The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has issued a statement on its investigation into a Chevrolet Volt fire that occurred at the organization's facilities. NHTSA had done a side-impact test on a Volt then parked it outside, and three weeks later Chevy's plug-in hybrid caught fire. The battery was determined to be the cause, after its coolant line was ruptured during the side-impact test. That led the NHTSA to consider a ruling forcing hybrid and electric-car batteries to be drained after a wreck.

On Friday, NHTSA said it is opening "a formal safety defect investigation" to study the risks of fire in Chevy Volts that have been in major accidents. To be clear, though, the larger story is that this isn't just about the Volt, this is about any vehicle with a battery pack, with NHTSA gathering "additional information about the potential for fire in electric vehicles involved in a crash...."

NHTSA conducted three more tests on the Volt's battery packs over three days, each test involving damaging the pack and rotating the car to simulate an accident and rollover. The battery pack in the third test began to smoke and spark almost immediately, the pack in the second test caught fire a week later. It is due to these results that the formal investigation has been opened. Follow the jump for NHTSA's complete statement.
Show full PR text
Statement of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
~ On formal safety defect investigation of post-crash fire risk in Chevy Volts ~


WASHINGTON, DC – The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) issued the following statement today announcing the agency will be opening a formal safety defect investigation to assess the risk of fire in Chevy Volts that have been involved in a serious crash:

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is deeply committed to improving safety on our nation's roadways. As part of our core mission to reduce traffic injuries and fatalities, NHTSA is continually working to ensure automakers are in compliance with federal motor vehicle safety standards, culling information to identify safety defects, and ensuring manufacturers conduct any necessary safety recalls. The agency has also developed a robust New Car Assessment Program (NCAP) to test the majority of the vehicle models introduced to consumers each year.

This past May, NHTSA crashed a Chevy Volt in an NCAP test designed to measure the vehicle's ability to protect occupants from injury in a side collision. During that test, the vehicle's battery was damaged and the coolant line was ruptured. When a fire involving the test vehicle occurred more than three weeks after it was crashed, the agency concluded that the damage to the vehicle's lithium-ion battery during the crash test led to the fire. Since that fire incident, NHTSA has taken a number of steps to gather additional information about the potential for fire in electric vehicles involved in a crash, including working with the Department of Energy and the Department of Defense-in close coordination with experts from General Motors-to complete rigorous tests of the Volt's lithium-ion batteries.

In an effort to recreate the May test, NHTSA conducted three tests last week on the Volt's lithium-ion battery packs that intentionally damaged the battery compartment and ruptured the vehicle's coolant line. Following a test on November 16 that did not result in a fire, a temporary increase in temperature was recorded in a test on November 17. During the test conducted on November 18 using similar protocols, the battery pack was rotated within hours after it was impacted and began to smoke and emit sparks shortly after rotation to 180 degrees. NHTSA's forensic analysis of the November 18 fire incident is continuing this week. Yesterday, the battery pack that was tested on November 17 and that had been continually monitored since the test caught fire at the testing facility. The agency is currently working with DOE, DOD, and GM to assess the cause and implications of yesterday's fire. In each of the battery tests conducted in the past two weeks, the Volt's battery was impacted and rotated to simulate a real-world, side-impact collision into a narrow object such as a tree or a pole followed by a rollover.

NHTSA is not aware of any roadway crashes that have resulted in battery-related fires in Chevy Volts or other vehicles powered by lithium-ion batteries. However, the agency is concerned that damage to the Volt's batteries as part of three tests that are explicitly designed to replicate real-world crash scenarios have resulted in fire. NHTSA is therefore opening a safety defect investigation of Chevy Volts, which could experience a battery-related fire following a crash. Chevy Volt owners whose vehicles have not been in a serious crash do not have reason for concern.

While it is too soon to tell whether the investigation will lead to a recall of any vehicles or parts, if NHTSA identifies an unreasonable risk to safety, the agency will take immediate action to notify consumers and ensure that GM communicates with current vehicle owners.

In the meantime, the agency is continuing to work with all vehicle manufacturers to ensure they have appropriate post-crash protocols; asking automakers who currently have electric vehicles on the market or plan to introduce electric vehicles in the near future to provide guidance for discharging and handling their batteries along with any information they have for managing fire risks; and engaging the Department of Energy and the National Fire Protection Association to help inform the emergency response community of the potential for post-crash fires in electric vehicles.

