Park Your Chevy Bolt Outside Until You Get This Recall

Key Points

  • 2017-2019 Bolt EVs need a temporary cap on their charging capacity to prevent battery fires.
  • GM is offering a software update to prevent the battery from reaching 100% capacity which can trigger a short circuit.
  • A more permanent solution is expected in 2021.
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Posted on
Author
Scott McCracken
Tagged
#electrical #fire #recall #ev

General Motors is asking 2017-2019 Bolt owners to park outside and limit their car's range until a more permanent solution can make sure the battery won't catch on fire as it nears a full charge.

The recall announcement came just a month after the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) opened an investigation into fires starting with the battery compartment while the cars were parked and unattended.

What's Causing Bolt Batteries to Catch on Fire?

The Bolt uses a high-voltage battery system with pouch battery cells from a company called LG Chem. It's similar to the battery found in other EVs such as the Hyundai Kona.

There is a defect somewhere with the battery that triggers a short-circuit as the battery approaches a full charge.

Owner stories spark an investigation

Multiple reports of fires were sent in to NHTSA which led to an investigation being opened in October 2020. The investigation determined that something goes wrong with the battery only as it nears a full charge.

Meanwhile, GM confirmed five battery fires out of the 68,667 vehicles under investigation. Certainly not widespread, but you don't mess with fire.

Bolt Batteries Temporarily Limited During Recall

Just a month after the investigation opened, GM recalled 68,700 Bolt EVs from the 2017-2019 model years. Even though they didn't have a permanent solution, the goal was to stop the issue from becoming widespread.

They also asked owners to park their cars outside until a temporary fix could be installed. GM aims to have a permanent solution to this problem in 2021.

Software updates to temporarily limit the charging capacity

The recall updates the vehicle's software and limits the battery's charging capacity to 90%. The theory being if the battery can't fully charge then it also can't trigger that short-circuit.

The downside is the car's estimated range on a single charge drops from 238 miles to 214 miles. The upside is you won't wake up to a smoldering pile of metal where your car used to be.

The software will be installed by authorized dealers, but there are some ways owners can manually restrict the battery's charging capacity as well.

Setting "Hilltop Reserve Mode" in the 2017-2018

If you own a 2017-2018 Bolt, use the car's Hilltop Reseve mode which will limit the batteries charge capacity.

Changing the "Target Charge Level" in the 2019

If you own a 2019 Bolt, change the car's Target Charge Level setting to 90%. This video shows you how around the 2:00 mark.

Why some 2019 models and all 2020 models are excluded

Some of the 2019 model year Bolts use battery cells from a Holland, Michigan plant not LG Chem. Those models are not in danger of this problem.

The 2020 model year Bolt uses a 66kwh battery that does not have the same risks.

Lawsuit Says Range Anxiety Deepened By Latest Recall

It didn't take long for the first lawsuit to be filed post-recall as Torres, et al., v. General Motors LLC. was filed in December 2020.

The plaintiff says the recall is causing him "range anxiety" and that he's worried the range will further be limited by the colder winter months.

Personally I'd have more anxiety over the very likely scenario of my car catching itself on fire than losing an estimated 24 miles per charge, but that's just me.

Is the range even worse due to cell low-voltage condition?

It sounds like the plaintiff has had range anxiety for quite some time and this latest update just pushed him over the edge. The suit references a customer satisfaction program sent out in mid 2018 about potential propulsion loss and over-estimated range numbers.

In service campaign #18125, titled Loss of Propulsion High Voltage Battery Without Notification, GM says:

Certain 2017-2018 model year Bolt EV vehicles may have a condition where the software will not detect the difference in the state of charge between the cell groups of the battery and over predict the indicated battery range.

And that...

The current software may not provide sufficient warning prior to a battery cell low range condition, which may result in a loss of propulsion.

It feels like a reach.


Header image courtesy of Guido Jansen on Unsplash.com

Lawsuits Regarding This Problem

Lawsuits about this problem have already been filed in court. Many times these are class-action suits that look to cover a group of owners in a particular area. Click on the lawsuit for more information and to see if you're eligible to receive any potential settlements.

  • Torres, et al., v. General Motors LLC.

    A Chevy Bolt fire recall has caused a car owner to file a lawsuit alleging the Bolt recall is causing him "range anxiety." General Motors issued the Chevy Bolt fire recall after the automaker received 12 claims alleging the high-voltage batteries may have caused fires.

    Status
    pending
    Class Vehicles
    • 2017-2019 Bolt
    Location
    Illinois

Generations Where This Problem Has Been Reported

This problem has popped up in the following Chevrolet generations.

Most years within a generation share the same parts and manufacturing process. You can also expect them to share the same problems. So while it may not be a problem in every year yet, it's worth looking out for.

  1. 1st Generation Bolt

    Years
    2017–2021
    Reliability
    12th of 80
    PainRank
    1.09
    Complaints
    7
    Continue Front 3/4 view of a Bolt

Further Reading

A timeline of stories related to this problem. We try to boil these stories down to the most important bits so you can quickly see where things stand. Interested in getting these stories in an email? Signup for free email alerts for your vehicle over at CarComplaints.com.

  1. Another owner is suing GM following their decision to cap the Bolt's battery capacity at 90%, even if that's a temporary fix to prevent fires.

    The automaker recalled the Chevy EVs last November after learning that the batteries can spark a flame as they are charging and nearing 100%. By temporarily capping them at 90%, GM can stop those fires while they search for a more permanent solution.

    But a plaintiff in Michigan says Bolt owners need to contend with range anxiety and diminished resale value while they wait. Call me crazy, but a temporary restriction on range feels a lot more desirable than a permanently charred engine.…

    keep reading
  2. General Motors has been sued for last month's Bolt EV recall which temporarily limits the battery's capacity to 90%, bringing the car's range down from 238 miles to roughly 214.

    The plaintiff says the software update is giving him "range anxiety" and that's only heightened by the impending cold weather months which can also limit range. Last I checked, winter was going to happen regardless of the recall and it could just be me but I'd be more anxious about the possibility of my car catching on fire than losing 14 miles of range.…

    keep reading
  3. General Motors is recalling roughly 68,700 Bolt EVs to temporarily limit their battery capacities hoping it'll prevent further battery fires.

    The automaker has confirmed five fires are the result of a defect inside the EV's high-voltage battery systems. The batteries contain cells from LG Chem and as they approach a 100% charged state there's an issue that can cause a short-circuit and spark a flame.

    The issue has been under investigation by the safety regulators since last month.…

    keep reading
  4. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administation (NHTSA) has opened a federal investigation into the 2017-2020 Bolt EV following three reports of fires while the cars were parked and unoccupied.

    All three reports seemed to have happened as the car was charging or parked with nearly a 100% charge.

    The investigation will determine if the nearly 78,000 vehicles are too dangerous to drive or park in an enclosed structure.

    keep reading

OK, Now What?

Maybe you've experienced this problem. Maybe you're concerned you will soon. Whatever the reason, here's a handful of things you can do to make sure it gets the attention it deserves.

  1. File Your Complaint

    CarComplaints.com is a free site dedicated to uncovering problem trends and informing owners about potential issues with their cars. Major class action law firms use this data when researching cases.

    Add a Complaint
  2. Notify CAS

    The Center for Auto Safety (CAS) is a pro-consumer organization that researches auto safety issues & often compels the US government to do the right thing through lobbying & lawsuits.

    Notify The CAS
  3. Report a Safety Concern

    The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is the US agency with the authority to conduct vehicle defect investigations & force recalls. Their focus is on safety-related issues.

    Report to NHTSA