By on September 16, 2021

If you’ve been following the Chevrolet Bolt, then you know it’s gone from a competitive front-motor, five-door all-electric subcompact to a tinderbox on wheels. Battery issues have resulted in numerous recalls while the associated fire risk is gradually making it the spiritual successor to the Ford Pinto flambé edition. Though, in fairness, the Bolt issue is nowhere near as devastating as those vintage Ford fires and pales in comparison to the General Motors’ own faulty ignition switch fiasco that left over 100 people dead.

It’s still leaving a bad impression, however, and GM’s latest decision (prudent as it might be) won’t be helping. As part of the recall campaign, the manufacturer has advised owners not to park the vehicle inside garages or close to buildings. It also has a charging protocol for customers to use to help minimize its risk of spontaneous combustion. Following yet another fire incident, GM has updated those recommendations and now advises drivers to park the Bolt at least 50 feet away from all other vehicles. 

The company has already recalled literally every Chevrolet Bolt model sold (nearly 150,000 units) and has even done buybacks with owners that have addressed their outrage with the factory. As it turns out, nobody buying an electric automobile wants one that might end up burning down their home in the middle of the night.

Addressing the problem is likely going to cost GM in excess of $2 billion (USD) in addition to whatever trust it lost with the public. But it’s been trying to throw the spotlight onto battery supplier LG Chem, which is being blamed for the defects and had similar issues with cells installed into the similarly fire-prone Hyundai Kona Electric.

This is a shame because the Kona and Bolt were two of the first cars that left your author feeling like there might be a real future for electrification. While basic, both vehicles were reasonably fun to drive and made excellent urban runabouts for people who don’t cover a lot of ground or need an abundance of interior space. They also felt like mainstream economy vehicles, rather than a trendy accessory for the suckers kind of people who collect limited-edition sneakers and wait in line for the next iPhone.

While fire incidents are quite rare — a point GM likes to make whenever possible — they’ve continued to happen and are drawing plenty of unwanted attention to electric automobiles in general and the Bolt in particular. NHTSA documents stipulate that the Chevys suffer from not one but two defects, allegedly stemming from the South Korean LG facility where the batteries are constructed.

The most recent Bolt fire took place in a residential area in Cherokee County, Georgia. No injuries have been reported.

According to Bloomberg, the manufacturer has decided to upgrade safety protocols to include a recommendation that owners do not park their cars within 50 feet of another automobile. While that means more exercise when going to the store, which everyone could probably use, it’s not helping improve the ownership experience.

From Bloomberg:

The new advice is likely to rankle owners who are already limiting their use of the Bolt to avoid overheating the battery and risking a fire. The parking guidance — recommending a distance of 50 feet from other parked cars — is especially difficult for owners in urban areas. GM has confirmed 10 fires. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said the agency has found 13 fires in Bolts, but the company hasn’t confirmed the additional three are part of the current recall issue.

The Bolt normally can go 259 miles on a charge, but that has been limited by GM’s guidance to avoid a fire. The automaker told Bolt owners to limit the charge to 90 [percent], plug in more frequently and avoid depleting the battery to below about 70 miles of remaining range. They’re also advised to park their vehicles outside immediately after charging and not leave them charging indoors overnight.

With owners just wanting a hassle-free experience, this is a lot to ask. However, when the alternative is losing the vehicle and a portion of your home to an unexpected fire, it’s advice worth heeding.

[Image: General Motors]

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69 Comments on “The Chevrolet Bolt is Becoming Embarrassing for GM...”


  • avatar
    SPPPP

    “… when the alternative is losing the vehicle and a portion of your home to an unexpected fire…”

    House fires don’t tend to stop at one portion of a home. They don’t even care which home they burn down. I am sure GM’s lawyers don’t like the idea of a Bolt in the driveway burning and spreading the fire to the vehicles or house next door, of a family that doesn’t even own a Bolt. The bereaved relatives of the poor family struck down in their beds would surely come after GM with lawyers armed for bear.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    You know it’s bad when even InsideEVs says “Perhaps it’s time for GM to buy back every Bolt it ever produced”.

