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Chevy Volt – When Green Turns to Charcoal

  Norman Taylor & Associates
  December 22, 2011

It’s hard to imagine anything more frightening than being in a burning vehicle. It is the stuff of nightmares especially when it’s a new car that had green enthusiasts buzzing prior to its release. In 1978 the Ford Pinto became a world wide news item because of its susceptibility to crash induced fires. Twenty seven people were killed in Pinto crashes. Do a little homework and you will discover that Ford and Chevrolet aren’t the only manufacturers with exploding and burning vehicles; far from it. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration regularly issues recalls in an attempt to prevent exactly these kinds of occurrences and to help save lives.

Let’s not forget, the automobile is an electro-mechanical device made from materials composed of a variety of elements and chemicals. The car has numerous sources of heat and electrical potentials which can become sources of fire, if not functioning properly.

This year it is Chevy Volt’s turn on the hot seat, pun intended. Recently during additional crash testing where the vehicle was hit from the side by another vehicle, the Volt burst into flames. The source of the flames was the Lithium battery pack which powers the car. This event was by itself a very serious by-product of the crash test. It didn’t end there. Three weeks after the crash test, the same vehicle burst into flames in a storage facility. This fire was so severe several cars nearby were also consumed in the flames. The safety issues are very troubling for any new car owner.

This isn’t the first time there have been serious safety questions about Lithium Ion battery technology. In 2006 there was an enormous recall of laptop batteries for the same reason. The laptops would spontaneously burst into flames. This battery technology has one primary plus point, its energy storage capacity, and many negatives.

  • When heated the battery vents an electrolyte as a mist that is very susceptible to explosions and fire.
  • The Lithium batteries are also susceptible to pressure (crash forces) which also lead to fire and explosions.
  • Lithium is a hazardous material which has to be disposed of when the life of the battery has expired.

Scientists working in the field of energy storage are busy working on viable materials to replace the Lithium based technologies. We must hope that they are successful and that it is soon.

Chevrolet has provided rentals for people who no longer have faith in the vehicle while they investigate further. Car companies seldom step forward and proactively do this sort of thing. This is usually the point where a California Lemon Law Attorney has to step in and assist the consumer. We hope that this problem is dealt with quickly and effectively because no one wants a lump of coal for the holidays.

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