Old School Battery Tech Causes Chevrolet Volt Fire

3 years ago by Eric Loveday 35

A Recent Rear End Collision Caused A 12V-Induced Fire In This Chevrolet Volt. (via GM-Volt.com Forums)

A Recent Rear End Collision Caused A 12V-Induced Fire In This Chevrolet Volt. (via GM-Volt.com Forum User Ikhan)

Perhaps a recent Chevrolet Volt fire will prompt a wave of media attention against the “old school” lead acid battery technology.  But we doubt it.   This is more of a potential issue to be aware of if you happen to be a Chevrolet Volt owner.

Another Look At Chevrolet Volt Fire Damage (via GM-Volt.com Forums User Ikhan)

Another Look At Chevrolet Volt Fire Damage (via GM-Volt.com Forums User Ikhan)

A recent accident involving a Southern Californian Chevrolet Volt owner resulted in a pretty serious fire breaking out.  GM-Volt.com community member (and owner of the car) Ikhan then informed GM, who investigated the problem.

Ikhan stated at the time of the accident last month:

First off, I LOVED my Volt but it was totaled in a rear end accident last month.

Fortunately, I was able to get out of the car when I saw smoke coming from the rear. Within ~ 10 minutes the car was on fire and the passenger cabin was fully engulfed in flames, the windows blew out and the tires melted before the fire department was able to get there. Has this happened to anyone else?

We have contacted GM to investigate. They did come to look at the car and are waiting for the report / results.

I had the car just over 1 year before the accident and was very, very happy with it.

Despite Other Serious Accidents (like this recent Indiana collision), No Chevy Volt Has Ever Had A Lithium Battery Pack Related Fire Incident

Despite Other Serious Accidents (like this recent Indiana collision), No Chevy Volt Has Ever Had A Lithium Battery Pack Fire-Related Incident On Public Roads

On Wednesday, he reported back the finding had lead (no pun intened) to the 12V battery:

Hi all – sorry for taking so long to get back to you but we only just heard back from GM regarding their findings. The conclusion is that the fire was caused by sparks from the 12V battery. Apparently, the crash forced the body of the car into the 12V battery which caused it to arc and send sparks onto the carpeting of the trunk. The main battery (or battery that drives the car) was not breached and was not involved in the fire. The gas tank was not involved in the fire either.

Thanks all for interest and patience while we waited for GM to report their findings.

So once again.  The “new technology” in this case performed admirably; the Volt’s flawless incident record in relation to its e-drivetrain is still in tact.  This indeed looks to be a one-off accident, but we feel it is perhaps also good for Volt owners to be aware of some potential shielding issues around the 12V battery after a rear-end collision.

Check out the original thread at GM-Volt.com here.

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35 responses to "Old School Battery Tech Causes Chevrolet Volt Fire"

  1. David Murray says:

    Interesting.. Yeah, the 12V battery is in the rear of the Volt. But there are other cars that have the 12V battery in the rear also. I wonder if those cars suffer from the same potential issue?

    1. Jim_NJ says:

      My daughter and son-in-law have an old Audi sedan (late 90s) with the battery under the rear seat. They were putting the child seat in one day, sparks flew and the back seat caught on fire. Thankfully no one was hurt, but placing the battery outside the engine compartment can pose problems.

      1. Martin T says:

        So VW parent company hasn’t learnt decades latter (after backseat beetle fires for the same reason)
        Gees glad I don’t own anything from the VW group!

  2. Eric Loveday says:

    Side note: Just checked my old BMW 3 Series battery. It’s in the trunk. Positive and negative battery posts are less than 1 inch from sheet metal on side/rear of vehicle. Should probably put some foam in there to reduce chance of contact after an accident.

    1. Anon says:

      Mmm, “Brampy”… 😉

    2. Dan Hue says:

      A battery is heavy, and it helps with weight distribution.

    3. Rob says:

      There should be a battery cover covering the terminals…

  3. Joshua Burstyn says:

    Queue media sh1tstorm in 5, 4, 3, 2, 1….

    1. pjwood says:

      Exactly. The images make great fodder.

    2. David Murray says:

      And the sad part is, the media will say it was the battery. And while technically that will be true, it will be very deceiving for people who don’t understand that there is a regular 12V battery just like any other car. And of course, it always goes back to the issue that we all know regular gas cars NEVER catch fire, right?

  4. Ben says:

    Poor Volt, and the owner too. Glad to hear that the owner walked away safely.

  5. Kent says:

    Did the owner buy another Volt?

  6. Spec9 says:

    The battery is in the rear? I didn’t know that. I guess they ran out of space under the hood.