    • 0 avatar
      28-Cars-Later

      The EV1 solution.

    • 0 avatar
      Dawnrazor

      That is what I came here to ask.

      Hasn’t this situation now escalated to the point that buyback is really the only viable option? It may be expensive in dollars (not really a concern if they are indeed to big to be allowed to fail), but the cumulative damage to their “goodwill” HAS to be more costly in the long-term.

      The previous recommendations were already somewhat onerous, and now we add the need to park 50′ from other vehicles (and by extension, any combustible structure or object)? Ridiculous, and it will only serve to further sour a large number of folks against the idea of an EV, right when the market seems poised to really offer some great products.

      • 0 avatar
        Syke

        Asked as someone who does not own one, probably has never owned an EV, and most likely someone who isn’t seriously considering one as their next car.

        19 cars out of 146,000 built. Uh, you do understand the concept of odds? So far, other than the panic mode pronouncements on the part of GM’s legal team, nothing GM has said has affected my Bolt’s daily use in the slightest. I normally charge to 90% for long term battery preservation unless I know I’m going to do a trip that come close to maximum range in the following day. Sorry, you don’t do 250 mile trips on the spur of the moment. Well, at least not in a car.

        The wife has the newer, more valuable car. She gets the garage. The motorcycles get the other garage. Thus my comment about spur of the moment 250 mile trips.

        The 50 foot parking pronouncement is nothing more than some lawyer justifying hourly billing. And a reporter looking for cheap headlines.

        • 0 avatar
          conundrum

          This article misses the major point that GM advises that besides not parking Bolt within 50 feet of other vehicles, it should only ever be parked on the top open-air floor of a multi-story car park. Never on an in-between floor.

          Might as well not own the damn thing at all.

        • 0 avatar
          conundrum

          This article misses the major point that GM advises that besides not parking Bolt within 50 feet of other vehicles, it should only ever be parked on the top open-air floor of a multi-story car park. Never on an in-between floor.

          Might as well not own the damn thing at all.

        • 0 avatar
          conundrum

          This article misses the major point that GM advises that besides not parking Bolt within 50 feet of other vehicles, it should only ever be parked on the top open-air floor of a multi-story car park. Never on an in-between floor.

          Might as well not own the damn thing at all.

        • 0 avatar
          wjtinfwb

          Wow.. great rationalization. I have other, more valuable products in my garage so no problem. My personal situation never requires me to fully charge the Bolt for max range so, what’s the issue. I’m sure there were Pinto owners who said they never have more than a 1/8 tank of gas so how bad could the fire be? And while I agree the percentages are on your side, 19 Bolt BBQ’s is a helluva lot compared to cars that actually run on flammable substances instead of batteries. Whatever the issue is with the Bolt, GM would be well served to get as far in front of it as possible or risk damaging their credibility in the race to EV’s and putting them as a disadvantage to the brands that have demonstrated no propensity to burn your house down while parked.

      • 0 avatar
        Southerner

        Won’t the Bolt owner be liable for damage beyond, if he or she ignores the GM parking guidelines, recommendations, etc.?

  • avatar
    CoastieLenn

    Is there any discussion about what the solution might be or a timeline for the repair, or is this finger pointing between GM and LG accomplishing nothing other than a severely restrictive lifetime of ownership with no plans to fix it?

    • 0 avatar
      SCE to AUX

      The plan is to replace the entire pack. To do ~70k cars, that will take a while, and I doubt they have even been produced. It took years to produce the original packs, so new ones won’t materialize overnight.

      And, GM would going to try and get LG Chem to pay part of the cost, just as Hyundai managed to get LG Chem to pay 70% of their recall campaign.

      GM’s position here is untenable. I imagine they’ll be forced to eat a lot of whole cars. And maybe Hyundai will need to do the same.

    • 0 avatar
      Imagefont

      Moving forward with two part plan:
      1. Buy back all Bolts.
      2. Crush Bolts.

