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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
I've been driving GEN I Volts since 2011. In that time I have climbed many mountains out west.

Recently I had my first scare with my 2014...

Driving from Phoenix to Flagstaff, I was in mountain mode the whole trip and had the AC on. The temp was 101 degrees. I hit the very first steep climb near Black Canyon City. As usual, 2 semi's going side-by side, slowed traffic down to 25 mph. When the traffic cleared, I punched it and accelerated to 50 mph. SUDDENLY THE VOLT STARTED SMOKING HEAVILY. I could see smoke billowing out the back. The RPM's seemed even higher than normal.

I had approximately 1 more mile to reach the plateau, so I put the Volt in "normal" mode and climbed the rest of that hill on electric. This shut off the engine and the smoke quit immediately. The electric range had dropped from 15 to 13 prior to this, and dropped to 12 by the time I reached the plateau.

Once up on the plateau, I put the Volt back into mountain mode. The engine came back on but did not smoke, and after a few minutes charged the battery back up to 15 miles reserve.

I had a few more steep climbs remaining before I got to Flagstaff, I took it easy on all of them. On one more steep climb, the RPM's seemed higher than normal again, but the engine did not smoke. To be safe, I put the Volt in Normal again to climb on electric only.

Upon arrival, I check all fluid and oil levels. All were at the appropriate levels.

MY THEORY is that I simply pushed the Volt too much while running the AC prior to the hill, and it simply overheated. I guess I should have treated the mountian with more respect.

2 days later, I drove back down the mountain. There is only one steep climb coming back down near Verde Valley, that is 5 miles long. I took it easy on this climb going 50 mph the whole way up. I had no issues and everything acted normal.

As a precaution, I took the Volt to the dealer to check it out. The tech didn't find anything wrong with the Volt and gave it a clean bill of health, but he didn't seem to get a firm grip on what I was telling him, and simply advised me only to use mountain mode when climbing mountains (That comment didn't give me much confidence in his skills).

SO LET ME ASK THE PEANUT GALLERY

Anyone else ever cause their Volt to smoke heavily on a steep climb? Like I said in 8 years, this is the only time it happened to me.

The other question is how much damage did I do? The whole smoking incident lasted maybe 1 minute, because I turned the engine off and drove fully electric, and I was able to climb another hill 2 days later without incident.

Any thoughts?
 

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I've been driving GEN I Volts since 2011. In that time I have climbed many mountains out west.

Recently I had my first scare with my 2014...

Driving from Phoenix to Flagstaff, I was in mountain mode the whole trip and had the AC on. The temp was 101 degrees. I hit the very first steep climb near Black Canyon City. As usual, 2 semi's going side-by side, slowed traffic down to 25 mph. When the traffic cleared, I punched it and accelerated to 50 mph. SUDDENLY THE VOLT STARTED SMOKING HEAVILY. I could see smoke billowing out the back. The RPM's seemed even higher than normal.

I had approximately 1 more mile to reach the plateau, so I put the Volt in "normal" mode and climbed the rest of that hill on electric. This shut off the engine and the smoke quit immediately. The electric range had dropped from 15 to 13 prior to this, and dropped to 12 by the time I reached the plateau.

Once up on the plateau, I put the Volt back into mountain mode. The engine came back on but did not smoke, and after a few minutes charged the battery back up to 15 miles reserve.

I had a few more steep climbs remaining before I got to Flagstaff, I took it easy on all of them. On one more steep climb, the RPM's seemed higher than normal again, but the engine did not smoke. To be safe, I put the Volt in Normal again to climb on electric only.

Upon arrival, I check all fluid and oil levels. All were at the appropriate levels.

MY THEORY is that I simply pushed the Volt too much while running the AC prior to the hill, and it simply overheated. I guess I should have treated the mountian with more respect.

2 days later, I drove back down the mountain. There is only one steep climb coming back down near Verde Valley, that is 5 miles long. I took it easy on this climb going 50 mph the whole way up. I had no issues and everything acted normal.

As a precaution, I took the Volt to the dealer to check it out. The tech didn't find anything wrong with the Volt and gave it a clean bill of health, but he didn't seem to get a firm grip on what I was telling him, and simply advised me only to use mountain mode when climbing mountains (That comment didn't give me much confidence in his skills).

SO LET ME ASK THE PEANUT GALLERY

Anyone else ever cause their Volt to smoke heavily on a steep climb? Like I said in 8 years, this is the only time it happened to me.

The other question is how much damage did I do? The whole smoking incident lasted maybe 1 minute, because I turned the engine off and drove fully electric, and I was able to climb another hill 2 days later without incident.

Any thoughts?
What color was the smoke? https://www.freeasestudyguides.com/exhaust-color.html
 

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That does not sound normal. Usually smoke or steam from the back means something is really wrong and fluids are passing into the wrong place due to a blown gasket or seal. It is a good sign that your fluid levels are normal. Keep an eye on them. Maybe if you are lucky, it was a freak thing where some road debris got onto the outside of a hot exhaust part and burned off.
 

