Chevy Bolt recall kills some of my EV — and EV road trip — excitement

My 2020 Chevy Bolt parked in front of the shared community garages at our HOA. The solar on the roof is courtesy of an 18-month effort by me to persuade my neighbors to add solar to our garages and community house. [Photo by Christof Demont-Heinrich]
blog logoI’ve been an EV advocate for 12 years, driven 100% EV for nearly eight years, solar-charged an EV for four of those eight years, and now driven two leased Chevy Bolts for more than 50,000 miles and more than four years, a red 2017 Bolt, which I drove for 32,000 miles and three years, and a blue 2020 Chevy Bolt, which I have driven for 18 months and 17,000 miles so far.

I love driving electric, using renewable energy to power my clean ride, and I love the Bolt.

But GM has been having trouble with the Bolt battery, manufactured by LG, which GM contracted with to build its batteries, for awhile now. First, due to a small number of fires that occurred in 2017 and 2018 Bolts, GM recalled those Bolts in November 2020.

With a 2020, I thought I had escaped the recall – until two days ago.

Following one fire in a 2020 Bolt, GM decided to expand the recall of Bolts to all model years, 2017-2022.

So, here I am, during the stay part of a 12-day vacation and 2,400-mile road trip between my home in Littleton, Colo. and my sister’s home in Goleta, Calif., being hit with the news that my Bolt, too, is a potential fire hazard and part of a recall of tens of thousands of Bolts in the United States.

I am not that worried about my risk: I drove my 2017 for 32,000 miles and also did a 2,400-mile road trip in that Bolt from Littleton, Colo. to Goleta, Calif. in Summer 2018. And I have driven another 17,000 miles in my 2020, including 1,200-miles on my current road trip/vacation.

My personal Bolt charging regimen seems to be nearly ideal as far as the battery fires are concerned: According to multiple people I communicated with about the recall on the Chevy Bolt Owners Facebook Group, which has 16,000 members, so far, all of the about half dozen fires appear to have occurred in Bolts where the owners followed  a standard gas car fueling routine: Fill the tank all the way up, then run it all the way down until the warning for empty shows.

My 2020 Chevy Bolt charging at an Electrify America DCFC station in Green River, Utah in August 2021 during a 2,400-mile round-trip road trip from Littleton, Colo. to Goleta, Calif. [Photo by Christof Demont-Heinrich]
I charge my Bolt to 80-90% probably 90% of the time – sometimes in the winter I do charge it to 100%, and I did so for the first day of our road trip last week – and I almost never let it fall below 25% of total charge. Apparently, putting the LG battery pack through that type of regimen may trigger defects in some battery packs and potentially cause a fire.

I am very disappointed and also rather anxious about the situation I find myself in – along with tens of thousands of other Bolt owners – a total of 140,000 Bolts have been sold around the world so far with about 50,000 of those sold in the United States.

It is not easy – nearly impossible  — for me to follow GM’s current recommendations on my Bolt, which they say, they will check to see if my battery pack has the defective module(s), but might not replace the entire pack since mine is a 2020 (GM is saying it will replace the full packs on all 2017-2019 Bolts).

GM recommends that all Bolt owners only charge to 90% of battery capacity and not discharge the battery below 70 miles of range, or below about 20% of battery capacity. I am fortunate in the sense that this won’t be much of a problem for me: I only occasionally drive more than 100 miles in a day. But that is about a 100-miles less range than the 259 miles of range GM boasts a healthy Bolt should be able to cover.

However, the other part of GM’s recommendation is more difficult for me to follow: GM also recommends that all Bolt owners park their Bolt outside their garage after charging.

I live in an HOA community with assigned — and also very limited parking. I am assigned a garage spot, which is great, because I can trickle (slow) charge my Bolt in my garage. Those assigned to an outdoor space in our HOA condo community have no access to any EV charging.

My 2020 Chevy Bolt charging at an Electrify America DCFC station in Green River, Utah. [Photo by Christof Demont-Heinrich]
However, since ALL spots are pre-assigned and there are zero extra spots – just five for visitors only, a HUGE problem, since we have 40 units and often not enough spots for our visitors to park in – I cannot simply pull my Bolt out and park it in the outside parking lot after charging.

In addition, our community is surrounded by a business park HOA that prohibits on street parking at all times. The nearest legal on-street parking is a one-mile walk in all directions.

Yes, I could switch with a neighbor who is assigned to outdoor parking. But then I could not charge my car in my own garage, or I would have to work out a schedule where I could do this. This is not an easy task, given that I have an odd and irregular work schedule due to being a university professor and also partly due to COVID and a different work regiment due to COVID.

