It's too soon to ditch the Chevrolet Volt over post-crash fires

Chevrolet Volt

Let's not get our knickers in a knot over the recent reports of battery fires in the Chevrolet Volt -- at least not yet.

The two fires everyone is talking about weren't the result of real-world crashes.

They broke out in Volts that had been wrecked in tests conducted for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the government agency that issues the star-based safety scores displayed on every new car.

Nor did the flames erupt right after the simulated accident.

They began days and even weeks after the tests as the damaged Volts sat in storage.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), an insurance company-funded organization that also crash-tests cars and rates their safety, couldn't duplicate the fires the NHTSA tests produced.

NHTSA opened a formal investigation of the problem in November, which the auto-industry trade publication Automotive News reports could eventually prompt a recall.

But in the meantime, the Chevrolet Volt retains its NHTSA five-star and IIHS top safety pick ratings. Both are the best ratings each organization issues.

General Motors has, in essence, issued a voluntary recall, offering to buy back Volts from some owners, as well as offering loaner cars while the problem is being studied and a fix found.

Because GM managed to sell only about 6,000 Volts this year, addressing the problem won't be a huge undertaking, whatever the final solution.

Obviously it's a black eye for a company that can ill afford more bad press and certainly a step backward for the Volt.

But redesigning the battery pack or establishing a protocol to drain the batteries after a serious crash may be all that's needed to solve the problem.

Nearly as important as Volt's potential fire issue will be GM's response and what steps it takes to satisfy and protect Volt owners. So far, that response appears to be well-considered and appropriate.

Bottom line: At this point we still don't know the severity of the problem or the required solution. Until we know more, let's not rush to judgment.

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