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An email associated with this particular news feed came in today, March 5, 2013. I have no relations with Safety Research & Strategies Inc.

Sometimes they uncover valid issues and sometimes they are "muckrakers". The link to SRS is at the bottom of the text.
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Email Headline:

Another Secret Chevy Volt Investigation?

Up until now, the jolts provided by the Chevy Volt came from the $40,000 sticker price. More recently, a California driver complained to GM and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration that his or her Volt administered a shock through the gear shifter that was serious enough for a hospital visit. Will NHTSA look into it? Read The Safety Record Blog.

Article Text:

Another Secret Chevy Volt Investigation?

One word journalists like to use in headlines about the all-electric Chevy Volt is “shock” – as in “Electric Shock: Is GM Really Losing$49,000 on Every Volt Sale?” and “Chevy Volt Continues to Shock and Awe After aWeek on the Road” and “Chevrolet Volt: Electric sedan sends shock waves through auto industry.”

An electric vehicle is going to invite those metaphors,right? But three months ago, a driver from California made a complaint to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration that was literally shocking. On December1, the driver received what was described as a significant electric shock from the gear shifter:

“Luckily, when incident occurred, driver was able to quickly remove their point of contact from gear shifter before the hand and arm muscles had involuntarily contracted in place permanently closing the contact and resulting in further electrocution. Driver sustained significant electrical shock injury to hand/arm including pain, shock, soreness, numbness, and tingling sensation.”

The incident was immediately reported to GM, which instructed the driver to call 911 so that the local fire department could disconnect the power. Those first responders refused, because they didn’t know the system, and feared for their own safety, the complaint said.

GM had already agreed to buy back this vehicle for a host of other problems. A repair document filed with the complaint indicates that in late October, the driver took it to Paradise Chevrolet in Ventura, California,complaining that the Volt kept turning itself off and on. The automaker’sreaction to this latest, arguably more hazardous malfunction was totally warm and fuzzy, according to the complaint:

“Since incident, GM is only willing to transfer driver toothier Product Allocation Department which acts in a legal capacity and accepts claim reports for further investigation. Driver’s immediate concern is not to sue GM but to insure [sic] all reasonable efforts are made to inform other Volt dealers of incident and hopefully prevent other drivers from being electrocuted.”

Has GM heeded the driver’s plea? A check for Technical Service Bulletins didn’t turn up any new alerts. Judging by a FAX cover sheet that accompanied the repair bill and a redacted medical record, the driver was in direct contact with NHTSA’s Office of Defects Investigation in early December. Is the agency looking into this?

The last time ODI investigated a problem with the Chevy Volt, the public found out about it after five months of secret tests andanalyses. The probe was officially opened only after the agency had done nearly all of its work. As the DOT’s dear leader Ray LaHood opined at the time that the Volt was safe to drive, it seems that the agency had pretty much concluded that no defect existed. As we have noted before, NHTSA has been known to keep high-profile defect investigations under wraps by not publishing an Opening Resume until some sort of conclusion has already been reached. See: What Doesn’t NHTSA Want You to Know About Auto Safety?

To re-cap: On November 25, 2011, ODI opened an investigation into Chevy Volt fires, after one ignited at a Wisconsin storage facility in June 2011 after a crash test. The vehicle had been subjected to anNCAP oblique side pole impact, which pushed the transverse stiffener located under the driver’s seat inward, piercing the HV battery enclosure and battery,and causing a battery coolant leak. As part of the test protocol, NHTSA subjects EVs to post-crash rollover tests to look for electrolyte and fuel spillage In this case, the rollover introduced the leaking coolant to the HV battery and electronics. Three weeks later, the vehicle caught fire and burned two other vehicles.

Unbeknownst to consumers, in the five months between the fire and opening of the official investigation, NHTSA had already sifted the data looking for other incidents, had a fire contractor isolate the cause of the storage facility fire to the Volt’s battery, sent the wreck to the Vehicle Test and Research Center for a tear-down and forensic analysis, conducted aside-impact NCAP on another Volt and impact-tested three undamaged batteries from Volts used in other crash tests.

After NHTSA opened an initial Preliminary Analysis011-037, the agency ran another series of battery pack tests “to isolate the individual effects of cell damage.” The official investigation closed less than two months later, on January 20, 2012, with no defect finding.

