NHTSA opens investigation into Chevrolet Bolt EV fires

Chevrolet’s Bolt electric car is being investigated by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) after three examples sustained similar fire damage. Although the cause of the blaze is still unknown, the agency pointed out the fire damage appears to be concentrated in the compartment that stores the car’s battery pack.

Fires were reported in 2017, 2018, and 2019 models, and the three EVs were left with a similar burn pattern on or around the rear seats. The NHTSA published a bulletin that explains the fires seemingly started in the Bolt’s battery compartment and spread to the cabin; they didn’t start inside the passenger compartment.

Customer complaints provide more information about the problem. According to a March 2019 report, which was assigned NHTSA ID number 11230072, the owners parked their 2018 Bolt in their garage at about 3:45 p.m. and plugged it in to a Level 2 charger. Someone alerted them the car was on fire at about 5 p.m. Several nearby homes had to be evacuated, and firefighters spent about three hours putting out the blaze. The owners reported smoke inhalation injuries, according to the NHTSA’s bulletin, and they had to hire a professional to clean their house. They added the hatchback was “apparently combusting from within, in the area of the battery cells.”

Chevrolet sent two engineers to inspect the Level 2 charger, and it later purchased the Bolt from the insurance company. What — if anything — the company’s investigation revealed hasn’t been made public yet.

Filed in July 2020, the second complaint tells a similarly fiery tale with one key difference: the Bolt wasn’t plugged in. According to the complaint (NHTSA ID number 11339878), the owners of a 2019 Bolt left their house with a full charge, drove for about 12 miles, and turned the car off. It caught fire approximately 20 minutes later. Firefighters spent an hour putting out the blaze, left, and were called back when the Bolt caught fire again. It was then towed to Chevrolet dealership, where the fire started for the third and final time. Here again, the flames came from the rear-seat area. No injuries were reported, and the owner noted there were no warning signs on the dashboard.

Details about the third case aren’t available. All we know is the car was found at an insurance auction yard.

NHTSA’s ongoing investigation aims to assess the scope, frequency, circumstances, and safety consequences of the alleged fires. Depending on what it finds, it will either close the investigation (which would likely mean the fires were isolated incidents not linked to a manufacturer defect) or continue its probe. It wrote that nearly 78,000 examples of the Bolt built between the 2017 and 2020 model years could be affected.

Autoblog reached out to Chevrolet, and we’ll update this story if we learn more.

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