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When buying an electric car, be prepared for battery problems

Chevy Bolt battery.

Photo credit: General Motors

Mainstream electric cars for the mass market haven’t been around for long. Electric cars still have battery technology.

Here I’ll be focusing on the Chevy Bolt EV (because that’s how I drive).

The “MyChevrolet” app on my smartphone is currently informing me about my 2018 Bolt:

2018 Chevy Bolt warning that appears on the MyChevrolet app.

2018 Chevy Bolt warning that appears on the MyChevrolet app.

Photo credit: Brooke Crothers / screenshot

This is a general warning that applies to all 2017, 2018, and 2019 bolt owners.

Last week I received a separate warning (via a yellow “Service Required” light) about a battery problem that only affects my stud.

This warning said that I had a problem with my “charger” (again, this is separate from the warning in the picture above).

The result was that my battery was not charging * when I plugged it in that night so I took it to the dealer. So far the dealer had my bolt for three days and was unable to fix the problem.

My friend’s stud 2019

My friend is now negotiating with Chevrolet to return his bolt due to the battery recall.

GM has offered to replace its bolt (which falls in the 2017-2019 range) with a new 2021 bolt. He’s still finalizing the details of the exchange, but the fact that GM is willing to go this far shows that GM is taking this seriously.

I asked GM for a comment on Friday but got no response. However, I spoke separately to a GM technical support representative for the Bolt EV who has confirmed that GM can make an offer to take back a 2017-2019 Bolt in select cases.

The range of the Chevy Bolt battery has been affected by recall

Due to the recall, I had to reset the battery to limit the full charge to 90 percent, which is about 24 miles from the GM nominal range of 238 miles.

Why? This is what GM says, “If the batteries in select vehicles in this population are fully or almost fully charged, the batteries can be a fire hazard.”

It’s not just GM

Hyundai has a battery recall for the Hyundai Kona Electric. And Tesla has had fires related to battery-related issues (as outlined in this Washington Post article) that have sparked National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) investigations and legal proceedings over the years.

In one of the earliest cases in 2014, the NHTSA completed a three-month investigation of the Model S after Tesla made a design change to better shield the batteries.

Another frustrating battery problem: actual range

I’ve had three electric vehicles over the years: a Chevy Volt, a Chevy Spark EV, and the Chevy Bolt that I have now. All are hit by steep drops in range when the temperature drops.

While it’s a common problem that most potential EV buyers are aware of, the first time you buy an EV and experience it firsthand can be an eye opener.

For example, I have a family member who got a used 2015 Chevy Volt a few years ago. When the range fell for the first time in winter, he was so shocked that he thought the battery was defective and wanted to have it replaced. I convinced him differently.

The boost for new battery technology

Electric vehicles today have “wet” lithium-ion batteries that are based on liquid electrolytes to transport energy.

The problem is that these batteries are typically slow to charge and contain flammable material that could potentially result in fire if dropped, among other things.

And range eventually becomes an issue as the range decreases as the batteries age.

Startups like QuantumScape are trying to come up with new battery designs.

Quantumscape is developing a more efficient, longer-lasting, fast-charging, long-range electric car battery cell. Battery start accomplishes this by replacing the liquid electrolyte – which regulates the flow of current – with a solid electrolyte (for more details on the technology, see my interview with Jagdeep Singh, CEO of Quantumscape).

The bigger point is that the battery technology used in electric vehicles is basically not that different from the lithium-ion batteries used in smartphones. That has to change to make batteries more durable, longer-range and safer.



* I should also make it clear that my bolt had no problems before and has been virtually maintenance free for almost three years.

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