Chevrolet Volt Range-Extended Electric Car Recalled To Limit Idle Time of Gasoline Engine

On Friday last week, General Motors issued an official recall of 2011, 2012 and 2013 model year Chevrolet Volt range extended electric cars to address an issue with the car’s on-board software that in some situations can cause its gasoline engine to operate for extended periods of time while parked but unintentionally left powered on.

The recall, believed to affect around 64,000 Volts made between 2010 and 2013, will involve reprogramming the engine management unit of affected cars to limit the amount of time the gasoline engine will idle, and was prompted by two different incidents in which Volt owners suffered carbon monoxide exposure after parking in their home garage but not powering the car down correctly.

GM has officially recalled 2011-2013 model year  Chevy Volts.

GM has officially recalled 2011-2013 model year Chevy Volts.

Like many modern cars on the market today, the Chevrolet Volt comes with keyless entry as standard, using a smart keyfob rather than a traditional physical key to allow entry to the car and enable power on. This makes it possible for an owner to approach their car, get inside, and drive the car without their keyfob ever leaving their pocket or purse.

For first-time owners of a plug-in car equipped with keyless entry and ignition, it’s all-too easy to mistake the usual quietness of operation for the car being powered off, especially if you’re used to listening for the hum of an internal combustion engine as the indication that your car is still powered on. In all-electric cars like the Nissan LEAF, the worst that will happen when forgetting to turn your car off is an eventual flat battery hours — or even days — after parking up.

When the Volt's on-board battery pack is depleted, its range-extending engine kicks in, even if the car is in park.

When the Volt’s on-board battery pack is depleted, its range-extending engine kicks in, even if the car is in park.

The Chevrolet Volt meanwhile will first drain its battery pack, then switch on its gasoline range-extending engine to top the battery pack back up. If parked in an enclosed space such as a private garage, the space can quickly fill up with poisonous carbon monoxide, posing a health-hazard for anyone entering the space after the engine has started running.

Of course, it’s worth noting that the Volt, like most cars with keyless entry systems, has a programmable warning chirp that sounds when the car can no-longer detect its keys within the vehicle but the car is still powered on. This should prevent owners in most situations from walking more than a few steps from their vehicle before realising it’s still on.

But if you happen to park your car in your home garage — and hang your coat or bag containing your car keys a on the other side of the drywall a few feet from your vehicle — there’s a risk that the car will still see the keys and therefore happily continue to operate.

The recall is likely to affect Chevrolet Volts (left) and its European sibling, the Vauxhall (Opel) Ampera.

The recall is likely to affect Chevrolet Volts (left) and its European sibling, the Vauxhall (Opel) Ampera.

And that, said a GM spokesperson to Automotive News last week, is something it is aware of having happened in two instances involving the Volt, resulting in owner injury due to carbon monoxide exposure.

GM has yet to give thorough details of the recall’s expected timeframe, but it has instructed dealers not to sell any 2011-2013 Volts until the fix has been applied. It has also notified the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration of the issue as per standard operating procedure.

Of those vehicles affected, 50,249 U.S. market Volts will be recalled, as well as nearly 14,000 vehicles in other markets around the world. It is not clear at the time of writing if the recall affects Volt-derived vehicles like the Vauxhall/Opel Ampera, but given the two vehicles are mechanically identical we suspect the likelihood of a dual recall is high.

It’s likely too that our own staff 2013 Chevrolet Volt is affected, although we have yet to confirm this. As always, if our car is included in the recall, you can expect a full report of the recall process as and when it happens.

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  • Bruce Moore

    Nikki, you wrote “The Chevrolet Volt meanwhile will first drain its battery pack, then switch on its gasoline range-extending engine to top the battery pack back up.” I thought the gas engine only generated electricity to the electric motor?

    • mortisier

      That is incorrect, it charges the battery directly at speeds under 70 and the traction motor uses power from the battery.

  • vdiv

    The key fob proximity has nothing to do with this. nnOnce the 2011-2013 Volt is on, currently it remains on until it runs out of propulsion battery, out of fuel, and out of 12V battery, even if the key fob is out of proximity. The recall adds an idle timer that will power it off like the newer Volts/ELR. That by the way apparently happens with no notice, the car just powers off when the timer is up.nnIf the Volt is off, even if the key fob is within proximity, the car will not start by itself and the engine will not run. Someone has to start the Volt ether remotely (preconditioning) or by pushing the power button with the key fob in proximity.nnBy the way, that proximity sensor is very short-range, the key fox can be right outside of the powered on Volt and it will complain that the key cannot be found. I experience this when I am using a 12V tire compressor to pump the tires and I want the Volt on to keep the 12V battery charged and to show the tire pressure on the instrument cluster.nnGM has caused more confusion with this and in my view is likely to create more problems than solve. If a running engine is an issue in an enclosed space then the space should have a smoke and a carbon monoxide detectors.