      • 0 avatar
        dal20402

        I would accept a favorable trade deal on a defect-free 2022 or 2023 Bolt. I would not accept a buyback.

        • 0 avatar
          Syke

          If I’d wanted to milk this, I’d have the same attitude. Odds are my next car will be another Bolt. Unless a competing manufacturer has a like product that turns me on more. I’ve got 2-3 years to find out.

          • 0 avatar
            rudiger

            I’m with Syke. In fact, could be good opportunity to pick up an older, used Bolt with a brand-new battery at a fire-sale price (no pun intended).

  • avatar
    Scoutdude

    I was wondering when they were going to get around to this recomendation. About a week ago I went to Home Depot and happened to be in the Marauder. As I was getting out a Bolt pulled into the space next to me and I thought about telling him not to park that potential fire ball next to my or any other car, and also thought about moving my car. I didn’t however because I was picking up one thing and I knew where it was in the store so I figured I’d be out in under 5 min.

    • 0 avatar
      CoastieLenn

      @Scoutdude I’ve got a black 03 MM, what’s yours?

    • 0 avatar
      dal20402

      The fires have all happened either when charging or immediately after charging to a full state. You have nothing to worry about from a Bolt parked next to you in a parking lot unless it’s hooked up to a L2 or L3 charger.

      • 0 avatar
        Scoutdude

        “The fires have all happened either when charging or immediately after charging to a full state. You have nothing to worry about from a Bolt parked next to you in a parking lot unless it’s hooked up to a L2 or L3 charger.”

        And yet GM has apparently decided to tell people not to park with 50′ of other cars, so maybe they actually know something.

    • 0 avatar
      Syke

      Do you overly panic over everything, or is this a one time exception?

      • 0 avatar
        Scoutdude

        If I was actually panicking I would have moved my car, which I didn’t. Now GM has made this announcement, which may be because they are panicking. You can be sure they didn’t make this announcement just for the fun of it, though I’m thinking lawyers were at the root of the decision.

  • avatar
    jmo

    In terms of Tesla’s valuation they do have a lot of proprietary technology as well as battery manufacturing known how. It’s apparently not as easy as some of the B&B thought for a legacy manufacture to build a successful electric vehicle.

    If Bolt battery becomes the Cadillac 8-6-4 of the 2020s, that could be similarly damaging to GMs reputation.

    • 0 avatar
      SCE to AUX

      The next “Tesla killer” is always a year away.

      Tesla could do better on many things, but they have the battery, switchgear, and motor thing nailed. That’s the difference between getting 240 miles or 320 miles from an 80 kWh pack.

      Lucid shows some promise with their 520-mile Air, but they have yet to build a production car.

    • 0 avatar
      28-Cars-Later

      You mean HT4100. The 4-6-8 was a blip because it could be easily “fixed” by replacing the PacMan grade TBI unit with a carburetor (the 368 V8 was the final derivative of the 425/500/472 family). Cadillac’s entire history would have been different if that was the only major speed bump for it in the 1980s.

    • 0 avatar
      Steve Biro

      “If Bolt battery becomes the Cadillac 8-6-4 of the 2020s, that could be similarly damaging to GMs reputation.”

      I’m not trying to be funny here… but what reputation? GM has been on my no-buy list since the 1970s. The 8-6-4 is but one example in a long list of failures for the company. The only things they’ve ever been able to build reasonably well are full-sized cars and trucks – and only if using the simplest, existing technology. Outside of that, GM has been a hot, steaming pile for a very long time. The irony is, the situation is fixable – and has always been fixable. Just put more power in the hands of engineers and less in the hands of beancounters. But it’ll never happen – especially in the current era of “mobility.”

    • 0 avatar
      eng_alvarado90

      “If Bolt battery becomes the Cadillac 8-6-4 of the 2020s, that could be similarly damaging to GMs reputation.”

      I believe this could become even more damaging for today’s GM. Back in the early 80s GM was still the largest automaker in the world. Today it isn’t even top 5. It’s pulled out of several markets including India, Australia and pretty much all Europe.