Nonetheless, GM agreed to conduct “a free-of-charge customer satisfaction campaign,” also known as an unregulated recall on 14,735vehicles built before December 21, 2011. The campaign offered a strengthening of the structure of the vehicle in the area where battery intrusion occurred,adding an HV battery coolant loss sensor and control system software that alerts the driver and prevents recharging the HV battery. Finally, GM offered to add a tamper-proofing device to prevent consumers from adding coolant.

The issue of electric shock and electrocution in electric vehicles is real. In August 2010, The National Fire Protection Association and GM announced a partnership to train first responder in how to safely de-power aVolt and how to properly fight a battery fire. This training, apparently, hadnot yet reached the fire department in the shocked Volt driver’s town. And,last year SAE International AE International’s Hybrid Technical Committee issued technical standard “J2990—Hybrid and EV First and Second Responder Recommended Practice,” to address the unique chemical, thermal and electrical hazards associated with EVs’ high voltage systems.

Electric shock risks to drivers not poking around under the hood – that’s a new one. And it raises more questions about the Volt that surely demand answers.

Automotive electronics expert David Gilbert of Southern Illinois University Carbondale said that “the most alarming” detail of the complaint was that the dealership appeared to have verified the driver’s first claim that the Volt was turning itself on and off.

“There’s something no one can deny and that is not anormal operation,” Gilbert said. “What was in place to cause that?”

The electric shock complaint, he said, was puzzling. Ittakes a lot of direct current voltage to produce a significant electric shock.

“What would be the path from the shift mechanism?” he asked.

This entry was posted on Tuesday, March 5th,2013 at 1:15 pm . You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comment sand pings are currently closed.
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Web Link: http://www.safetyresearch.net/2013/03/05/another-secret-chevy-volt-investigation/
 

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Is it April 1rst already?

The Volt's column shifter is plastic and non conductive and to my knowledge their are no live parts within the shifter so I don't see how a shock is at all possible. Static electricity maybe?

Maybe a guy secured one of those clown buzzers to the shifter as a joke?
 

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That's some serious fear mongering with no facts. Like stated, the shifter is plastic.

Sounds more like the driver hit their funny bone while shifting than anything else. But it's certainly a claim worth looking into, just not publicly while fear mongering.
 

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Safety Research & Strategies is actually one man, Sean Kane. Evidently, he is something of an ambulance chaser:

"SR&S is a research firm that works with plaintiffs' attorneys on lawsuits related to injuries and/or safety matters. They investigate products and help to determine the level of liability, if any, that a manufacturer or distributor is responsible for. Sean Kane is the president of Strategic Research & Strategies, Inc.

According to information revealed today by Toyota, it seems that the irrelevant tests conducted by Professor David Gilbert that "prove" Toyota vehicles are faulty was done at the request of Sean Kane and/or his company. Therefore, it would appear that Mr. Kane, being dissatisfied with the report issued by his own company, set up a situation that could create a different, perhaps more profitable to him and his attorney clients, outcome."
http://www.theautochannel.com/news/2010/03/08/468399.html

Nonetheless, we can expect the propaganda mills to report that Volt owners are being electrocuted.
 

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i stopped reading when i got to (gm had already agreed to buy it back for other problems)........ people really don't know how easily buyers remorse is spotted from the outside looking in....... shocked..... by a plastic handle..... ummm... ok...
 

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Static discharge

We don't know the circumstances and full details of the event. One possible scenario is the person built up a significant static charge in their body, got into the car and touched a metal part (shifter) of the car thereby allowing the static charge to dissipate as an "electric shock".

Static discharges are very common when the humidity is low and made worse by (for example) wearing leather soled shoes on nylon carpet. I get zapped all the time in winter by touching a faucet or light switch. A 17,000 volt static charge produces a spark 1 inch long through the air. With static discharges of this scale the voltage is very high but there is no significant amperage, lightning from a thunderstorm is similar but very much larger.

Electricity needs a path to flow along, for the "electric shock" to have been caused by the battery it would require a return path to the other terminal on the battery. Some other part of the body would need to provide a path for the electricity to return to the battery. Birds can safely land on 33,000 volt power lines because there is no path to ground for the electricity to flow. If live power lines were to fall on your car the tyres would insulate you and the car from the ground. If you stay inside the car you will not be electrocuted. If you get out of the car while touching the car body and the ground at the same time you will be electrocuted. If you jump from the car completely leaving it before touching the ground you will not be electrocuted.

