Home » The Chevrolet Bolt EV Has Once Again Been Recalled Due To Fire Risk, But The Cause Is So Much Weirder Than A Battery Short

The Chevrolet Bolt EV Has Once Again Been Recalled Due To Fire Risk, But The Cause Is So Much Weirder Than A Battery Short

2023 chevrolet Bolt Ev Front Three Quarter Backed In On A Residential Driveway

How’s this for deja vu? General Motors is recalling certain 2017 to 2023 Chevrolet Bolt EVs due to a fire risk. If that sounds familiar, that’s because it is. The Bolt EV has already been subject to multiple recalls over fires. But don’t worry! This fire recall isn’t battery-related. It’s actually a lot more mundane than that.

Here’s what the NHTSA recall report has to say.

General Motors has decided that a defect which relates to motor vehicle safety exists in certain 2017 – 2023 model year Chevrolet Bolt EV vehicles. In certain crashes that cause the front seatbelt pretensioners to deploy, the exhaust from the deployed pretensioner may ignite fibers in the floor carpet near the B-pillar.

If you’re not familiar with seatbelt pretensioners, that’s okay. I’m here to help.

They’re basically little explosive charges that detonate in a crash to cinch up a seatbelt, with the aim of preventing your neck from becoming a curly fry. While that’s likely a massive oversimplification, the pertinent information is that explosions like these can create hot gas, and hot gas often doesn’t pair well with flammable stuff like carpet. There’s a certain irony to a safety device potentially causing a fire, but that’s the way it goes sometimes.

2023 Bolt Ev Front Three Quarter Driving On An Overpass
Photo credit: Chevrolet

The NHTSA defect report claims that the carpet on Bolts has only ignited in three instances, two of which were in the past few months. In case you’re wondering why GM’s only issuing a recall now, it’s likely due to a pattern only emerging this year. Given how 111,242 vehicles are affected by this recall, this means that just 0.0026 percent of cars have already been affected. Recalls are often issued out of an abundance of caution, so GM’s nipping this little issue in the bud.

Fortunately, a fix has already been devised, and it’s much lower-tech than you might imagine. GM plans on putting foil between the carpet and the pretensioner. Yes, foil. Hey, it’s a great insulator often used in both OEM and motorsport applications, so foil seems like a reasonable solution. GM will also fit several cars with pretensioner covers, a fairly minor additional fix all things considered.

2023 Bolt Ev Side Profile While Driving On An Urban City Street
Photo credit: Chevrolet

So, if you happen to own a Chevrolet Bolt between the model years 2017 and 2023, expect a letter in the post from GM telling you to book in for a free fix at your local dealer. Owner notification is said to happen on January 30, which means it won’t be long now before this issue can be quite literally patched over. If you happen to own a Chevrolet Bolt EUV, don’t worry, those cars use a different carpet design and aren’t affected by this recall.

Ultimately, it’s a fairly standard and mundane recall. But it’s kind of another black eye for the Bolt EV—I’m sure GM was sick of seeing that car’s name in headlines next to the word “fire.” Nonetheless, the Bolt EV remains a pretty excellent car. It’s won multiple awards, including “EV of the Year” over at Electrek, a site historically known for hardcore Tesla fandom (and thus, a tough crowd.) It remains a great deal if you can find one, too.

Just make sure all the recalls are taken care of.

Lead photo credit: Chevrolet


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37 Responses

  1. “Yes, foil. Hey, it’s a great insulator often used in both OEM and motorsport applications,”

    Aluminium foil is a great conductor, and a therefore a terrible insulator.

    But is reflects IR radiation (which is why you can make effective heat shields from it) and is much harder to burn than carpet.

  2. I have a Bolt and find this so annoying. Wish we could get the foil and cover in the mail to apply ourselves. I really don’t want the hassle of bringing it into the dealer for what will be a 5 minute job, that will end up taking at least 1/2 hour. Sign in, hand over the keys, wait for the tech to get around 2 it, then wait for him to get the paperwork to the desk, wait for them to get off lunch and call you. Ok probably at least an hour job. I won’t even get a free oil change out of the deal.

