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Chevy’s Not Taking Any Chances With Bolt Battery Packs

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Some recent posts on Reddit give us some news that might look bad on the surface but really show us something good. It turns out that GM’s battery software errs far on the side of caution for Bolts and Bolt EUVs after the fire recall.

As you can see in the image above, there’s a warning on the display of this 2023 Bolt EUV. Worse, the vehicle was sitting when the whole thing started. “It was just parked in the garage, not charging, and all of a sudden we hear the car alarm go off. We can’t get the car alarm to turn off and when I went in the vehicle, I saw this message. GM is sending a tow truck…,” the original poster said.

Given the history of Bolt and Bolt EUV vehicles, this “battery danger” message, accompanied by an alarm that can’t be turned off, sounds absolutely frightening. After all, since 2020, GM has been forced to repair every single copy of the car, and with a complete battery pack replacement. There were very few actual battery fires, but they eventually found that defects in LG Chem battery cells GM used were so widespread that repair and monitoring for defects to show signs of trouble wasn’t an option. So, all packs had to be completely replaced with new cells.

Even the best manufacturing lines still spit out a few defects, though. The new Bolt battery packs haven’t had any widespread problems, but it’s not safe to assume that the improved cells will always be perfect. So, it’s informative to learn about the first faulty battery we know of post-recall.

After getting towed to the dealer, service personnel disconnected the 12-volt battery. The local technician looked at the battery and determined that a new pack was likely needed, but then something more unusual happened. A GM engineer came out to the dealership and gave the pack a second look, recommending a pack replacement.

As for the driver, GM is taking very good care of them as well. While the vehicle is unavailable, GM set the driver up with a rental car for the duration of the repair process while also offering to pay for any gas needed to keep the rental driving. The gas has to be purchased and reimbursed, but that’s more than many manufacturers have done for people needing a repair in the past. So, GM seems to get that EV drivers don’t like paying for gas!

Some Takeaways

While we’d all like for EVs to be perfect, they are like all cars on the road. No matter how much thought goes into them, defects that present some serious danger to their owners, their property, and the public at large sometimes get through. Fire recalls are fairly common in ICE vehicles, and EVs are about 20 times less likely to catch fire.

I don’t know about you, but I’d certainly think that ICE car owners (I own both an EV and an ICE vehicle) would like to have a handy dandy warning alarm come up if there was a danger of fire. But, the fact that burning is a normal part of ICE operation and that flammable liquids and gases are normal makes it a lot tougher to spot a problem before it’s too late. Sure, normal maintenance can keep a solid ICE design from ever catching fire, but defects that pop up don’t announce themselves to the ECU so that you can get a chance to evacuate.

Like all vehicle designs, this message that GM’s EVs can give us when there’s danger of fire came from experience. As the old saying goes, “Good judgment comes from experience, which comes from bad judgment.” GM’s experience with an expensive and awful fire recall was not only bad press, but cost the company some serious cash. So, you can bet that such an experience is something they’re very committed to not repeating in the future.

As part of that past recall, the company first tried to avoid replacing all batteries by developing a battery monitoring program. Without needing to add any new hardware, they found a way for the battery management system and the vehicle’s computer to work together to watch for unusual voltages and perhaps other electrical readings (resistance, etc.). If things get too far outside of normal limits, the vehicle sets off an alarm and warns people to stay away from it until someone can check it out and make sure everything is OK or repair it if it’s not.

So, it’s pretty clear that GM vehicles are going to be a lot safer in the future, as will other EVs as these design techniques get out there. Instead of vehicle fires being a seemingly random and unavoidable disaster, EVs are able to be more resilient, and fail gracefully instead of failing catastrophically. Not all issues can be detected in this way, but we’re about to go from a world where EVs have 20 times fewer fires to one where they’re even more rare.

For GM’s EVs, we’re also likely seeing some good news in that a GM engineer came to the dealer to check things out. This isn’t an unheard of thing to happen, but when it does, it’s almost never for something routine or well known. So, there aren’t a bunch of Bolts out there tripping off a battery warning in the software. It’s rare enough at this point, even after the replacement packs have been out for a while, that it’s worth escalating to a higher expert level.

At the same time, I could be wrong about all this. This alarm could be among the first of a wider problem that would again have to be recalled like the first one. However, the rarity of the problem and the early warning system vastly reduces the chances that we’d see something as newsworthy as the first recall. So, even if I’m completely wrong in my optimism here, it’s still likely to be a lot less painful for owners.

I’ve reached out to GM to see if they have any further information about this incident, and I’ll be sure to share what they tell me in another article or in an update here.

Featured image: a picture of the “battery danger” warning. Used with permission from the vehicle’s owner.

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Written By

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.


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