Sign in with
Sign up | Sign in

Chevy Volt Subject of Probe Due to Post-crash Fire Risk

By - Source: NHTSA | B 31 comments

The NHTSA is conducting an investigation after fires following routine testing.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has revealed that it is formally investigating the safety of the Chevy Volt following a fire that occurred after routine NHTSA testing. The Administration said in a statement released November 25 that it will conduct a safety defect investigation to assess the risk of fire in Chevy Volts that have been in serious crashes.

The NHTSA says it crashed a Chevy Volt as part of an NCAP test to measure the vehicle's ability to protect occupants in a side collision. The Administration says that the Volt's battery was damaged during the test, which took place in May of this year, and the coolant line was ruptured. Three weeks later, a fire occurred involving the test vehicle and the NHTSA says the damage done during the crash was what led to the fire. NHTSA says it this month tried to replicate the test and subsequent fire in further tests.

"In an effort to recreate the May test, NHTSA conducted three tests last week on the Volt's lithium-ion battery packs that intentionally damaged the battery compartment and ruptured the vehicle's coolant line," it said in a statement. The agency goes on to say that a test on November 16 did not result in fire, but did result in a temporary temperature increase one day later. The battery tested on November 17 caught fire seven days later, on November 24. Finally, the battery pack tested on November 18 began to emit sparks and smoke within hours of testing.

The agency says it's currently working with the DOE, DOD, and GM to assess the cause and implications of the November 24 fire. Though NHTSA says it's not aware of any crashes that have resulted in battery-related fires in Chevy Volts or other vehicles with lithium-ion batteries, it is concerned that the damage to the Volt's batteries as part of tests designed to replicate real world crash scenarios have resulted in fire and is opening a safety defect investigation of Chevy Volts.

GM commented that since July, it has implemented a post crash protocol that includes the depowering of the battery after a severe crash, returning the battery to a safe and low-powered state, and assured customers that the Volt is safe and doesn't present "undue risk as part of normal operation or immediately after a severe crash."

"The Volt is safe and does not present undue risk as part of normal operation or immediately after a severe crash," the company said. "GM and the agency's focus and research continues to be on battery performance, handling, storage and disposal after a crash or other significant event, like a fire, to better serve first and secondary responders. There have been no reports of comparable incidents in the field."

Display 31 Comments.
This thread is closed for comments
  • 4 Hide
    captaincharisma , November 28, 2011 10:53 PM
    yea fire risk...thats what happens when you plug it into the same power bar as your outdoor xmas lights :) 
  • 0 Hide
    CaedenV , November 28, 2011 11:05 PM
    lol, gotta love chevy. A few years late, and then they try setting their customers on fire :) 
  • 3 Hide
    td854 , November 28, 2011 11:13 PM
    I can't tell if this study or whatever you want to call it is attacking electric vehicle safety or not but I'm pretty sure a tank of gasoline is going to be a bigger concern for fire than batteries. Of course the Volt has both, but, y'know, just sayin'.
  • 0 Hide
    Anonymous , November 28, 2011 11:16 PM
    I thought damn hard about getting a Chevy Volt, but in the end, it was this kind of "Chevy quality" that made me decide to wait until Honda or Toyota came out with a similar concept.
  • 0 Hide
    captaincharisma , November 28, 2011 11:17 PM
    from this chevy doesn't have the possibility like toyota where there issues really did turn out to be nothing but bad drivers
  • -2 Hide
    stingstang , November 28, 2011 11:47 PM
    It couldn't be more dangerous than a tank full of combustible liquid. (...though it has one of those, too)
  • 1 Hide
    jj463rd , November 28, 2011 11:47 PM
    Yep those Lithium Ion batteries are very dangerous.That's been known for quite a long while.Perhaps they should have used the much safer longer lasting Lithium Iron Phosphate batteries instead.Still I view electric cars as highly inefficient because of their heavy mass.Most of what's being transported is a very heavy vehicle rather than the weight of the driver,passengers,cargo and usually it's just a single wasteful occupant.
    Electric power makes vastly more sense on lightweight short range vehicles like electric powered bicycles where they get around 1,000 mpg equivalency.
  • 2 Hide
    jellico , November 29, 2011 12:01 AM
    td854I can't tell if this study or whatever you want to call it is attacking electric vehicle safety or not but I'm pretty sure a tank of gasoline is going to be a bigger concern for fire than batteries. Of course the Volt has both, but, y'know, just sayin'.

    We've been making gas tanks a lot longer than we've been making high-capacity lithium-ion batteries. Basically, nothing short of a leaking tank and a fire or spark will ignite the fuel. Conversely, LI batteries are notorious for becoming unstable after even minor damage. And, unfortunately, you will have no indication that your battery has become dangerous until it starts heating up shortly before exploding. Just saying.
  • -1 Hide
    sixdegree , November 29, 2011 12:37 AM
    GM should just install an automatic fire extinguisher near the battery array and call it a day. Or goes the extra mile and install some mechanical device to jettison the battery array to the sky in case of severe crash.
  • -1 Hide
    house70 , November 29, 2011 12:48 AM
    jellicoWe've been making gas tanks a lot longer than we've been making high-capacity lithium-ion batteries. Basically, nothing short of a leaking tank and a fire or spark will ignite the fuel. Conversely, LI batteries are notorious for becoming unstable after even minor damage. And, unfortunately, you will have no indication that your battery has become dangerous until it starts heating up shortly before exploding. Just saying.