    1. Hi. Former dealer wrench here.

      GM probably says 0.5 book. It is not. For a pyrotechnic fire safety measure like this, would you prefer I deliver your car LESS SAFE than when you brought it in?
      No? Well then guess what! I’m going to do the job as fast as I can, and as safely as I can. And complaining about how long it takes to disconnect the battery, safe things that can explode in MY face, fuss with the seat so I can remove multiple lower trim panels, disconnect and remove the lower seatbelt bolts, apply the foil, re-apply because it doesn’t fit right, torque the bolts back to spec, replace the broken clips on the panels so you don’t come back complaining about how I broke your car and now it rattles (even though they were already broken,) reconnect your battery, make sure nothing explodes when I start the car, make sure my greasy fingerprints aren’t all over your car, and bring it back to you isn’t going to make it happen any faster.

      They’re already doing it as fast as they can. That is literally how they make money. If the job pays 0.5 and it takes them 1.0 then they still only get paid 0.5. But hey, if you’d rather your car potentially burst into flames when your seatbelts are locking you into the seat, can always skip the recall entirely.

      1. My gripe was out of frustration that this is even an issue, car materials are supposed to have a maximum burn rate, I understand cost cutting by how is car carpeting still flammable??? Maybe they used to use asbestos and can’t come up with a better answer.

        So because of cost cutting and poor design we yet again have to head into the dealer. Oh well maybe I can check out the new cars while there and get a free donut.

    1. I’ve seen that cliche in the movie and throughout pop culture, but as someone who has never engaged in hand-to-hand combat, I do NOT understand the advantage that foil might provide in a fistfight.

      1. I had the same question, and was told it’s because tin (pre-aluminum) foil was much thicker & stiffer. It would form smooth to your knuckles, but that left sharper ridges facing out for you to do some damage when the gloves come off.

        Seems pretty silly, but I’m not looking to win hockey fights in the olden days.

  3. This seems so typical GM to me. They can do engineering really well and the EV portion design of the car is very good. But the accountants refused to let the engineers spend an extra two dollars on fireproof carpet and some aluminum foil….

      1. For the thousandth time, the battery fires were not GM’s fault. LG messed that up, and while I suppose you could criticize GM for contracting LG to do the batteries in the first place, it’s not like LG is some fly-by-night organization that could reasonably be expected to screw the pooch this badly.

        1. But, they really are. Readers of a certain age will recall Goldstar electronics. They were super cheap, and didn’t usually last long. The Lucky Goldstar company has been around for a long, long time. They may tell us Life’s Good, but it’s the same shitty Goldstar garage.

  4. I’m in a musical mood:

    Now dig this, baby
    You don’t care for me
    I don’t-a care about that
    You got a new fool, ha!
    I like to laugh at
    I have only one a-burnin’ desire
    Let me stand next to your fire
    Hey, let me stand next to your fire
    (Let me stand next to your fire)
    Whoa, let me stand, baby
    (Let me stand next to your fire)
    Let me stand
    (Let me stand next to your fire)
    Yeah, baby
    Listen here, baby
    And stop acting so crazy
    You say your mom ain’t home, it ain’t my concern
    Just a-play with me, and you won’t get burned
    I have only one a-itchin’ desire
    Let me stand next to your fire
    Yeah, let me stand, baby
    (Let me stand next to your fire)
    Let me stand
    (Let me stand next to your fire)
    Oh, let me stand
    (Let me stand next to your fire)
    Oh! Move over, Rover
    And let Jimi take over
    Yeah, you know what I’m talkin’ ’bout
    Yeah, get on with it, baby
    That’s what I’m talkin’ ’bout
    Now, dig this!
    Now listen, baby
    You try to gimme your money
    You better save it, babe
    Save it for your rainy day
    I have only one a-burnin’ desire
    Let me stand next to your fire, ha
    Ow! A-let me stand
    (Let me stand next to your fire)
    Oh! Let me stand, baby
    (Let me stand next to your fire)
    I ain’t gonna do you no harm
    (Let me stand next to your fire)
    You better move over, baby
    I ain’t gonna hurt you, baby
    Oh, I ain’t talkin’ ’bout your old lady
    Oh yeah, this is Jimi talkin’ to you
    Yeah, baby

  5. We didn’t start the fire
    It was always burning, since the world’s been turning
    We didn’t start the fire
    But when we are gone
    It will still burn on, and on, and on, and on, and on, and on, and on, and on

  6. I didn’t realize that the seatbelt pretensioners were explosives. Whenever I’m in a hurry, sometimes I YANK on the seatbelt too hard as I’m putting it on, and it stops, and I have to slowly and more gently try again. I assumed this was the seatbelt pretensioner at work and that it would do the same thing in a crash. Am I causing a tiny explosion every time I pull the belt too forcefully???