NHTSA continues to believe that electric vehicles have incredible potential to save consumers money at the pump, help protect the environment, create jobs, and strengthen national security by reducing our dependence on oil. In fact, NHTSA testing on electric vehicles to date has not raised safety concerns about vehicles other than the Chevy Volt.

NHTSA's current guidance for responding to electric vehicles that have been in a crash remains the same. The agency continues to urge consumers, emergency responders, and the operators of tow trucks and storage facilities to take the following precautions in the event of a crash involving any electric vehicle:

• Consumers are advised to take the same actions they would in a crash involving a gasoline-powered vehicle-exit the vehicle safely or await the assistance of an emergency responder if they are unable to get out on their own, move a safe distance away from the vehicle, and notify the authorities of the crash.
• Emergency responders should check a vehicle for markings or other indications that it is electric-powered. If it is, they should exercise caution, per published guidelines, to avoid any possible electrical shock and should disconnect the battery from the vehicle circuits if possible.
• Emergency responders should also use copious amounts of water if fire is present or suspected and keeping in mind that fire can occur for a considerable period after a crash should proceed accordingly.
• Operators of tow trucks and vehicle storage facilities should ensure the damaged vehicle is kept in an open area instead of inside a garage or other enclosed building.
• Rather than attempt to discharge a propulsion battery, an emergency responder, tow truck operator, or storage facility manager should contact experts at the vehicle's manufacturer on that subject.
• Vehicle owners should not store a severely damaged vehicle in a garage or near other vehicles.
• Consumers with questions about their electric vehicles should contact their local dealers.

For future updates, visit www.SaferCar.gov.


I'm reporting this comment as:

Reported comments and users are reviewed by Autoblog staff 24 hours a day, seven days a week to determine whether they violate Community Guideline. Accounts are penalized for Community Guidelines violations and serious or repeated violations can lead to account termination.