  7. Mark C says:

    If you go back far enough, the Pinto was recalled for catching on fire if rear-ended. The recall work performed was simple. They put a small sheet of plastic in front of the gas tank so it wouldn’t cause a spark when the rear was crushed. A sheet of plastic by the battery should be a simple fix for most vehicles.

    1. pete g says:

      Bad comparison, if I remember correctly the top of the gas tank on the pinto was also the bottom of the trunk. Safety standards are much higher today.

  8. Stephen says:

    The battery is indeed in the rear. It resides in the center, behind the traction battery. There is nothing between it and the rear crash structure/bumper. Hmmm. Must look again to see it the are isolators over the connectors.

    1. Stephen says:

      The connectors are bare metal. This could become a recall and should be a simple fix. Does NTSB know about this incidence?

      1. Anon says:

        They do now. 😉

        1. Stephen says:

          Does the NTSB read InsideEVs?

          1. The NTSB says:

            Yes we do.

            1. The Actual NTSB - Accept no substitutes says:

              Yes, we really do.

  9. Stephen says:

    In the top photo one can see the lead acid battery (the silver box in the center). It appears the upper cross beam was forced over the top of it creating metal to connector contact. The crash beam looks pushed down. Was it hit by a high vehicle such as a truck?

    1. Jim_NJ says:

      ” Was it hit by a high vehicle such as a truck?”

      Yeah, he was hit by a Ford Econoline van. I’m not so sure that’s the battery in the middle. It looks like it could be the license plate frame. But you could be right.

      1. Stephen says:

        It is the plate frame. The 12V batt is right in front of that.

  10. Mark H says:

    Is this the first Volt fire recorded from an accident of any kind outside the test fire and battery packs? If so it is still waaayyy ahead of the ICE. ICE 90 fires per billion miles with 30 of them resulting from a collision. Not sure where the “total” Volt miles are these days but must be approaching a billion so conservatively 20 or 30 times safer.

    1. kdawg says:

      Yes, almost 1 billion for the US fleet.

  11. pete g says:

    So the whole back end looks crushed and the driver walked away? Sounds like a safe car to me. Better still the insurance company will declare the car totalled and write a check to the owner for fair market value. Which he could use as a down payment on a brand new Volt. What’s the problem?

  12. PHEVfan says:

    It was the battery location, not the “old technology” that caused the fire. Shorting any technology of battery in that way can cause sparks and a fire. The battery chemistry had nothing to do with it.

  13. Martin T says:

    The problem is that in a severe accident where the 12V battery can be pushed around a lot I don’t know how much protection one would need.

  14. Fool Cells says:

    If this was a Tesla, it would be the top headline on every “news” site. Why no media attention on GM?

    1. kdawg says:

      R u kidding? The volt has been a target since day 1.

  15. kdawg says:

    Why don’t they make the carpeting non flammable?

  16. skratche_nDeezNutz says:

    All these years GM has been in the car biz and they still couldn’t engineer against this?

    Lame!

  17. Rob says:

    All this talk of the battery should not be out of the engine bay reminds me of an idiot mate of my brother’s. Now sadly no longer here, but thankfully nothing to do with an accident involving a car.
    His first car was an old Austin Mini, which all had the battery in the boot. That’s trunk for all you Merkins.
    After continually running out of petrol, I suggested he get himself a petrol can, so next time he ran out, he could pop a gallon in using the spare can.
    I already knew, from my brother, that his battery terminals were loose. They were the type which has a self tapping screw holding the terminal onto the post. Well often whilst in the middle of doing a hand brake turn, one of Nick’s ‘specialities’, the positive terminal could fly off and bring everything to a standstill.
    This one night, dark, and down some country lane somewhere unlit, he did another, and everything went dark. So they all pile out and walk to the back of the car, open the boot and smell burning. The steel petrol can had been bouncing around the boot from one side to the other and had chosen to land across both battery terminals and was doing it’s best to catch fire…
    The can was grabbed and disappeared over the hedge as, apparently, Nick preferred the idea of walking home after running out of petrol to going home in an ambulance after the back of the car had blown up!
    He then had the cheek to blame me for his near death experience!
    Oh I have to laugh…

    What I’ve done to most of my cars is fit a battery isolating switch. They only cost about £12 plus some thick cable. When put in an out of sight place it doubles as an anti theft device and stops the battery from going flat. Yes, most of my cars are old sheds on wheels 🙂

    1. will says:

      Why in seven hells did your mate, after identifying loose battery terminal clamps as an ongoing and problematic issue, not go down to a parts store and buy a new, better clamp? It’s not rocket science. They way he can carry on handbrake turning to his hearts delight without worrying about it happening!

      I swear common sense is lacking these days…