      I’m not saying GM is heading for another bailout, but they don’t have the cash reserves they used to back in the 80s.

  • avatar
    hausjam

    If this was a gas powered car they would recommending everyone carry an empty gas can around so you could stay 50 feet away from the pumps. And only fill 2 gallons at a time.

  • avatar
    ajla

    Who is excited for their $100K HUMMER???

  • avatar
    EBFlex

    Why is this an issue? EVs are the savior of everything.

    An EV on fire that lights a house on fire is still far more healthy for the planet than an evil ICE vehicle.

    GM is saving the planet one Bolt fire at a time!

    GM would also be smart to just take the Ford route and ignore that there is a problems bf blame the customer. That will save a ton of money

    • 0 avatar
      aja8888

      Letting a Bolt burn up solves the problem of recycling or disposing of the battery, although a bit early.

    • 0 avatar
      Syke

      Spoken like a true EV hater who’s standard of what is an acceptable automobile will always be two steps beyond whatever a state of the art EV is at that moment.

      • 0 avatar
        EBFlex

        “Spoken like a true EV hater who’s standard of what is an acceptable automobile will always be two steps beyond whatever a state of the art EV is at that moment.”

        Ah the old “lets throw out a baseless, unsubstantiated claim just so I can show how woke and progressive I am” argument.

        How am I two steps behind when I simply expect an EV to offer the same level of function and usability as an ICE vehicle?

        Why must we lower the bar so much from where it is just to make EVs seem like a legitimate replacement for ICE vehicles?

  • avatar
    Imagefont

    The great thing about electric vehicles is their simplicity, so many failure prone mechanical parts in an ICE vehicle! Shoot, there’s hardly anything to go wrong with an electric vehicle!
    Well, maybe the cooling system, and the miles of wiring for monitoring the battery cells, and the charge controller, and multiple computers, and the variable frequency drive that controls the motor, and the motor… and all the other stuff like brakes and doors and paint and tires and all that stuff. And, yes, you can’t ignore the slim chance that you vehicle will spontaneously turn into a RAGING OUT OF CONTROL FIREBALL THAT THREATENS TO INCINERATE EVERYTHING WITHIN 50 feet!!!!
    But that’s only happened a dozen times or so..

    • 0 avatar
      Syke

      19 cars out of 146,000.

      Reading comments like this, demanding perfection in EVs, reminds me of the bicycle commuting part of my life. Listening to automobile drivers complaining about cyclists behavior , while assuming they follow every picayune line of the motor vehicle code to the letter.

      Yeah. Right. It’s a blind pot calling a kettle black.

  • avatar
    dal20402

    I don’t want a buyback. I just want non-defective battery cells. (And for all I know I may already have them; our car has no apparent issues.) The Bolt is a damn near perfect car for my family and nothing else out there right now would do the same job for the same price.

  • avatar
    Syke

    Current Bolt owner here, 2017 Premier with 38k on it. I’m happy as hell with the car, am not interested in a buyout, figure if I can hit on the odds of a car fire (last figure I’ve heard is 19 cars out of 146,000 produced) I’d better start playing the lottery. Figure I’ve at least got a good shot at a mid level prize.

    If I do end up replacing the Bolt, it’ll be with another EV. Living with the Bolt has shown me a 250 range electric serves 99% of my driving needs just fine, and the performance and livability I’ve gotten used to makes me wonder why I’d ever want to go back to an ICE vehicle. There no comparison.

    Complaints about charging only show the (deliberate?) ignorance of the complainer. I don’t miss going to gas stations. If I miss the experience, I’ve got the Harley and Triumph in the other garage.

    And no, I didn’t buy it for environmental reasons. I bought it because I wanted a better small car.

    And now GM’s going to give me a new battery pack . . .

    The anti-EV comments here crack me up.

    • 0 avatar
      SCE to AUX

      I seriously doubt GM would buy back every Bolt.

      They want to keep their customers, and the bad press would be crushing. By ‘bad press’, I mean the type that makes a headline on CNN.

