New technologies often bring with them growing pains, and electric vehicles (EVs) are no different. One example is needing a better understanding of why they sometimes catch on fire. Overall, EVs catch fire less than gas-powered vehicles, but EV fires make more headlines. This is one reason Tesla made a point, in its 2020 Impact Report, to say that there was one fire involving a Tesla electric vehicle for every 205 million miles the cars logged, while the average for all vehicles in the U.S. was one fire for every 19 million miles traveled.
With that prologue out of the way, let's turn to the all-electric Chevrolet Bolt EV, which has been the subject of a massive safety recall since November 2020. There have only been 10 Bolt fires attributed to the battery defect that's prompted the recall, but this month, GM expanded the recall to include all 2019-2022 model-year vehicles. Since the previous recall included all 2017-2018 model-year vehicles and some 2019s, the recall now includes every single Bolt ever made--around 110,000 cars. The estimated cost of the recall currently stands at $1.8 billion.
The precise nature of the problem in the battery that can cause a Bolt to catch fire was not announced, but GM has offered suggestions that Bolt owners should take to reduce the chance of fire. First, they should not leave their cars plugged in overnight. Second, they should park outside and away from buildings. Third, drivers should change how they charge and use their batteries so they don't reach over 90 percent capacity and not let them deplete to what GM calls a "deep discharge level." That means having at least 70 miles of range left in the pack.
The problem is that some Bolt owners are not heeding Chevy's guidance. According to Recurrent, 30 percent of current Bolt owners aren't following the charging guidelines set by the company. Recurrent knows this because it gathers information from EV drivers to determine how much usage the battery gets to enable the company to calculate accurate resale values. As part of its data collection, Recurrent looked at information from over 1,000 Bolt drivers and discovered that owners are not treating these upper and lower charge thresholds as strict requirements.
"Our data is showing that a lot of Chevy Bolt owners are going to have to change their behavior," said Recurrent CEO Scott Case in a statement. "For some, this could be a hardship if they have long commutes and require more range than the new guidelines allow, especially during the summer when hot temperatures and extra A/C usage affect battery performance."
Recurrent says it is the only company outside of GM that can see the details of how this many Chevy Bolt owners are charging their packs. With the recall's expansion, the percentage of drivers who aren't following the recommendations could grow.
"Newer Chevy Bolt owners need to pay attention to this recall now," Case said. "One hundred thousand batteries can't get replaced overnight given supply chain woes and high demand for new EVs, so this will take some time."