    Yes, and cars have been blowing up ever since the gas tank has been invented. A leaking tank and a spark are easy to come by in case of a crash and a bit of misfortune. Is not like every crash will result in a fire, but same goes for the Li-Ion batteries (not every time they heated up and caught fire after the crash tests; if every test was followed by an explosion, they would have abandoned the idea long ago). In case of a gas tank, you also have no indication until you smell gasoline, and then a fireball is the norm. Just saying.
  • 1 Hide
    SmileyTPB1 , November 29, 2011 12:48 AM
    Read closely.
    Quote:
    The Administration says that the Volt's battery was damaged during the test, which took place in May of this year, and the coolant line was ruptured. Three weeks later, a fire occurred involving the test vehicle and the NHTSA says the damage done during the crash was what led to the fire.


    So basically after they crashed the car and then let it sit around damaged. I'll bet they did nothing to disable the battery after the wreck. The first thing you should do after a wreck is disable the battery. GM spends a lot of money training first responders on the proper way to do it so that no one gets hurt because that battery is extremely dangerous and can kill you. Properly disabled there should be no way for the battery to cause any sort of fire.

    Shame on the NHTSB.
  • 3 Hide
    oxxfatelostxxo , November 29, 2011 1:01 AM
    im suprised not one of you defend this car at all.

    WHO THE HELL, would still be driving a car a week later that just got the SH^T beat out of its side....So overall this info is pointless unless its proven that there are any immediate risks to driving it.
  • 0 Hide
    drumsrule786 , November 29, 2011 2:04 AM
    Yea who is going to be driving their car 3 weeks after it got totaled? Also isn't getting away from any totaled car kind of a no brainer because of other hazardous materials every car contains...
  • 0 Hide
    LuckyDucky7 , November 29, 2011 2:31 AM
    Heh- so the old action movie formula of "car goes over cliff and explodes" will still apply to 21st-century technology.
  • 0 Hide
    Aionism , November 29, 2011 2:47 AM
    jj463rdStill I view electric cars as highly inefficient because of their heavy mass.Most of what's being transported is a very heavy vehicle rather than the weight of the driver,passengers,cargo and usually it's just a single wasteful occupant.Electric power makes vastly more sense on lightweight short range vehicles like electric powered bicycles where they get around 1,000 mpg equivalency.

    Is this a real post? Do you live in a world where gas cars would float away into the sky if they didn't have passengers and cargo?
  • 1 Hide
    oxxfatelostxxo , November 29, 2011 2:47 AM
    Quote:
    Heh- so the old action movie formula of "car goes over cliff and explodes" will still apply to 21st-century technology.


    No, you gotta wait a week for the BOOM =P
  • 0 Hide
    husker , November 29, 2011 3:10 AM
    In other news... If you saw 3/4 of the way through a rung on a ladder, it will eventually lead to catastrophic failure and probable injury. Ladders are therefore unsafe and should not be used.
  • 0 Hide
    fyasko , November 29, 2011 4:24 AM
    captaincharismafrom this chevy doesn't have the possibility like toyota where there issues really did turn out to be nothing but bad drivers


    you mean a 1998 cavalier that runs on batteries isn't a good idea? chevy has used the same crap designs for years... they need to stick to trucks.
  • 3 Hide
    jezus53 , November 29, 2011 4:47 AM
    I love how everyone is bashing chevy on this. They left a wrecked car sitting for 3 weeks with a live battery and leaking coolant. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that eventually the coolant will reach the battery and cause a fire.

    So what I took away from this, don't take 3 weeks to remove someone from a Chevy Volt that has crashed.

    And to those who think this can't happen to Toyota and Honda, get out of your little dream world. I love Honda's, they are easy to work on and cheap, but they can still have the same problem because this isn't a problem with GM, it's a problem with the nature of electricity and coolant.
  • -1 Hide
    jj463rd , November 29, 2011 5:47 AM


    AionismIs this a real post? Do you live in a world where gas cars would float away into the sky if they didn't have passengers and cargo?


    I don't comprehend your statement at all (doesn't make any sense).

    A gasoline powered automobile that gets 30 mpg on 1 gallon of gasoline equals the electrical energy equivalency of 33.4 Kilowatt hours.The efficiency of the Internal Combustion Engine is only around 18% to 20% and with the drive train,transmission and wheels lowers this to around 14 % to 15 % efficiency if in good mechanical shape.Most of the energy of an Internal Combustion Engine is wasted producing heat instead.
    1 gallon of gasoline when combusted with oxygen in the atmosphere also produces 20 pounds of CO2 which is considered a pollutant byproduct and most scientists suspect this as a major cause of recent global warming climate change.Electric bicycles due to their low mass and the fact that the electric motors used get 75% to 90% efficiency use about 1 kilowatt-hour of electrical energy with a 170 Ib rider to travel the same 30 miles distance.The electric bike with rider gets 33.4 times the efficiency of the 30 mpg gasoline using car while producing 1/66.8th the amount of CO2 since half of the provided electricity is produced by the burning of Coal.
    Of course the electric bike could also be charged by Solar Cells too (which indirectly convert mostly the visible spectrum photonic energy of our local thermonuclear reactor our Sun into electricity).
    33.4 times 30 = 1002 so 1000 mpg is a pretty close average estimate.

    An average electric car due to it's larger mass than an electric bike requires somewhere about 8.5 kilowatts of electricity to go the same 30 miles distance.This is due to it's high mass which makes it a less efficient vehicle (although more convenient,driver is protected from weather,better protected in accidents and able to carry more cargo).



Display more comments
Tom’s guide in the world
  • Germany
  • France
  • Italy
  • Ireland
  • UK
Follow Tom’s guide
Subscribe to our newsletter