By on July 15, 2021

2018 Chevrolet Bolt - Image: Chevrolet

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]

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41 Comments on “NHTSA Cautions Against Leaving Chevrolet Bolt EVs Indoors...”


  • avatar
    FreedMike

    “… the NHTSA warning is new and follows the burning of one model owned by a member of the Vermont House of Representatives.”

    A Democratic legislator…in Vermont? Oy vey. Talk about the wrong guy to sell a flaming Bolt to…

    • 0 avatar
      ttacgreg

      Great comment, thanks for starting my day with a good laugh.

    • 0 avatar
      Imagefont

      This is what happens when untested, or under tested, systems and designs are sold to consumers. But of course, this is par for the course with GM, and every other car manufacturer as well.

      • 0 avatar
        tonycd

        “This is what happens when untested, or under tested, systems and designs are sold to consumers. But of course, this is par for the course with GM, and every other car manufacturer as well.”

        You had me until “every other manufacturer.” No. GM has been doing this since the Corvair and beyond. With few exceptions, Toyota does not characterically do this. This is a logical continuation of the mismanagement that has driven GM in half a centure from the world auto leader to a nearly irrelevant company that’s only keeping the lights on with second-rate pickup trucks.

  • avatar
    dal20402

    This covers all 2017 and 2018 models, but only some 2019s. I’m lucky enough to have a 2019 that was built late in the model year and is not on the recall list. (I still charge it only to 90%, because I never need any more and that helps extend battery lifespan.)

    This sucks if your EVSE is indoors, although it is easy enough to mount them outdoors. My Bolt lives in the driveway because the garage is full of bicycles.

  • avatar
    tylanner

    Parking outdoors does not defeat at-home charging…

    • 0 avatar
      FreedMike

      It does make it a bit less appealing, though. I’m sure it’d be perfectly OK to charge up in a rainstorm or a blizzard, but I’d think twice about doing it.

    • 0 avatar
      ajla

      If your cord is long enough…

      • 0 avatar
        FreedMike

        My cord is coming with length!

        Seriously, I’d have to think cord theft is going to be a thing. I gather those aren’t cheap. At some point, some smart guy is going to design an EV with a retractable cord like a vacuum cleaner’s.

        • 0 avatar
          FormerFF

          Cord is attached to the EVSE (charging station), not the car.

        • 0 avatar
          FormerFF

          I think you’re getting the wrong idea what this whole process is like. The cord is not like an extension cord, there’s a handshaking process that the car and the charging station, when you first plug in there’s only low voltage/low wattage current until the car and charging station have been connected for a number of seconds. I suppose if you tried hard enough you could possibly defeat the system and get shocked, but I sure don’t see how.

          Also, the cord is hardwired into the charging station, and cutting it would make it worthless.

        • 0 avatar

          You will know EV have gone mass market when the electric outlets on the outsides of buildings in public areas all grow locks on the outlet covers…..

          I drove an ID4 recently, it was OK…a bit anodyne, but as a commuter/short range car, big and comfy…and I’d buy it.

      • 0 avatar
        FormerFF

        My EVSE is mounted about four feet from the garage door, and has a 25 foot cord. My car stays and charges outdoors, it’s not a problem.

        • 0 avatar
          ajla

          That is fortunate for you but what about someone with this kind of setup?

          tinyurl.com/2ue9mrna

          • 0 avatar
            FormerFF

            There’s a reason I didn’t have the charging station installed on that wall.

            I think this is a fairly ridiculous situation where the early Bolts are unsafe to charge indoors. GM and LG Chem need to figure this one out.

        • 0 avatar
          Art Vandelay

          So if the car is parked against my garage and bursts into flames it is a problem from my point of view regardless of what powers it. Perhaps slightly less.than if it were in the garage, but.only slightly.

          From a convenience perspective, not a huge deal. From a giant difficult to extinguish fire next to my house perspective, yeah, bit of a big deal.

  • avatar
    FormerFF

    “Owning a horse would be less work.”

    I’m guessing you don’t have much experience with horses.