Without knowing the details and circumstances it is not possible to know what caused the electric shock as reported. I find it highly unlikely that the battery is the source of the electrical power causing the "shocking experience".
 

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This is an interesting article. The gear shifter in a Volt is basically an electrical switch that signals the computers on what you want to do. I am not sure if there are any mechanical linkages that connect to the parking pawl or not... But as far as I can tell the main gear shift knob appears to be made of PLASTIC. Yes it does have some chrome surfaces on the sides of the handle... And the release button is also chrome plated. But that chrome appears to be chrome plating over plastic. If you take a sharp needle you can penetrate the chrome. It's soft underneath... Like plastic. So how does a plastic handle conduct enough electricity to shock someone?

I was a little bit curious... So I took my volt/ohm meter out and tried a few tests. I can tell you that the chrome surfaces do indeed conduct electricity. If I place the probes directly on the chrome areas near each other it reads about 2 ohms. However if you measure the chrome on opposite sides of the knob it's completely open circuit. If I measured between the chrome sides and the release button it is also completely an open circuit. If you measure between any of these chrome parts and the car chassis ground it is an open circuit. Finally... I measure between the chrome and the +12 contact in the accessory outlet and it's also open circuit.

My take on these measurements? My guess would be that the entire gear shift knob is made of plastic with some decorative chrome plating on the outside surfaces. These chrome surfaces are most likely completely isolated from the rest of the car by the plastic knob. In other words there is a thick layer of non-conductive plastic between the chrome surfaces and the rest of the car.

I can't see a likely path for electricity to flow from the power components of the car to the gear shift knob surfaces because the knob seems to be made of plastic underneath.

Furthermore... It takes two contact points to get an electrical circuit flowing. You need a positive and a negative contact point to get current flowing. You cannot be electrocuted without two points of contact. Let's assume for a moment that the gear shift was the positive point of contact. What was the negative point of contact? The leather seats? The carpet? The rubber brake pedal? All of those surfaces are non-conductive. How do make a complete circuit? The Volt's battery puts out approx 300 volts DC. The inverter changes the DC into AC to run the motors... But the highest voltage present is probably not much higher than 300 volts. 300 volts is not enough voltage to jump across rubber pedal covers, seat cushions or plastic knobs. It would take tens of thousands of volts to arc across those insulating surfaces.

Since I don't feel like taking my gearshift knob apart... I will let someone else try that experiment. Perhaps someone else who is more adventurous than I, can disassemble the gearshift knob and see if there is any wiring or switch gear that might be coming into contact with those chrome parts. I think it's pretty unlikely.

The power of suggestion powerful thing. The placebo effect is real. Perhaps if the car were named the Aqua instead of the Volt that driver might have imagined that the cabin suddenly filled with water and he almost drowned instead?

This owner was already claiming that he did not like the car and reported several other problems. I am not ready to call this one a complete crackpot report yet... But that does seem like the most likely scenario at this point. I think it is possible that perhaps he was just looking for a way to get out of the car purchase so he made up a story to get GM to refund his money.
 

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Something smells a little fishy... AFAIK the shifter is plastic and there are no live parts inside it. It would take something pretty serious to get a shock through it. Unless it was simply static.

The article seems to find fault with the fact that investigations are done under wraps. I think it is completely logical, as premature release of such information could do serious damage to the manufacturers reputation.
I highly doubt there is a problem, and I'm sure if an investigation is in fact done, they will find the same thing.
 

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"GM had already agreed to buy back this vehicle for a host of other problems"

That say it all, owner is just making sure he gets his money back, some will go to any lenght to make the manufacture buyback a car

Its completely impossible to get a shock from a plastic shifter and even if it was pure metal connected to battery's positive HV bus, you still wouldn't get shock as nothing is available to the drivers hand that's ground to complete the loop
 

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That's some serious fear mongering with no facts. Like stated, the shifter is plastic.

Sounds more like the driver hit their funny bone while shifting than anything else. But it's certainly a claim worth looking into, just not publicly while fear mongering.
Actually the sides of the shifter and the release button are conductive chrome plated.
 

