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Got a 2011 Chevy Volt? Check Your 110V Charge Cable

 
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110V outlet

110V outlet

If you’re thinking of buying a 2011 Chevrolet Volt plug-in hybrid, then you’re probably already aware that its 16 kilowatt-hour battery pack is much smaller than the battery packs normally found in pure electric cars.

As a consequence, it is even possible to charge the Volt’s battery pack overnight from a domestic power outlet, something that would take the 2011Nissan Leaf 20 hours.

That fact has prompted many Volt owners to forgo the expensive Level 2 fast charging stations considered essential for electric cars with larger battery packs, and plug in every night into a spare power outlet in their garage. 

But according to an increasing number of Volt owners that practice could cause you more trouble than you thought.

Heating up

2011 Chevrolet Volt charging port

2011 Chevrolet Volt charging port

Enlarge Photo

The first sign that something is wrong is often an excessive heating up of the charging cable, followed by a discoloration of the cable. 

Volt owner Glen Jenkins was so concerned about the heat coming from the cable that he measured it. 

“I actually measured the temperature of my unit and reported it to GM directly. I measured 51 degC (124 degF) on the [short] cord and the plug when the plug was connected to a 20 Amp rated 120V socket,” he told the Facebook Chevy Volt Owners group. “GM stated that was within their specifications and OK.”

Melting

For some Volt owners, discoloration wasn’t the only thing happening to their charge cable. 

While some reported temperatures in excess of 170 degrees Fahrenheit from their cables, one owner even got burnt when winding up the charge cable to store in his Volt’s trunk. 

“My 110v cord got so hot it caused a 2nd degree burn to my wrist when one of the prongs brushed against me while winding it it up,” wrote a GM-Volt.com forum member from Delaware.  “I didn’t notice discoloration, the plug is close to the car so I usually had about 2 winds left around the EVSE and the day of the burn I was preconditioning the A/C immediately before unplugging the car."

Replacements available

Interestingly, the problem of overheating charge cables seems mostly restricted to the earlier Volt owners. Later Volts appear to ship with modified charging cables which are not reaching as high a temperature.

General Motors is aware of the problem and is offering customers with an affected unit a replacement cord under the car’s 3 year bumper-to-bumper warranty.  

Is it really the cable?

But while there is obviously an issue with the early 110V charge cables that shipped with early 2011 Volts we’re not sure all of the fault lies with GM, but with the way 110V outlets are wired. 

Unlike purpose-built Level 2 charging stations, a humble 110v domestic outlet shares a power supply with other outlets in the house. This is fine for powering things like computer or entertainment systems, but when overloaded with an electric car could represent a major fire hazard. 

Don’t think it could happen to you? Think again. 

After reporting a fire break out in the 110V outlet his Volt had been plugged into, one owner found out that he had indadvertedly plugged his car into the same 110V circuit shared by two power-hungry air-conditioning units, resulting in an electrical overload.

And it’s examples like this which are the real reason electric automakers recommend you install a dedicated charging station in your home. 

Our advice

2011 Chevrolet Volt home charging

2011 Chevrolet Volt home charging

Enlarge Photo

There is clear evidence suggesting that the 110V charging cables which shipped with the early 2011 Chevrolet Volts are prone to overheating and melting, so check with your dealer to make sure your charging cable is not affected.

Secondly, when using the 110V charging cable, ensure you plug into a dedicated 110V outlet in a cool, well-ventilated area. 

Finally, consider buying a dedicated 240-Volt Level 2 charging station, which is wired on its own circuit. As more Level 2 charging stations come onto the market and their prices drop  you’ll find it less damaging to your wallet, and a lot safer for your car and your home.

[Facebook, GM-Volt.com]



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Comments (6)
  1. Outlets are 120 Volts, not 110. It's a simple task to
    determine where the heating is coming from - simply measure the Volt cord's temperature with the circuit dedicated and then when other typical loads are present. If overloaded, I would simply create another 120 circuit from the distribution panel to a spot close to the Volt's charging inlet. If in a garage, run 1/2 or 3/4 EMT along the wall after connecting to the panel, to an outlet box attached to the wall, run the 12-2 NM (romex) wire and hook up a GFCI receptacle and install a 20 amp breaker in the panel box. Visit the local permitting office before you start and get a permit. You'll need a simple hand drawing of the work to be done. Cost of material - less than $40.
     
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  2. Nominal 120 volt circuits in the US can be +5% or minus 10%, so saying 110 volts is accurate. (Some jurisdictions allow greater than +5%.)
    The most important thing is to wire the outlet with the screw terminals on the side, not the so called "stab" connectors on the back. Old corroded outlets are trouble, replace them.
    It is also a good idea to use one gauge heavier than required, which helps conduct the heat away.
    The National Electrical Code stipulates no more than 80% of rated load if drawn for more than 3 hours, and a 20 degree C rise is acceptable. So that is 12 amps on a 15 amp outlet. And yes, on a hot day the terminals can burn you if you don't let them cool off.
    But avoid plugs for day to day use, hardwired is always safer.
     
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  3. That seems to be typical for GM.
     
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  4. Nikki,

    Good article and sound advice. One thing however, didn't make sense.

    Overloading an electrical circuit usually doesn't result in overheating an outlet, unless the devices causing the overload are plugged into the same outlet. Checking the link you provided confirmed my thoughts. The fire occurred in a sub panel in the carport not the outlet. It is one more example why a dedicated circuit should be used for charging an EV.
     
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  5. For info. US outlets are available in 15A and 20A versions; seems odd right? You can tell the difference as the right hand pin is in the shape of a + rather than just a | allowing appliances that require higher than 15A to us a plug shaped like | - rather than | | if that makes any sense!

    20A outlets are reasonably common, especially in the garage. I'd suggest that the cars come with a 20A | - style plug to ensure that they only go into 20A outlets. Why? The car runs close the to rated limit of a 15A outlet. An old or weathered outlet that has weak springs or dirty contacts is likely to self-heat; probably the cause of the hot pin incident. A 20A outlet is further from its limits and less likely to be stressed.
     
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  6. The Leaf recommends a unused 120 volt circuit for charging and that is what i have always used for both my Leaf and my Zenn.
     
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