After Bart Schoenfeld’s Chevrolet Bolt EV was recalled for the second time, he had had enough.
GM had warned that some cars could have a manufacturing defect that could cause them to catch fire. For safety reasons, the automaker recommended Bolt owners to restrict their use of the car to avoid straining the batteries and parking them away from home.
In an electric car, if a battery cell has a fault that allows its stored energy to be released uncontrollably, it can cause overheating. This heat can, in turn, damage other nearby cells, causing them to release their energy as heat as well. This can set off a chain reaction called “thermal runaway” leading to a fire. Yet electric car fires are rare compared to gasoline car fires.
So far, the Chevrolet Bolts have been blamed for 12 fires, according to GM.
The restrictions have turned owning what used to be a very practical electric car into a huge inconvenience, Schoenfeld said. GM offered to lend him a different car, but it would have been gasoline, since GM does not currently sell any electric vehicles other than the Bolt. GM once sold a plug-in hybrid called Volt, but that car ceased production in 2019. For Schoenfeld, a different GM car was not a viable alternative. Instead, GM bought him back his Bolt.
“I am very eco-conscious,” he said. “I have my solar and geothermal energy in my house and I don’t want to burn fossil fuels.”
In a process that took weeks to finally come to fruition, Schoenfeld sold his Chevrolet Bolt EV back to GM for about $ 10,000 more than he would have gotten just by trading in the car at a dealership, a- he said, although he refused. provide specific numbers.
It is a solution that many Bolt owners resort to it, according to numerous social media reports and CNN Business interviews.
GM wouldn’t say how many vehicles it bought back from its customers. The company said he decides whether or not to buy back individual cars on a case-by-case basis. Alternatively, GM also offers to trade in the car for another GM vehicle.
Brandon Neider, an information technology executive who also owns an auto detailing business in Yonkers, NY, also submitted documents for a buyout, a process he says could take some time. weeks given the number of requests.
“I’m really not comfortable having this vehicle at this point,” said Neider. “I’m not done with the mark but you know these guys don’t even know how long it’s going to take to resolve.”
GM first announced a recall of Chevy Bolt electric vehicles in November 2020 due to a fire risk, but there was no immediate fix. In May, he announced a software fix, but there were two fires involving bolts that had received this fix, prompting another recall in July of 70,000 vehicles. A month later, the automaker released a recall of 70,000 others cars.
GM spokesman Kevin Kelly said the company will begin replacing battery modules on Bolt EVs, at no cost to the owner, once it is satisfied that its battery supplier, LG Energy Solution, produces fault-free batteries. There is no specific time frame in which this is expected to happen, he said. NHTSA is also investigating the cause of the fires.
“We do not yet have clear solutions as we investigate the cause of the fire,” said a spokesperson for LG Energy Solution.
The LG spokesperson also said that since the issue was still under investigation, the company could not say whether the root cause was an LG manufacturing issue.
In the meantime, GM has recommended owners use their vehicles in a way that minimizes stress on the batteries. This means making shorter trips and not letting the batteries charge too fully or drain too much.
Several Chevrolet Bolt EV owners interviewed for this story, some of whom did not want their names released as they are still in discussions with the automaker, said they love their electric cars and are not angry. against GM for the default.
“You know, things happen,” said a woman who bought her Bolt in 2017. “Things go wrong.”
Although the process took weeks and involved a lot of paperwork, Schoenfeld said everyone in customer service he dealt with was kind, understanding and helpful.
Most of the other Bolt EV owners CNN Business spoke to were less optimistic about the customer service issue.
“I was on hold for an hour and 55 minutes listening to this horrible music,” said one man.
A woman in upstate New York, who was concerned about the safety of her home in case the Bolt started to burn, said GM offered her a 150-foot charging cable that would have allowed her to recharge his car far from his wooden house. But later, she said, another GM rep told her that such a cordon did not exist. GM confirmed to CNN Business that there isn’t such a long charging cord.
Several people said they were asking for buybacks because they bought the car with the expectation that it could travel some distance between charges, up to 259 miles for newer models.
By announcing the most recent recalls, GM has recommended that people do not charge the battery to more than 90% of its capacity. They also recommended that people don’t drain the battery within 70 miles of range. This effectively reduced the range of the longer models to around 163 miles, according to EPA estimates. In real driving, Chevrolet Bolts, like other vehicles, electric or not, often do not reach their range estimated by the EPA.
GM also recommended that people not charge their cars indoors overnight and park cars outside immediately after charging. GM also recommended, when parking in a garage, parking on the top floor or on an open patio and parking at least 50 feet from all other vehicles.
“After each use, after I come home in the evening, I have to get up in the middle of the night to unplug the car,” said Schönfeld.
GM customer service representatives suggested solutions, aside from reselling the car, which also weren’t helpful, some people claims. Two people said they were offered a refund for a rental car, but were asked to submit their rental car receipts at the end of each month. It would have meant racking up hundreds of dollars in car rental fees before even asking for reimbursement. GM has not specifically confirmed how it handles reimbursement for rental cars.
However, not all owners think about getting rid of their car. Many prefer to keep their Bolts, stick to GM’s suggested usage limits, and wait for the problem to be resolved.
“It seemed like a small risk that we were prepared to take until Chevy could replace the battery,” said Sally Heaven, owner of Bolt in Maryland. “We don’t have a garage either, so our car is parked in the driveway.”
For those who decide to request a buyback, the process is time consuming and requires a lot of paperwork. DG wouldn’t explain exactly how he decides which cars to buy back, other than to say “We continue to assess buyout requests from Bolt EV owners on a case-by-case basis.”
The formula GM uses to calculate the value of a car, according to a brochure provided by the automaker, involves taking the total amount paid and deducting a small amount for each mile driven along with other items such as incentives. purchase received from GM and the cost of removing changes made by the customer. This is similar to the calculations used in Lemon Law regulations, said Steve Lehto, a Michigan attorney specializing in automotive consumer law.
By agreeing to these buyout agreements, Lehto said, GM is likely reviewing lemon laws and other warranty-related laws in each state. Every state has such laws, but they vary in details and application, he said. Even though customers don’t specifically invoke the laws, they provide a basis for GM to understand what it might ultimately be forced to do if a customer were to take the matter to court.
For now, some Bolt owners said they were looking at other electric cars. Schoenfeld and Neider both said they ordered Tesla Model 3s.
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