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"GM had already agreed to buy back this vehicle for a host of other problems"

That say it all, owner is just making sure he gets his money back, some will go to any lenght to make the manufacture buyback a car

Its completely impossible to get a shock from a plastic shifter and even if it was pure metal connected to battery's positive HV bus, you still wouldn't get shock as nothing is available to the drivers hand that's ground to complete the loop
I mostly agree... But the knob does indeed have some conductive chrome surfaces on it. The release button is chrome plated. And that chrome does conduct down to about 2 ohms. I measured it.
 

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Actually the sides of the shifter and the release button are conductive chrome plated.
It seems your test shows that they are conductive like a bottle cap on a glass beer bottle. Yes conductive, but also insulated from any path. Like saying you got a shock by touching the metal cap on a beer bottle.
 

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Something smells a little fishy... AFAIK the shifter is plastic and there are no live parts inside it. It would take something pretty serious to get a shock through it. Unless it was simply static.
The shift knob does have three chrome plated surfaces that DO conduct. How are you certain that there are no live components inside exactly? Did you take it apart and look?

The release button might contain a microswitch that is connected to some electronics. (Probably low voltages like +12 or +5 volts...) But it's possible that a fault in one of those switches or a frayed wire could possibly come in contact with the chrome plated release knob in a worst case scenario... Unlikely but possible until proven not possible.

Not saying that I believe this guy's story... But I would still like to examine a shift knob up close and verify it's impossible before I pass final judgement. Most likely... Just a crackpot making up a story to get GM to buy his car back. Which they did.
 

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It seems your test shows that they are conductive like a bottle cap on a glass beer bottle. Yes conductive, but also insulated from any path. Like saying you got a shock by touching the metal cap on a beer bottle.
Exactly. However... What if there were some wires connected to a microswitch in the release knob... And what if that wire was damaged or pinched in the chrome knob. You press the knob one day and it bites into the wire.

Still... That wire would need to be carrying thousands of volts to pass through the person sitting on a padded seat and jump to the car frame. Static electricity can do that... But it's not likely any part of a Volt's electrical system would sustain such voltages without total havoc.

Most likely it's BS... But still... My mind keep coming up with little nagging possibilities.
 

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Even if the shifter itself was not grounded, how did the unnamed plaintiff complete the circuit? Like occasional posts here it sounds like I want out of the car and slander is one way to get there. Unhappily the story will probably get onto the anti-EV media circuit just like the fires. "See the dumb ass over there in the EV, fool is gonna electrocute hisself!"

The only circuit there is 12 volts and a spike on that would blow a fuse, throw a code, and if a spike over 18v was reached, disconnect the HV battery.

My hope is if it goes Viral GM goes after the party in a very public way and all who publish it maliciously. Tesla isn't taking crap quietly.
 

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Even if the shifter itself was not grounded, how did the plaintiff complete the circuit? Like occasional posts here it sounds like I want out of the car and slander is one way to get there. Unhappily the story will probably get onto the anti-EV media circuit just like the fires. "See the dumb ass over there in the EV, fool is gonna electrocute hisself!"

The only circuit there is 12 volts and a spike on that would blow a fuse, throw a code, and if a spike over 18v was reached, disconnect the HV battery.
I agree with the likelihood it's a fake story. The knob body is plastic with conductive chrome surfaces on it. I can confirm the knob is definitely NOT grounded. I tested this with an ohm meter. The conductive chrome parts of the knob are isolated from the chassis. Just like a metal cap on a glass beer bottle as Steverino suggested.

So... Theoretically if a faulty switch or wire came into contact with that chrome surface the knob could indeed become a positive electrode. But this still leaves the negative contact point unexplained.

It's not likely... But still... Hmmm...
 

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Static electricity can jump significant distances depending on the voltage of the charge, 17k Volts will jump 1" air gap. The charge stored in your body has a potential difference to the car body. When a part of your body comes closer to the car body than the spark gap then the static charge will discharge. This small lightning bolt may thread its way past insulated plastic to a metal part behind. You don't need to directly touch the metal part for the discharge to occur.

During winter I use a key held in my hand to discharge the static charge. Otherwise the nerves in my fingers complain as the static surges through them.
 
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