Three EV Owners Say Vehicles Were Damaged Charging At Electrify America Stations

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In Twitter posts, at least three EV owners say that their vehicle was damaged at an Electrify America station. These claims come from three different vehicle brands (Rivian, Chevrolet, and Ford), and appear to have happened at different stations. We can’t be sure what caused any of these fairly large electrical failures, and we’re waiting to hear back from Electrify America to hear what they have to say about this.

Update: Electrify America got back to me and told me two of the incidents are still under investigation, and that the complexity and number of variables mean these investigations will take time. The oldest incident (the F-150 Lightning) was an “isolated incident” that was resolved by replacing a fuse or circuit breaker. They believe battery module failure was a “second issue”.

Let’s take a look at these stories and see what commonalities there are between them. We’ll start with the most recent one I’ve come across from Anson (@snkrticians), a Rivian R1T owner:

In this case, the owner says he was two hours away from home. After starting a charge at a 150 kW stall, he says he heard a loud “boom” sound, followed by a bunch of error codes. The truck couldn’t be unplugged from the charger, even after trying the manual release and even trying to pry it off. At some point, he said it appeared that the contacts in the connector had “welded” to the vehicle, and that the service technician was considering taking a saw to the charging cable to get the vehicle loose for towing.

The owners says Rivian responded and provided him with rideshare credits so he could at least get home.

Another recent story comes from “Malicious Compliance” (@burn_this_app).

In this thread, the owner describes something similar happening to a Chevy Bolt. “Last I checked sparks and smoke coming from the #EVSE at the #ElectricVehicles charging station right as the dispenser pops and goes black and then my car not being able to shift our of park or accept any charge, is not normal procedure.” they said. They also said that the dealer has not been able to look at the car yet, and Electrify America is only offering to possibly reimburse a paid repair invoice.

Elsewhere, he gives some more detail about sparks and smoke:

A third story is one from last year that readers may have already seen.

When asked for more details, he said, “Plugged the Lightning to the EA Charger, started to charge, heard a loud boom, and the charger went dark and the Lightning threw up a bunch of error codes and wouldn’t start. Couldn’t even shift into neutral.”

There was also a report of smoke coming from a charging cabinet.

In his case, Ford took care of the repairs, and he says he didn’t deal with Electrify America at all. However, it’s not uncommon for damaged vehicle claims like this to be handled behind the scenes between the different parties that may be responsible, so Ford could be dealing with Electrify America if they determined the station caused the damage.

Sadly, after getting the truck back, Eric said he had to take it back in again for a failed battery module, possibly caused by the station. It has been sitting at the dealer since January 2nd, and he’s still waiting for Ford to send parts to the dealer for the repair. He says the service department recommends trying to get Ford to buy the vehicle back, but he likes the truck and just wants Ford to send the dealer parts so he can get back on the road.

What Appears To Be Common In These Stories

Let’s make sure we’re being entirely fair about this before we dive further in. I do have to reiterate at this point that we’re only looking at what people said here. I’m not passing these stories along as hard proven facts, and you shouldn’t take them that way at this point. I’ve sent messages to Ford and Electrify America and I’m waiting to hear back from them with further information (see note at beginning of article).

It’s also way too early to determine cause. Three terrible failures out of thousands and thousands of successful charges doesn’t mean there’s a widespread problem or that it’s particularly likely to happen to an EV driver. Given the rarity, these three stories could have three different causes. It could be the vehicle, or it could be the station. Or, it could be both. Or neither. We need more details before we blame anybody.

All of that having been said, there are some common elements to these stories.

  • They all happened at an Electrify America station with CCS vehicles (not CHAdeMO, but there are some stories floating around on Reddit about that)
  • There was a loud sound at the time of failure.
  • Screen went blank on charging pedestal.
  • Car’s instrumentation showed errors.
  • Vehicle was no longer drivable after the event.
  • Smoke was coming from Electrify America equipment.

The pop or bang sound could be explained by a pyrotechnic fuse on an EV’s battery pack. The “pyrotechnic” part might sound scary, like something out of 2001: A Space Odyssey, but it’s an important safety feature that exists to prevent an EV from turning into a big fireball. If too much current goes into or out of the pack, the fuse (which uses a tiny explosive charge because of the thick metal involved) blows to stop a bad situation from turning into a major tragedy. So, if these stories are accurate, we may be looking at a short circuit in the charging equipment that caused major current drain (enough in one case to possibly melt the connector pins and weld them).

Stories of smoke and sparks coming from the Electrify America gear would fit the issue of a short circuit pretty well, too. Plus, there was a video floating around on social media of an Electrify America contractor opening up a cabinet to show some serious problems.

Exploding fuses generally is a sign that there was a short circuit somewhere, and word from the technician was that this is part of a larger problem in the Electrify America network with older equipment. But, the information wasn’t supposed to be shared publicly and the technician says he has been fired by Electrify America for sharing the video.

This may or may not be connected to the vehicle failures, but there are enough similarities that it’s worth noting as we all try to run this down. The causes of this kind of failure could be anything from defective equipment, installation issues, sabotage, or compatibility issues with vehicles.

More Information Is Definitely Needed

This is every EV driver’s worst nightmare for charging, so this is something Electrify America needs to get on top of and prevent from happening again. Also, from what the owners are saying, it looks like the owners haven’t been taken care of like they probably should have, either by the vehicle manufacturer or Electrify America. EV owners need to know that the manufacturer and EA has their back when something like this happens.

Sadly, we don’t have a lot to go on yet, and we can’t be sure what caused these failures. Hopefully I’ll get some more information from Electrify America and the manufacturers soon to shed some light on this concerning developing story.

Featured image: a newer Electrify America station in San Antonio. Image by Jennifer Sensiba.

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Jennifer Sensiba

Jennifer Sensiba is a long time efficient vehicle enthusiast, writer, and photographer. She grew up around a transmission shop, and has been experimenting with vehicle efficiency since she was 16 and drove a Pontiac Fiero. She likes to get off the beaten path in her "Bolt EAV" and any other EVs she can get behind the wheel or handlebars of with her wife and kids. You can find her on Twitter here, Facebook here, and YouTube here.

Jennifer Sensiba has 1955 posts and counting. See all posts by Jennifer Sensiba