It might be every electric car driver’s nightmare: on a road trip — to take the kids to see Grandma, say — you plug your EV into a DC fast-charging station along the way. You hear a loud bang, maybe see some sparks. Then your car won’t start. You are stuck. Yes, it happens.
One of the great advantages of EVs is that they can be recharged at home, overnight, and most EV owners are set up to do so. But for longer trips, North America has a rapidly growing network of DC fast charging stations. It can recharge most EVs to 80 percent of their battery capacity in 20 to 45 minutes. The Tesla Supercharger network is considered the best for its ubiquity and reliability — though until fairly recently it served only Tesla’s own EVs — but there are others.
Drivers of non-Tesla EVs sooner or later find that the locations and reliability of public charging on the road is variable at best. But the idea that a charging station might “blow up your EV” feels even more disturbing.
Not only is the driver or family stranded, but they fear that their vehicle may be totaled, ruining not only their trip, but their car as well. Will their new-car warranty cover whatever damage has occurred, they wonder? (The short answer is that it depends on the circumstances and on the car manufacturer.)
Trip ended, EV total? Three real accidents
This scenario is extremely rare, but it is not entirely hypothetical. Since November, at least three drivers charging three different models of EV at Electrify America stations have heard a loud bang, after which charging stopped and the car wouldn’t start.
The vehicles involved were a Ford F-150 Lightning on November 27, a Chevrolet Bolt EV on January 22, and a Rivian R1T on January 29. Each incident received significant attention on social media, but the outcomes varied.
Car and Driver reached out to Electrify America and the three automakers to ask for details on each case. EA provided statements about each incident, but declined to let us talk to network engineers about specifics. Automakers’ responses ranged from “no comment” to more substantive responses. We compiled the stories of the EV owners, the statements we received, and off-the-record conversations with several sources who asked not to be identified due to the sensitivity of the subject.
EVs also have circuit breakers
The most important thing for EV owners to know is that every electric vehicle has a high voltage circuit breaker connected to the battery wiring. It works just like circuit breakers in your home do: if too much current flows through the circuit, the breaker trips, interrupting the circuit and protecting everything downstream from potential damage.
Electrify America explained that when a loud noise preceded loss of charging power, “The ‘boom’ is most likely the sound of the breakers tripping. It could be in the charging equipment, the vehicle, or both, as there are redundant fail-safe systems .”
Indeed, that’s exactly what happened in the F-150 Lightning case on Nov. 27. It was caused by “an isolated event while DC fast charging,” according to a statement issued jointly by Electrify America and Ford a few weeks later. “This activated charging system secures and has activated safety features in the vehicle,” it continued.
The statement’s most important sentence is the following: “Ford replaced the on-board circuit breaker and returned the vehicle to the customer.” In other words, the breaker tripped to protect the battery, as it was designed to do. Owner Eric Roe later wrote it one module in the battery had to be replaced. He was not charged for that work.
When asked if Ford’s EV warranty regularly covers the repair of the high-voltage circuit breaker, the company replied: “It depends on what activates the breaker. If a vehicle fault activates it, it is absolutely covered under warranty.” But, “If something else trips it up, and the vehicle behaves as it should, it’s not covered by warranty.” But, Ford added, “For the incident in question, Ford did cover the costs as it was seen as an isolated incident.”
Less is known in the Rivian case
Regarding the January 29 Rivian incident, Rivian declined to comment. Unlike in the Ford case, Electrify America and the automaker did not issue a joint statement. Separately, that charging network told Car and Driver it “conducted a thorough investigation and determined the isolated incident was due to an internal electrical anomaly.” Translated, this means that something has gone wrong inside the charging station or with the power equipment that feeds it.
“The appropriate safety systems have been deployed as designed,” EA wrote. This indicates that a circuit breaker designed to protect the Rivian’s high-voltage battery pack has tripped. This rendered the truck unusable, but likely preserved the suit – though we don’t have full details.
Rivian took the truck back for repair after the incident. Three weeks later the owner, Anson, tweeted that the automaker returned its fully repaired truck. The company even replaced a bumper he damaged while off-roading, he said. It’s fair to say Anson remains a happy Rivian owner — though perhaps not such a happy Electrify America user.
As for warranty, though Rivian declined to comment, its New Vehicle Limited Warranty Guide (a 23-page PDF download) offers some guidance. Broadly speaking, as with other manufacturers, repairs are covered if a Rivian component or part is defective under normal use. But if an external problem—for example, a malfunctioning charger—causes damage that doesn’t originate in factory-supplied materials or workmanship, it doesn’t appear to be covered. The repair costs will have to be addressed by the outside party that caused the damage.
We’ll leave it to the lawyers to fight whether charging at a public charging network is “normal use”. As mentioned, in this case Rivian repaired the truck at no cost to the owner.
A Chevy Bolt EV conundrum
We know the least about the case of the Chevrolet Bolt EV, which wouldn’t start after a Jan. 22 charging incident at an Electrify America site in Chipley, Florida. It was towed to Miller & Miller Chevrolet Buick GMC of Marianna, Florida, whose service department declared the car totaled — a decision that ultimately rests with the dealer, not the automaker. Bolt owners Cass and Sara Tippit put in an insurance claim for the value of the vehicle, but still have to cover their additional costs, including car hire for the weeks they were without a vehicle.
Chevrolet tells Car and Driver the car manufacturer’s engineers were unable to inspect the vehicle, which is now in the insurance company’s possession. The automaker still hopes to do so at some point, the spokesman said C/D.
However, when it comes to repair coverage, GM seems to have the most extensive warranty of the three. A GM spokesperson confirmed that resetting an EV’s high-voltage circuit breaker will be covered under its warranty—no ifs, etcs, or elses.
Electrify America said only, “The incident with the Bolt is still under investigation.”
Work to reassure customers
While declining to provide any details about what happened at its charging stations in each of the three cases, Electrify America sent Car and Driver several statements intended to reassure current and future EV drivers about its network. “We regret that the customers were inconvenienced in each of these cases, as the welfare and charging experience of our customers is of the utmost importance.
“In 2022, we had more than six million charging sessions, and every situation is unique. In general, we see very few vehicle immobilizations per million sessions. However, the solutions to those issues are used to strengthen interoperability testing, component reliability standards, and continue on – the -over-the-air updates to the network.
“As with any technology, those improvements are part of development and innovation, like fast charging, during early stages of its growth trajectory.”
EV drivers, now you know.
Edited by John Voelcker Green Car Reports for nine years, publishing more than 12,000 articles on hybrids, electric cars and other low- and zero-emission vehicles and the energy ecosystem around them. He now covers advanced automotive technologies and energy policy as a reporter and analyst. His work has appeared in print, online and radio outlets that include Wired, Popular Science, Tech Review, IEEE Spectrumand NPR’s “All Things Considered.” Splitting his time between the Catskill Mountains and New York City, he still hopes to one day become an international man of mystery.