Relax: The Bolt EV Recall Is a Good Thing

Car fires are as old as cars themselves

As a species, we both covet and simultaneously fear fire. Which frankly is a responsible response to something that can bestow upon us warmth and light, but also destroy everything that we love.

It’s healthy to fear fire. As a fictional doctor’s monster has exclaimed time and time again, in certain instances, "fire bad." So it’s easy for those not quite on board with electric vehicles (EVs) to look at the recent Bolt recall and believe that EVs are ticking timebombs ready to engulf our lives and homes in ion-charged flames. 

The 2022 Chevy Bolt sitting on the street outside a bakery.

Chevy

The reality is that all vehicles have the potential to become a fireball. But EVs (while tougher to extinguish) are statistically no more prone to being engulfed in flames than gas-powered cars. 

Vehicle Fire Recalls Are More Common Than You Think

Data is far less exciting than stories about electric vehicles catching fire while sitting in driveways, and it’s relatively easy to find articles about EVs doing just that. From the brand new and incredibly impressive Porsche Taycan to the Tesla Model S, it seems as though the batteries in electric vehicles are constantly spontaneously combusting.

Then GM recalled every Chevy Bolt and Bolt EUV ever made, telling the vehicle’s owners not to park their vehicles in their garage until the issue was resolved. If you own a Bolt, do exactly as they say.

It sounds dire, and there’s the feeling out there that all 142,000-ish Chevy Bolts will become a bonfire of technology at any second, and this is a sign that EVs are a danger to everyone. Protect the masses; a firestorm of Chevy Bolts is headed our way! 

The reality is a lot less exciting. 

"Data is far less exciting than stories about electric vehicles catching fire while sitting in driveways..."

Exactly seven Chevy Bolts have caught fire over the years. Of course, that's seven too many vehicles, but it’s also a very small percentage (0.00493 percent) of the overall number of Bolts sold since GM started delivering it to customers in late 2016. At issue are two flaws introduced into the battery pack during manufacturing by LG Chem. Hyundai is dealing with essentially the same issue with its LG Chem battery packs. 

To some, that teeny-tiny percentage and the total recall of all the vehicles seems like maybe EVs are just not ready for our lives because they’re too new, too dangerous, too electric. That is until you realize gas vehicles catch fire too.

In 2020, Honda recalled 241,339 Odyssey minivans because a short circuit could lead to a fire in the third row. Also, in 2020 Hyundai recalled 429,686 Elantra sedans and wagons because some of the vehicles, you guessed it, caught fire. 

There are some fundamental differences between electric and gas-powered vehicle fires. Those running on petrol typically catch fire while the engine is running. You have heat, gasoline, and electrical systems all going, and if something goes wrong, fire.

The 2021 Hyundai Kona Electric Vehicle.

Hyundai

Whereas for EVs, these vehicles are plugged in and stationary. Hence the warnings from GM to not plug in the Bolt while it's in a garage. 

Yet, it’s important to understand that all these recalls (in fact, nearly every recall) are based on the potential for an incident. The roughly 142,000 Chevy Bolts out on the road right now will not all spontaneously erupt into crackling fireballs in the same way that it’s improbable that all those Elantras and Odysseys are going to transform into rolling flamethrowers. 

The NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) recall system is set up to protect us. During its investigation of an issue, if it determines that a problem with a vehicle is widespread or dangerous enough to initiate either a mandatory or voluntary recall by an automaker, it shares that information with the public.

No, really, if you’re curious about what issues have been brought up, which are being investigated, and if a recall has been issued for your car, you can just look it up or, for fun, look at the total 2020 recalls per manufacturer. Spoiler alert, Mercedes-Benz and GM are tied for first with 36 recalls each for 2020.  

The entire process keeps us all safe regardless if the car in your garage runs on gas, hydrogen, electricity, or diesel. If seven of any model vehicles caught fire because of the same problem, it should be recalled and fixed no matter how it keeps the wheels rolling.

EVs are still new, and the kinks are still being ironed out...

EV Fires Are News Because They’re New

The focus on EV fires is expected. The vehicles are relatively new, and the technology powering these nearly silent machines is still a bit of a mystery to many. Like Frankenstein’s monster, humans tend to fear (or hate) what they don’t understand or, worse, what they don’t want to understand. 

It’s easy for those emotionally attached to gas-powered cars, trucks, and SUVs to point to the dozens of articles about EVs catching fire as proof that battery-powered vehicles are unworthy of space on our roads and driveways.

The problem is that the articles, recalls, and videos of electrical fires burning for hours on end all make the person that’s actually curious about EVs second-guess their plug-in curiosity. If the narrative is that electric vehicles might burn down your house at any moment, you’re going to think twice about bringing one home. 

Yet, it’s not that simple. Statistically speaking, EVs are not catching fire more often than gas cars. It turns out both types of vehicles are powered by something that burns. The real difference between the two is that electrical fires can burn for hours. Sometimes smoldering for days before they’re truly extinguished. With gas fires, once the gas is gone or it’s deprived of oxygen, they're pretty much gone. 

The 2022 Chevy Bolt EV pulling into a driveway in front of a home.

Chevy

Even that shouldn’t temper your desire to at least try out an electric vehicle. It’s a completely new driving experience and in many cases better than what’s offered by a petrol-powered alternative. It’s quieter, smoother, better for the environment, requires far less maintenance (goodbye oil changes), and if you charge at home most of the time, likely much cheaper than running to the gas station. 

EV Hype Is Good, EV Fire Hype, Less So

EVs are still new, and the kinks are still being ironed out, but it’s not like the internal combustion engine is this perfectly safe piece of hardware. It’s just old technology, and outside of the world of car journalism, you likely won't hear too much about gas vehicles being recalled.

For example, in March 2021, Genesis recalled roughly 95,000 gar-powered vehicles for fire risk. That same month, Hyundai (the parent company of Genesis) recalled 4,700 Kona Electric EVs for fire risk. A quick Google search shows that the usual car publications covered the Genesis recall, but that’s about it. 

Do a quick Bolt recall search, and news organizations that said absolutely nothing about the Genesis recall are falling over themselves to report on the Chevy Bolt. It’s news because it’s new. 

At the end of the day for vehicles, what you need to know is exactly what that overachieving necromancer Victor Frankenstein’s creation spouted off in some movie, "fire bad." But let’s amend that with our own simplistic but true take, "EVs good."

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