NHTSA Testing Lithium-Ion Batteries Following Chevy Volt Garage Fire

Federal safety investigators are taking a look at the <"http://www.yourlawyer.com/topics/overview/defective_vehicle_parts">Chevrolet Volt’s lithium-ion battery, following a fire at a Wisconsin garage where the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) was storing a wrecked Chevy Volt. According to a report from The Wall Street Journal, the fire occurred this spring, three weeks after the Chevy Volt was damaged in a side-impact crash test, but the NHTSA only made the incident public last week.

The hybrid Chevy Volt is powered by a lithium-ion battery and has an electric motor onboard to power the vehicle when the charge runs low, The Wall Street Journal said. Lithium ion batteries are used also used all-electric cars such as the Nissan Leaf and Tesla Roadster.

The NHTSA initially said there was no evidence the Chevy Volt’s lithium-ion battery played a role in the blaze. General Motors had blamed the agency for the fire, alleging the fire occurred because the lithium-ion battery had not been deactivated properly.

“NHTSA does not believe electric vehicles are at a greater risk of fire than other vehicles,” the agency said in a statement issued last week. “It is common sense that the different designs of electric vehicles will require different safety standards and precautions.” However, the NHTSA said it would conduct further tests, just to be sure.

It also will ask automakers using batteries in their vehicles for special handling and discharging recommendations, the Journal said.

According to a report from Bloomberg News, General Motors and the NHTSA both crashed a Volt and couldn’t replicate the May fire. General Motors says its safety procedures for handling the Volt’s battery after an accident would have prevented the fire had they been followed.

“There are safety protocols for conventional cars,” a spokesperson for the automaker told Bloomberg. “As we develop new technology, we need to ensure that safety protocols match the technology.”

One expert told Bloomberg that lithium batteries, like those used in the Chevy Volt, could catch on fire if the battery case and some of the internal cells that store electricity are pierced by steel or another ferrous metal. The reaction can take days or weeks if the piercing is small.

Bloomberg also pointed out that this isn’t the first time lithium batteries have caused fire concerns. In October 2010, the Federal Aviation Administration, in an advisory to airlines warned that lithium batteries used in cell phones, digital cameras and other devices are “highly flammable and capable of ignition.” The advisory also warned that aircraft fire- suppression systems aren’t effective when that happens. The agency issued the advisory after a United Parcel Service Inc. cargo plane carrying thousands of lithium batteries crashed in Dubai after catching fire, killing both pilots.

At least one other garage fire has prompted concerns about the batteries in the Chevy volt. That incident occurred in a Mooresville, North Carolina where three cars, including a Volt, where parked. But just last week, the Iredell County chief deputy fire marshall said the preliminary results of his investigation indicated the Volt’s battery was not to blame, stating the fire appeared to have originated with an ignition source outside of the vehicles in the garage.

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