In addition, because I trickle/slow charge, I need to have my car in the garage charging for at least eight to 10 hours to add 40 to 50 miles of range – our garages are in shared, detached blocks here at our HOA and they are NOT wired for 240 volt 😖. This means it is extra difficult to coordinate a garage and outdoor space sharing situation with someone else at my HOA because my charging times are twice as long as they would be with 240 volt charging.

Me and my 2020 Chevy Bolt in Glenwood Springs, Colo. [Photo by Kyra Demont-Heinrich]
Also, the nearest DCFC charging station to me is about a 15 minute drive in each direction. That means 30 minutes of extra round-trip driving – and some lost range due to that extra driving – and 45 to 60 minutes worth of charging, or 60 to 90 minutes of lost time every time I need to do a fast charge outside of my community.

Additionally, fast chargers cost three times as much per kWh as I pay at my HOA – 30 cents vs. 10 cents. So, I end up having to pay considerably more each time I fill up.

In addition, I worked for 18 months to persuade my community to install solar on our garages so that our EVs here – another neighbor owns a 2017 Nissan LEAF – could be solar-charged. If I do not charge in my garage, I am no longer solar-charging. 😖

Obviously, if it takes a long time for GM to get its act together generally, and on my Bolt, specifically, I could end up having to scrape ice off my car in the fall and winter in Colorado.

I am inclined right now not to follow GM’s instructions  — which is all so much legal ass covering and which fails to take into consideration, at all, the MANY different charging situations that people have but instead just presumes that all Bolt owners are privileged creatures with single family homes and their own garage and driveway – on parking my Bolt outdoors after charging, while following the other instructions about 90% charge level and 25% minimum charge.

It’s clear that I am not the only one in the position of not being able to really follow GM recommendations on outdoor parking following every charging session. Indeed, I created a thread on the Bolt Owner’s Facebook Group page about this very issue – those who cannot (easily) follow GM’s recommendations, and there were a lot of people who did not have the easy option of parking their Bolt outside after charging it.

Some of the situations described included people who lived in large apartment buildings with garage parking only in dense urban areas with no easily available street parking, other Bolt owners in HOAs with assigned and limited parking such as my own, and even one Bolt owner who has a single family home and their own garage but who owns an ad-wrapped Bolt and whose HOA has regulations against parking wrapped vehicles in the driveway.

Others noted that by not plugging in at night in their garage – another legal-ass covering suggestion by GM is not to charge at night – they would have to pay daytime charging rates of two to four times that of what they are being charged at night.

And with GM offering no clear time horizon on possible replacement battery packs and even, in the case of the 2020-2022 Bolts and Bolt EUVs, who knows how long we will be asked to do things that many of us cannot easily do, and in some cases, simply cannot do, in terms of charging and parking our Bolts.

One of the shared garage blocks at Highline Crossing Cohousing Community. [Photo by Christof Demont-Heinrich]
Technically, I could charge only at a DCFC station – the nearest being a 15-minute drive for me in each direction, adding 30 minutes of driving time. But this will take 45 to 60 minutes of extra out-of-my-day charging time, and 75 to 90 minutes total with the driving to get there. In addition, I may have to wait for others to charge there before I can charge. And, of course, the electricity will cost me three to four times as much as when I fill up in my garage.

I could also switch out my garage with a neighbor who has an outdoor spot, but the only way I could charge at home in that spot would be to run an extension cord out of my garage and across the parking lot, which would mean cars would be regularly driving over my extension cord. There is no way for me to charge outdoors at my community without that being an issue.

In short, a LOT of serious inconvenience, for extremely low risk, six Bolts out of 140,000 made have caught fire – my charging profile is typically always between 30% and 90% State of Charge (SOC) and I trickle charge my Bolt at 120V and 12 amps.

Indeed, I bet some of the gasoline cars in some of our HOA garages pose as much of a fire hazard as my Bolt. There have been dozens and dozens of fire hazard recalls on ICE cars. Only, no one knows about that because EVs and and EV fires are much more novel than ICEs and gas car fires and fire recalls for ICEs. Here is a list of just a few of the ICE fire recalls that have occurred in the past four years:

Hyundai Recalls Another 390,000 Vehicles Because of Potential Engine Fires – May 2021

Fiat-Chrysler recalls trucks over fire hazard, suggests owners park outside – March 2021

BMW adds nearly 185,000 vehicles to recall over fire risk – April 2019

Ford is recalling 874,000 pickup trucks in North America for fire risks – Dec. 2018

Mercedes recalling 300,000 cars due to fire hazard — March 2017