    • 1 Second Ago
  • 154 Comments
      bman78
      • 3 Years Ago
      what we learn from this is what many experts already knew. GM and Nissan have told the NHSTA and IIHS to drain the batteries after the collision test. you can't have that much energy just sitting around with all of the safety mechanisms damaged.
      Termin8
      • 3 Years Ago
      This shouldn't be a surprise. Why do you think one of the first thing s first responders do at an auto accident scene is to cut the battery cables? I never thought about but, I can see how first responders showing up at an accident involving electric vehicles might be rather anxious about the potential for danger from the batteries.
      Julius
      • 3 Years Ago
      Just a thought... shorts may happen in any electric vehicle after a crash, not just a Volt. I'm sure if any battery pack had metal contacting the terminals, you could get a fire. I mean, who hasn't done the experiment of touching steel wool to a 9v battery?
      glassguy2
      • 3 Years Ago
      the volt is a waste of money ,and will go down the road of the yugo , i would love to see cars less complicated and could be actually worked on
        amshelbytwp
        • 3 Years Ago
        @glassguy2
        Gee.........jump in yoyr TOYOTA..14.5 MILLION RECALLS OVER THE LAST 3 YEARS..SCREW THE F----ING JAPS! WHAT THE HELL IS WRONG WITH YOU PEOPLE ?????????? I'VE BEEN BUYING AMERICAN CARS FOR 40 YEARS, WITH NO, I REPEAT, NO LEMON!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! DROP DEAD....................OR MOVE TO FRIGGING JAPAN.ENOUGHH !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
      DRILLER
      • 3 Years Ago
      funny, looks like the ford chevy "mine is better" bunch down there in comments LOL, electric cars dont pottute less , and dont get better fuel milage , just the gas tank is two towns over at the gas/coal fired power plant, and the exhaust pipe is the too. so you dont know about the pollution as much. (not knowing makes one believe they arent guilty and are doing gods work for global warming) and now we find that the batteries are a bit on the Ginger side, ohh well maybe they should be called Ibombs, after the exploding phone
      DB
      • 3 Years Ago
      Some here have argued that somehow NHTSA is holding EVs to a higher standard that gasoline vehicle in crash test performance. Keep in mind that a leaking gas tank after a crash test is also a failure and recall worthy. http://www.nytimes.com/1995/05/15/us/fuel-tank-problem-leads-to-gm-recall.html
      fisherdude47
      • 3 Years Ago
      I knew something like this would happen. You start mixing a load of batteries with gas and the occasional wreck and you get a flame not to mention a large fee for repairs. I 'm wondering once these cars get on the road along with the other manufactures , if the insurance rates will increase due to these bulk load of batteries and possible high repair cost due to a wreck
      thinkfirst
      • 3 Years Ago
      really hot car.
      • 3 Years Ago
      [blocked]
        • 3 Years Ago
        [blocked]
        Julius
        • 3 Years Ago
        "It has become apparent that Government Motors has done far too little actual engineering work on this inefficient machine - when they used an off-the-shelf engine to do the work that only a 2-cylinder biodiesel engine could have done, you know that the rest of the car had as little attention to detail." Gotta love this. Please name me one other commercially available passenger vehicle that runs on biodiesel only. Especially since you complain about how much the Volt costs in the first place - adding a custom motor for a rare fuel sounds like a great cost-cutter to me.
      somebodysomeone
      • 3 Years Ago
      Sounds like G.overment M.otors it trying to find another way to set back other competitors (Toyota mostly, partially ford) So that the new volt can get a leg up. They need to find some way to off load those shares to avoid taking a loss. This isn't about saftey, Two of those cars caught fires quite some time after the collision. The one that caught fire immediately, big deal. With sparks and the type of collision that car experienced a gasoline car would've done the exact same thing.
      Jeff U
      • 3 Years Ago
      I love my Volt! 11,000 oil free miles this year, powered by my Volts battery, charged with my home's power. I've needed only 22 gallons of gas this year! Take that big oil. I'm not giving you my money so you can continue to buy Congress. I'm keeping my money here in America. I'm not giving it to your lobbyists who keep Congress from passing any good energy legislation. I'm spending it here in my town's economy buying locally made electricity. We have to stop sending $400B a YEAR out of our country to buy foreign oil. That money never comes back into our economy. We need to spend it here. We need to buy cheaper electrons and keep most of our money for ourselves. Then WE can buy Congress! :)
        • 3 Years Ago
        @Jeff U
        [blocked]
          • 3 Years Ago
          [blocked]
          • 3 Years Ago
          [blocked]
          Rotation
          • 3 Years Ago
          Jay Jay Deng: Lithium is one of the most abundant elements in the Earth's crust. It's not terribly valuable.
          2 Wheeled Menace
          • 3 Years Ago
          I echo what tweaker said. I have a few bros who spent time out there. Half the time they were protecting oil fields and processing equipment. Each one of them has permanent injuries from insurgent IED attacks, that our tax dollars will have to provide medical care for for the rest of their lives. That's an expensive oil subsidy if i ever heard of one. One where we trade the lives of our sons to keep the cheap oil flowing. You don't have to believe in global warming. We need to get off oil for so many reasons.
          whothe123
          • 3 Years Ago
          you are a self-important douchebag that doesn't know jack sh!t about cars
          Julius
          • 3 Years Ago
          Like Tweaker, I've said before - even if the car is powered by fossil-fueled electricity, "I'd rather the money go to a Pennsylvania coal miner than a Saudi prince".
          Julius
          • 3 Years Ago
          @ Chris Timberlake: What I meant by "transportation" means the end vehicle, whether it's a hypermiled gasser like laser is pushing or a hybrid. And yes, finding, developing and extracting from the ground are all things that are potentially equivalent between lithium mining and oil recovery, especially now that most of the "easy oil" has been extracted. However, the lithium in the batteries can be recycled - yes not at 100% efficiency, but to my knowledge, the recycle rate for used gasoline is 0%.
          Jay Jay Deng
          • 3 Years Ago
          @StevenG Laser is actually correct; lithium ion batteries require very valuable metals in order to build them. Look it up. The net energy gain is actually negative; as in other words, producing electric cars creates more pollution then it saves.
          Chris Timberlake
          • 3 Years Ago
          @Julius Transportation isn't everything, theres also finding, digging it out of the ground, processing it, and then making the battery. In between all of that is transportation. Sure recycling helps but it's not full proof and still requires other components.
          Chris Timberlake
          • 3 Years Ago
          @Tweaker, Thats funny because we we get less than 15% of our oil from the Middle East. Hell, more of our oil comes from Venezuela than the Middle East. So why havent we invaded Venezuela again?
          Julius
          • 3 Years Ago
          @ Jay Jay Deng: All methods of transportation pollute. Question is, how much. And even if de novo lithium battery production is somewhat polluting, at least there's a recycling possibility. And I'd still bet that it's better than tar sand oil recovery or hydrofracked petrochemicals....
        • 3 Years Ago
        @Jeff U
        [blocked]
      Norman
      • 3 Years Ago
      fire is a minor set back for goverment motors.the volt cost tax payers $7500 dollors per unit, paid directly to the oboma/uaw motor company, formerly general motors.
    • Load More Comments