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Discussion Starter · #5 ·
That does not sound normal. Usually smoke or steam from the back means something is really wrong and fluids are passing into the wrong place due to a blown gasket or seal. It is a good sign that your fluid levels are normal. Keep an eye on them. Maybe if you are lucky, it was a freak thing where some road debris got onto the outside of a hot exhaust part and burned off.
So far it is a one-time event. The rest of the drive that day I saw no smoke and I went 100 miles and had a couple more steep climbs. Two days later I drove 120 more miles on gas and no smoke.

The dealer was unable to reproduce the problem and he ran quite a few test miles. He checked out the cooling system for leaks as well.

There is the possibility some cooling fluids ended up where they weren't supposed to be. Perhaps an overflow. Conditions were about as extreme as they could be, with the high temp, running the AC and accelerating heavily from 25 to 55 on a 6% uphill grade.
 

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It was predominantly white smoke, but I think I saw some brown in there.

I was unsure if it was smoke or steam...
You had coolant get into the cylindars. The primary location for this is via the head gasket. Did your dealership check for a warped or cracked head gasket? This would be covered under the standard Powertrain warranty.

In the heat you won't see steam.
 

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Discussion Starter · #9 ·
I've never heard of a blown head gasket or a warped head healing itself.
This was where I was perplexed. Most of the things that white smoke indicate are not self healing. They would be ongoing.

So what would cause a one-time smoking event that did not continue just 10 minutes later after I went back to mountain mode and the engine turned back on?
 

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Condensation in the exhaust? This was a common issue in my old Saab, but only right after startup in certain environmental conditions.

AC condensation pooling somewhere under the hood and then hitting the exhaust once you floored it?
 

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Which brings up an interesting question. How does the car determine "oil life"? Would sudden water in the oil zoom it to "end of life" reading?
 

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Discussion Starter · #14 ·
Not burning the fuel completely? You mentioned brown.

I posted and removed my comment about anti-knock. Maybe I should bring it back. Are you using premium or regular fuel? Could be at high revs the anti-knock system can't adjust.
Seems more feasible than any of my other theories.

I was in mountain mode and had already seen 2 miles drop off the reserve range, so it was already under heavy duress. I punched the accelerator when the semi-truck finally moved over. I can't recall ever punching it in the middle of a steep climb before...

With the AC on, under heavy load already from how much I had already climbed, and then punching it? It is an extremely unique situation....
 

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Discussion Starter · #15 ·
25% of what? Total volume or between low and high on the dip stick?
Oil life remaining was reading 25% on the display.

Oil level was fine, between full an fill...
 

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Which brings up an interesting question. How does the car determine "oil life"? Would sudden water in the oil zoom it to "end of life" reading?
It doesn't actually measure anything about the oil, just informed decision based on operating parameters
e.g. operating/ambient temp, engine on duration, sustained and instantaneous load/rpm, etc.
So a catastrophic failure that injected water into the oil would not be detected.
The resultant change to engine parameters would though, e.g. overheating
 

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Discussion Starter · #17 ·
Condensation in the exhaust? This was a common issue in my old Saab, but only right after startup in certain environmental conditions.

AC condensation pooling somewhere under the hood and then hitting the exhaust once you floored it?
AC was working hard so there was sure to be a lot of condensation. Maybe some condensation from the AC hit the engine block or exhaust...
 

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Discussion Starter · #18 ·
THE BLESSING IN ALL THIS

That I had the option to switch to normal and climb the rest of the hill on electric.

If I was in an ICE vehicle and it started smoking, there is no way I would have been able to finish climbing the hill. I would have had to pull over.
 

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I would go with it being an over rich fuel situation due to the heat and the sudden acceleration while in mountain mode. Grey brown smoke usually would indicate a fuel issue. Other possibility is that a bit of oil blow by on the piston rings. Perhaps you had a piston ring that was not quite free and it is now due to the extremes of the sudden acceleration and resulting high revs. At any rate, if it was something worse you would have other things showing up such as coolant in the oil or oil in the coolant, ongoing smoke or noises or CEL.
 

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Discussion Starter · #20 ·
Was it smoking like this?


On this page you'll find theories that range from a bad turbo to a PVC system clog. I haven't found where the OP said what is really was.

No engine coolant in the oil? It's unlikely to be a gasket or warped head.
I wasn't able to get a straight answer from the dealer about what it really was. I didn't feel he did as thorough a job of troubleshooting as I would have liked. Mostly what he did was a lot of test driving and looking for smoke. He found none. His finally analysis was "CANNOT REPRODUCE PROBLEM".

I didn't have the tech do the oil change until after he was done testing, so the oil condition was the same during troubleshooting as it was when the incident occurred...

I suspect that I won't know what happened unless it happens again, which sucks. I would have preferred to have a more definitive answer, but the dealer did not provide one...
 
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