garage, waiting for a cell to short out.

  • 28-Cars-Later 28-Cars-Later on Jul 16, 2021

    "On Wednesday, the safety organization recommended that the cars be left outdoors (ideally a healthy distance from anything flammable) and never left unattended while charging." That doesn't really jive with the reality of the Northeast. If you're even inclined to these, and if you have a place to charge it, its going to be in a garage with the 240 charger likely running off the electric box. So now you're suggesting owners have to run a line outside, presumably down their driveway -if they have one- to then charge their Bolt. So to have that done is going to be four figures from a licensed electrician unless you DIY (got a quote on running a line for decorative lights). So now, charge it outside in the elements, while you have to watch it because it shouldn't be unattended (really?), oh and today its 10F because January. EV fail. Yup but the Volt concept was horrible, it had to go. Hybrids? If only those existed. Welcome to Clown World, having fun yet?

    • See 1 previous
    • Tonycd Tonycd on Jul 18, 2021

      I agree, 28. I thought the Volt concept was terrific. An economical electric car without the achilles' heel of EV's, range anxiety. Too bad there was a cohort of brainwashed people who had to exterminate it because they misidentified it as belonging to a black president.

  • Tassos Jong-iL The Peninsula of One Korea.
  • Eric No, I just share my opinions. I have no use nor time for rhetoric from any side.
  • Redapple2 Jeez. This is simple. I 75 and 696 area. 1 nobody -NOBODY wants to work in downtown Detritus. 2 close to the tech ctr. Design and Engineering HQ. 20 miles closer to Milford.3 lower taxes for the employees. Lower taxes for Evil GM Vampire.4 2 major expressways give users more options to suburbs. Faster transport.Jeez.
  • Clark The Ring (Nürburgring) is the only race track I've driven on. That was 1985 or 1986 with my '73 Fiat Spider (and my not-so-happy girlfriend). So I made the Karussell (today: Caracciola Karussell, which I believe the author meant; there is another one: Kleines Karussell).
  • AZFelix This article takes me back to racing electric slot cars with friends on tracks laid out in the basement. Periodically your car would stop due to lost connections or from flying off the track and you would have to dash over to it and set it right. In the mean time your competitor would race ahead until faced with a similar problem. It seemed like you were struggling harder to keep from losing than trying to win. Fun times.“History never repeats itself, but it does often rhyme.” Mark Twain