Less than a week has passed since GM announced it has a permanent fix for a very inconvenient problem with their mass-market EV, the Bolt: they might catch on fire while parked. It appears that this fix did not make it to a particular Bolt in Ashburn, Virginia, which burst into flames while sitting in a home’s garage, starting a major fire. Thankfully, nobody was hurt, but this is a good reminder that fires while parked are an issue multiple EVs have had to contend with.
According to the Ashburn Volunteer Fire Rescue Department (AVFRD), they were alerted to the fire at about 11:30 on the morning of May 1. The fire appears to have been started under the Bolt, and then spread to the rest of the garage.
Video of the fire was posted on Facebook, and it’s pretty alarming-looking:
Yikes. Incredibly, the main house was saved, and there were no major injuries, though that Bolt’s not looking so great:
While the complete cause of the fire is not yet officially known, GM has given details of what is the likely cause of the Bolt fires for the 68,667 cars they issued a recall for:
GM’s experts concluded a “rare manufacturing defect in certain battery modules in vehicles from these production years” led to the fires, GM spokesman Dan Flores said in a statement to The Detroit News. That defect could cause “a heat source or a short in a cell, which could propagate into a fire.”
It’s not known if this Bolt had the software-based fix, or if this Bolt was being operated under GM’s guidelines to mitigate fire risk, steps that, according to Jesse Ortega, GM’s chief engineer on the bolt:
... if you have a 2017 or 2018 Bolt you should use the Hilltop Reserve mode until there’s a fix. For those with 2019 Bolts, Ortega says to change the target charge setting to 90 percent. If you can’t make these changes, or don’t feel comfortable making them, Ortega says that you should park your Bolt outside your garage and not under a carport because of the fire risk.
Bolt owners, it’s probably a good idea to get that fix, so call your dealer.
Electric car batteries store an astounding amount of energy in a very dense package, and which is at the root of why we’ve seen significant fire issues from Teslas, Hyundais, Chevys, and other EVs. Yes, gasoline cars certainly catch fire as well, but the context of those fires tend to be different, with combustion cars far more likely to, um, combust, when in use, as that’s when gasoline is flowing around active electrical sparks and points of intense heat.
When parked, the fire risk is far less, a situation that does not seem to be the case with electric cars.
These fires are no joke. If you have any EV with a recall notice, take it seriously.