    1. That’s the primary return mechanism, which has been there as long as retractable seatbelts have existed. When you yank on it, you’re simulating a collision, and causing its teeth to mesh with a stopper due to rotational force. The amount of belt that came out before it stopped is why they created pre-tensioners.

      The pre-tensioner is single use, like an airbag. It doesn’t have to wait for the belt to be yanked. If it were to go off while you’re yanking the buckle, you’d probably need a wrist reconstruction specialist. That kind of design flaw would be a much more pressing recall.

      1. Just for clarity sake, the pretensioner they are referring to is part of the buckle assembly, not the seatbelt strap that latches into the buckle.
        Its usually mounted low on the inboard side of the seat, right next to the carpeting.

        1. Interesting. Thanks for the explanation.

          Are these explosive charges the reason that seatbelts often need to be cut after a crash to get the occupants out? Or does the violent collision just damage the buckle mechanism.

          1. Uh. No. What R3vSteve said is completely and utterly wrong.

            The pretensioner is in the retractor which is ALWAYS outboard (excluding rear seats and exotics.) It functions by propellant launching captive balls or pistons which spin the retractor to full withdraw instantaneously and lock it from extending. It is absolutely NOT the buckle assembly and never has been. How would that even work? (Hint: it wouldn’t.)

            Here is a photo of a typical GM seatbelt assembly with pretensioner. The “danger” stickers are the pretensioner pyrotechnic charge.

            That’s why they have to be cut. Because they’re full tight and will not extend further ever again.

            It’s also why as a mechanic EXTREME care must be taken when working on these or the electrical, just as with airbags. The pretensioner is designed to not only withstand but yank back an entire human being up to 350lbs in weight. Instantaneously. And because it is located behind trim panels and well away from things like faces and legs, it has a much higher allowable outgas/flame. (Which to be clear, is generally safe. It’s not a sustained burst. It’s less than 200 milliseconds of flame jet.)
            But as a user? Unless you whack the hell out of multiple sensors to the point of setting off airbags, you cannot accidentally trigger the pretensioner. You can trigger the despool-catcher (which keeps you from yanking the belt too fast/too far,) but not the pretensioner. That takes applying voltage to the pyrotechnic charge connector, unless it’s a Takata. In that case, get your recalls done. ;P

          2. The buckle mechanisms are designed to work just fine after a crash, and they do. I managed to release mine just fine despite having a fractured spine and only one working hand.

            The reason belts get cut is because if the person in the car has a fractured spine and a load of broken fingers, for example, you might not want to move their arm out of the way of the belt before sliding a spine support in there and lifting them out of the car.

            The buckles work fine after a crash. If you need to exit the car after a crash you press the red button and go.

  7. Okay why is every car sight missing the point car fans come here for? So here is the list of EV cars that don’t explode or catch on fire. Okay now that we shared that information we know EVS aren’t a suitable replacement.

    1. Not a suitable replacement, because they don’t catch on fire as much as gas cars?

      Despite the number of times you’ve seen ‘Bolt’ and ‘fire’ in a headline, electric cars are less likely to catch fire than gas cars.

      How much less likely? Try two orders of magnitude, based on data from the NTSB and BTS.

      These numbers are ‘fires per 100,000 vehicles’: EV fires, 25.1; Gas 1529.9; and hybrid, 3474.5. Not sure why hybrids have such a high rate, unless it’s because of overall complexity.

      Electric car fires just get reported a lot more because they’re new and it’s interesting. (Much like how crime in general now is MUCH lower than it was when when I was a kid, but you can’t convince anyone of that.)

      I find it interesting that the most common cause for fire-related recalls in gas cars is… electrical shorts.

      The ghost of Lucas still haunts us, I guess.

  8. Used to be you needed to buy a Ferrari or some other exotic to have a car this likely to go up in flames. But GM has brought this to the masses with the Bolt!

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