      To do so would be the ugly sequel to “who killed the EV-1?”.

  • avatar
    duncanator

    I have a 2019 Bolt EV and use it for commuting duties, which it does really well. I have followed their recent recommendations like parking outside, not charging inside overnight and not charging when unattended. To now ask me to not park within 50′ of someone and to park on the top floor of a parking garage is insane. How am I going to ensure no one parks within 50′ of me? Impossible.
    What is worrisome is not whether or not the vehicle will ignite, but now the reaction to it from others around me in a parking lot. If GM had a resolution or even a way to identify the problem battery modules, I’d be fine. From what I know, they aren’t even sure the LG can make a defect free battery yet so who knows how long we have to wait for a fix. It’s frustrating, but I hope they can get this resolved within the next few months.

    • 0 avatar
      SCE to AUX

      I was sort of hoping my 19 Ioniq EV would be caught up in the Kona recall, but its pack was apparently made in the ‘right’ LG Chem factory. It’s been a great car.

  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    Becoming?

  • avatar
    Cicero

    Rumored upcoming GM Owner Advisories:

    Warning: Pregnant women, the elderly, and children under 10 should avoid prolonged exposure to Chevy Bolt

    Discontinue use of your Chevy Bolt if any of the following occurs:

    * itching
    * vertigo
    * dizziness
    * tingling in extremities
    * loss of balance or coordination
    * slurred speech
    * temporary blindness
    * profuse sweating or heart palpitations

    If your Chevy Bolt begins to smoke, get away immediately. Seek shelter and cover head.

    Do not taunt your Chevy Bolt.

  • avatar
    DAC17

    10 fires out of 140,000 cars. OK; that shouldn’t happen, BUT this is nowhere near as bad as the GM lawyers and the media have portrayed it. GM is covering its a** from a legal perspective, and the media needs something to write about. Same as lots of things in this country, unfortunately.

  • avatar
    Greg Hamilton

    I know most of the B&B on this site are not fans of Elon Musk, but his advice bears repeating:

    “Tesla’s CEO Elon Musk earlier this month revealed that his company strongly recommends against the use of large pouch cells, as their probability of thermal runaway is dangerously high (compared to other form factors).”

    From: https://insideevs.com/news/532693/tesla-pouch-battery-cells-risk/

    Based on that GM is in a no win situation. Their battery backs would have to be completely redesigned, and they have neither the time nor money to do it.

    • 0 avatar

      Yes, Elon would spread doubt on pouch cells because that is not what Tesla uses. In fact there are lots of other EVs that do use pouch cells and they have not had fire problems. The Chevy Volt used pouch cells from LG, but they used a different design and manufacturing process. The Volt didn’t have battery problems like this.

      We are certainly in the early days for battery tech and it is likely that in 10 years, batteries will look significantly different as new chemistries and designs come online. In the meantime, we move forward with the tech we have rather than the tech in the bush.

  • avatar
    3800FAN

    Here we go. The bolt has become the vega of the 21st century. The citation of the 21st century. Classic gm. I wish they had been left to go bankrupt in 09.

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    Before these fires and didn’t realize what a hot car the Bolt was.

  • avatar
    jpolicke

    Has anybody got a source for 50-foot charging cables?

    • 0 avatar
      ToolGuy

      Interesting question. My charging cable is a nominal 50-foot (we used to have multiple EV’s in the driveway and it was nice to be able to plug them in without moving them), but more like 48 feet once the ends run into the plug and the charging station. The website where I purchased it several years ago doesn’t look active.

      A 48-foot cable gets you maybe 45 feet to the vehicle once you account for the ‘droop’ down to the ground at each end (otherwise you’d have ridiculous levels of strain on the cable).

      But depending on where the charger is mounted on the structure (and where the charging port is on the vehicle), your ‘fire clearance’ might be significantly less. The best I’d be able to do with my setup while parked in the driveway would be roughly 20 feet from the garage, which puts me 20 feet from the house at the same time (vehicle corner to structure corner minimum clearance because we have to think like engineers now – engineers who have attorneys watching).

