One of the liberating benefits to owning an electric car is the ability to plug in and charge up wherever there happens to be a purpose-built charging station, or indeed a standard domestic power outlet.
But while most of the electric cars on sale in the U.S. today comply with the J1772 standard of level 1 and level 2 charging, we’re starting to hear stories of 2011 Chevrolet Volts which are refusing to charge on specific charging stations and portable Electric Vehicle Supply Equipment leads (EVSE)
It appears the problem stems from something pretty simple: a disagreement on the way in which the standard is spoken between two devices.
Reported on the GM-Volt.com and MyNissanLeaf.com forums, it appears that the standard 120V Nissan Leaf portable EVSE, the modified 240V Nissan Leaf portable EVSE and select charging stations cannot successfully connect to the 2011 Chevrolet Volt in order to charge it.
Affected Volt owners report connecting Nissan’s standard charging lead to their car, only for it to fail to commence charging. Other portable J1772-compliant cables and charging stations seem to work without problem.
The problem also seems to have affected other charging stations enabling some electric cars to charge but leaving Volts well and truly unplugged.
2012 Ford Focus Electric launch, New York City, January 2011 - charging point
So what’s the cause? According to the team responsible for engineering the modified 240V upgrade to the Nissan Leaf portable EVSE, the 2011 Chevrolet Volt’s on-board charging system times out of its pre-charging ‘hardware handshake’ before the charging station or portable EVSE has time to finish its internal safety checks.
Think of it a little like someone coming to your house and ringing the doorbell. You hear the ring, but take just a little too long to reach your door and open it.
And when you arrive, the person who rang has left.
Except unlike a missed caller, the 2011 Chevrolet Volt will keep trying to connect to the charging station, only to time out before the station has finished its checks and is ready to communicate.
2011 Nissan Leaf and 2011 Chevy Volt, with charging station visible; photo by George Parrott
Volt owners aren’t alone either. Owners of 2008-2011 Tesla Roadsters may find that their cars require a software update before they can make use of the $750 Tesla J1772 Charge adaptor, designed to allow Teslas to charge from J1772 compliant charging stations.
For now then, our advice is simple.
If you plug your electric car in at an unknown electric car charging station, confirm it is charging before you leave it. Otherwise you may return to find your car is just as empty (or full) as you left it.