‘It’s unnerving’: Chevy Bolt owners want buybacks after 141,000 vehicles recalled for fire risk

Nathan Gardner loved his 2.019 Chevrolet Bolt electric vehicle when he bought it three years ago, but now it sits outside his home “like a firebomb,” he said.

He wants General Motors to buy it back. So do Bolt owners Wendy Fong, Stan Goldberg and Durham Smith. They find it unsettling to own a vehicle even GM has warned could catch on fire.

“It’s unnerving at the very least,” said Smith of Lake Wylie, South Carolina. He owns a 2022 Chevy Bolt EUV. “How can we possibly put a car in our garage that might catch on fire? I don’t feel secure parking a car outside given our tree coverage.”
The Gardner family with the 2019 Chevrolet Bolt that GM has agreed to buy back. From left: Nathan Gardner, Tracy Gardner (adults), Lily Gardner, Carver Gardner, Sammy Gardner, Jonathan Gardner and Sky (dog).

Last month, GM expanded its second recall on Bolts to include all model years through 2022 – that means Smith’s Bolt too, which he’d bought just 15 days earlier. The recall, which affects about 141,000 vehicles globally, is due to battery defects that could start a fire. There have been a dozen Bolts that have caught fire while parked, although GM has not confirmed that each of those fires was caused by defective batteries.
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GM has apologized to its Bolt owners for the inconvenience, saying it and its battery maker, LG Chem, have “hundreds of people” working around the clock to find the cause of the problem and correct it to ensure defect-free products will be made going forward.

As of Friday, GM spokesman Kevin Kelly said the automaker is “still working with LG on manufacturing process updates.”

GM has said that when it is confident that LG Chem can produce defect-free battery modules, GM will notify Bolt owners in writing and repairs will begin. Once a repair is made, GM will provide an eight-year/100,000 mile warranty on it. In the meantime, GM has assured Bolt owners that if they follow three steps, the cars should be safe:

Keep the car charged to only 90%.
Avoid depleting the battery below a range of at least 70 miles.
Do not park the car in a garage or charge it overnight.

“We understand the frustration Bolt EV owners are experiencing and are working as quickly as we can to make sure LG has instituted updated manufacturing processes based on both of our teams working together on the issues,” Kelly said.

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‘Minor problem, minor risk’

Some Bolt owners take the recall in stride.

“There’s over 80,000 Bolts made and just over a dozen fires. There’s hundreds more who have been in (unrelated) accidents,” said Douglas Shrock of Eureka, California, who owns a 2021 Bolt. “You’re more likely to get in an accident. That’s my risk assessment. Nothing changed for me.”
Douglas Shrock, his wife Guri Andermann and their dog Maggie with the 2020 Chevrolet Bolt. Shrock is not concerned about the recall on his car and says he loves the vehicle.

Shrock even used an inverter on his Bolt last year to power his house during an electrical outage. Kelly said GM does not encourage that because the Bolt was not designed to do that. Still, Shrock is a fan of the vehicle.

“The problem is a minor problem. In life, it’s an incredibly minor risk,” Shrock said. “So if I don’t get a new battery for three years, that’s an 11-year warranty for me when I do get it. I am very happy with the car.”
Last year, during a power outage, Douglas Shrock connected this inverter to his 2020 Bolt EV and used the car’s 66kW traction battery to supply power to his home. Chevrolet does not encourage owners to do this because it did not engineer the Bolt to power homes, a Chevy spokesman said.

But for others, the safety steps are only doable for so long and the risk is too great.

“How is that realistic? If it’s your only vehicle how are people getting by?” said Nathan Gardner, the Bolt owner who lives in Sonora, California. “There are people like myself in fire-prone areas putting their families and homes at risk because there’s nowhere to charge and you can’t stay up all night to watch it charge. I am not sure why these cars are even on the road?”

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‘Can’t sleep at night’

The public has taken notice of the recall too with some parking garages forbidding Bolts an entrance.

On the Chevy Bolt EV and EUV Owners Group on Facebook, a Bolt owner posted a photo of a sign on his office parking garage in Seattle, Washington, that read: “Chevrolet Bolt EVs are strictly prohibited from entering this facility in conjunction with the recent recall due to fire-related safety concerns.”
A Bolt owner took this photo of the sign at a parking garage in Seattle, Washington on Sept. 8, 2021.

The person who posted the photo expressed frustration that there is no fix yet, noting he had to street park nearly 2 miles away. He spoke to the Detroit Free Press, part of the USA TODAY network, but asked that his name not be published because he just started the buyback process with GM for his 2021 Bolt and he does not want to derail it.

But when asked about his reaction to the recall, he said: “I feel very lied to. I specifically bought the 2021 over a used 2016 because I was told it wasn’t a risk, the problem had been taken care of.”

Meanwhile, Gardner, 46, has owned his 2019 Bolt since October 2018 when he bought it new for $42,000. He has enjoyed it, even after GM issued the first recall last November on 2017-19 model year Bolts for potential fire risk. He said he followed GM’s safety protocols then and got GM’s repair done on it in May. He was assured by his dealer that it all looked good, he said.

But in June, Gardner and his family returned home from a camping trip, plugged the vehicle in to charge it in the garage and within a short time smelled intense heat. Gardner, who works as a park ranger and firefighter, said the garage was at least 90 degrees inside.
The Gardner family with their 2019 Chevrolet Bolt that GM has promised to buy back as part of a recall for potential fire risk. The family lives in Northern California near the wild fires. From left to right: Nathan Gardner holding Sammy Gardner, Jonathan Gardner (red shirt), Lily Gardner, Carver Gardner and Tracy Gardner (black shirt).

“I felt along the rims and bottoms of the car,” Gardner said. “The inside wasn’t hot, but the lower areas near the battery were really hot. I would chalk that up to a close call.”

It was the first time he ever had a problem with the car, but it would be the last, he said. By mid-June, he was pushing GM to buy back his Bolt.

“If my property caught on fire, we could be the reason that all of Sonora burns off the map,” said Gardner, who lives near many of the recent wildfires. “I can’t sleep at night knowing the car outside our home could possibly catch on fire.”
The letter Nathan Gardner received confirming General Motors would buy back his 2019 Chevrolet Bolt EV.

In August, GM sent Gardner a letter saying that it would buy back his Bolt, but as of Wednesday, Gardner said GM has not said how much it will give him for the car, though his dealer told him to expect $23,000, “which is insane. This is a car I would have otherwise kept for 10 or 15 years.”

Gardner still wants a buyback even if there is a fix, but he said he’ll remain open in the future.

“If the ’22 model was clear I would have switched right over,” he said. “However, I’m going to wait and see what happens. I’m not interested in being a guinea pig on fire.”

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No payment on it

GM’s Kelly said GM is buying back vehicles on a case-by-case basis, but he declined to reveal the criteria used to determine whether a person gets a buyback and the buyback amount.

Smith, 74, is determined to get a buyback. He said he refuses to pay on the vehicle, he is considering contacting a lawyer and he might run a full-page ad in his local newspaper telling his story.