      With my nominal 50-foot charging cable and parking the vehicle in the middle of the backyard, I could achieve maybe 30 foot ‘fire clearance’ to the detached garage – but then I’d be roughly 20 feet from *another* structure.

      TL;DR: 95% confident that the 50 foot distance is not achievable at this house even if we had a 70-foot cable (not recommended) and relocated the charging station (not gonna happen). Also impossible at the other two single family residences I have occupied.

      [GM doesn’t say 50 feet from my home, they say “Park your vehicle outside immediately after charging and do not leave your vehicle charging indoors overnight.”]
      https://www.chevrolet.com/electric/bolt-recall

      • 0 avatar
        mcs

        I’d be comfortable with even 10 feet from what I’ve seen of the fires. Just add in a Bluetooth battery-powered smoke detector just in case. O don’t have a Bolt at the present time, but if I had the chance right now to get one that hadn’t had the battery replacement at a super cheap price, I’d take it. Once the battery replacement is done you get a great car with a brand new battery. I suspect the originals with the range in the low 200’s would gain the range of the later Models because of the larger batteries.

        We had a vehicle fire in the neighborhood a couple of weeks ago and the fire department had a quick response. It wasn’t a Bolt or an EV. It wasn’t 50′ from a structure and there wasn’t a problem other than the vehicle. For some reason, it didn’t make the national news (/sarc). I suppose they just expect ICE vehicles to randomly go up in flames:

        https://www.consumerreports.org/car-recalls-defects/more-recalls-for-hyundai-kia-vehicles-fire-risk-a5419180746/

        https://www.autosafety.org/ford-ignition-switch-fires/

        …and I’m sure I could find a million more of these. Not that any of these fires should happen, but we can’t pretend this is an EV-only or even GM-only issue. If you want a truly fire safe vehicle, I’d suggest a horse or a bicycle (although I have several lithium battery-powered parts on mine).

  • avatar
    Master Baiter

    GM’s next recommendation will be to only charge the Bolt at the bottom of the Marianas Trench.

    The unfortunate fact is, any EV can have a latent cell defect that becomes a ticking time bomb, and you won’t know it until after you’ve purchased the vehicle.

    I would recommend that anyone with an EV put a smoke alarm in their garage, with a wireless link to a second unit that you can hear anywhere in the house.

    • 0 avatar
      SCE to AUX

      “The unfortunate fact is, any EV can have a latent cell defect that becomes a ticking time bomb, and you won’t know it until after you’ve purchased the vehicle.”

      I’m not sure that’s true. Incidents like this tell me that a key step in the manufacturing process went unchecked by humans or machine vision, or with more direct methods like dielectric leakage testing. I’d be pretty certain that the replacement packs won’t have this manufacturing error.

      This exception is not the rule. Gazillions of lithium ion batteries serve their owners well. It’s when mfg process checks are missed, or corners are cut on design (cheap knockoff replacement batteries), that we get problems.

      The Hyundai/Kia 2.4L crankshaft recall is a good example. Apparently nobody thought there should be a cleaning check over the course of 1.4 million parts.

      • 0 avatar
        mcs

        I don’t know about other packs, but Tesla has the tools and diagnostics to find issues. You can see it in action on Rich Rebuilds youtube channel where Electrified Garage goes through the steps of repairing a pack with defective cells that was out of warranty. It looks like enough data that you should be able to spot a defective cell. Check out the video:

        youtu.be/T7Q0nNkQTCo?t=359

        Beginning:
        youtube.com/watch?v=T7Q0nNkQTCo

  • avatar
    mcs

    Sounds like the Silverado will be joining the “don’t park in a garage” club: https://gmauthority.com/blog/2021/09/gm-issues-stop-sale-order-on-chevy-silverado-hd-gmc-sierra-hd/

  • avatar
    namesakeone

    Why am I thinking this is the 1980s…?

    “The Bolt! The Bolt! The Bolt is on fire!

    “We don’t need no water, we need mother(bleep)ing FOAM!”

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