    • 0 avatar

      LOL. Once asked a friend about horse maintenance. His wife detailed the stable, feed, farrier, tack, vet, etc….I don’t think my friend was too happy about that…..cars aren’t cheap but when they are off or in storage you don’t need to feed them. Also, your horse is like your dog/cat, it wants to be with you…more like a massive dog that eats and poops a lot….

    • 0 avatar
      Land Ark

      F### your Chevy Bolt, I’ve a horse outside.

      *NSFW*
      https://youtu.be/ljPFZrRD3J8
      *NSFW*

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    Lithium ion batteries physically swell when they are charged. The bent anode tab on these pack cells is likely moving and shorting if the battery is charged beyond a certain point.

    The bent tab was a mfg error from a particular LG plant in Korea. Without that problem, these packs would be fine.

    I predict GM will be replacing every single one of these packs, just as Hyundai elected to do on the Kona EV, whose battery came from the same plant.

    Given the growth of EV market share, I’m not sure how ‘undermined’ the public trust actually is.

    • 0 avatar
      NormSV650

      Yes, 2019 Bolt’s had Holland, Michigan, made batteries not Korean made like Hyundai/Kia have replaced.

    • 0 avatar
      ttacgreg

      I have watched videos of Li Ion battery laptops erupting in flames. When my old Macbook Air started to swell last January, I wrapped it in plastic to keep water away from it and put it out in the snow outside 20 feet from the house until I could get a new battery pack.

  • avatar

    fire extinguishers and motion sickness bags should be standard equipment.

  • avatar
    Imagefont

    Buy an EV! Save the planet!
    * Do not park near flammable objects, like, your house.

    So whats the solution? Hopes and prayers?

  • avatar
    NigelShiftright

    “early adopters who just want the hottest, newest item”

    Sounds like GM is giving the customers what they want!

  • avatar
    SnarkyRichard

    Change the name to Blaze .

    • 0 avatar
      Art Vandelay

      They already own the Blazer name. Just rebrand it. As a free bonus there is probably no dropoff in off-road capabilities between the current Blazer and a Bolt.

  • avatar
    Funky D

    Here is the other rub:

    California is h-bent on going all electric. But they not only have problems with the current demand on their eletric grid, they are going to have serious problems with electric car fires.

    When LiON batteries catch fire, they generate a LOT of heat and will continue to do so for quite a long time. Firefighters are discovering that it takes a LARGE quantity of water to not only douse an electric car fire but also to keep it from re-igniting. Given that water is becoming a scarce resource in those parts, this hardly seems like a good time to push overly flammable forms of transportation, no?

    • 0 avatar
      mcs

      @funkyD: One thing not mentioned in the post was the fact that the battery industry is in fact taking steps to eliminate the fire hazard. Most of the manufacturers have new battery designs that are done, but are in the phase where they are designing the process to mass-produce them. Already in production are CATLs Lithium Iron Phosphate batteries that are used in low end Teslas produced in China that are a bit safer than Lithium-ion. CATL also put sodium-ion cells into production just this month and they are totally safe and environmentally clean. The problem with Sodium-ion is that they only have the density of 1st generation Leaf batteries and still need more development before they make into mainstream EVs. I think Sodium-ion solid-state batteries will eventually be the mainstream battery for both devices and EVs.

  • avatar
    zerofoo

    “Owning a horse would be less work.”

    Kudos to Mr. Posky for making me almost spit out my coffee.

  • avatar
    Russycle

    ” some of these electric models are seeing fire reports at a frequency that certainly seems to indicate there’s a safety issue worth addressing. ”

    Would be nice to see actual numbers, and how that stacks up against ICE vehicles, some of which have been known to combust spontaneously.

  • avatar
    Master Baiter

    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.

  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    “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?

    • 0 avatar
      28-Cars-Later

      Additional: I realize this isn’t a common occurrence but how long until homeowner’s policies put in riders to not cover fires started by EVs/chargers in the home? The question is not if but when one of them starts a fire that burns a house if it has not happened already.

      “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.” [UNTIL THE NEXT ISSUE THAT BURNS THESE TO A CRISP IS DISCOVERED]

      FIFY Rep. Briglin. Oh and there is no question these are the “cars of the future” because we already know they are not. The future you’re a party to bringing us is no cars.

    • 0 avatar
      tonycd

      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.

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