Charging Station Goes Boom, EV Won't Work: What Happens Next
It may be every electric-car driver's nightmare: on a road trip—taking the kids to see Grandma, say—you plug your EV into a DC fast-charging station along the way. You hear a loud bang, perhaps see some sparks. Then your car won't power up. You're 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 just that. But for longer trips, North America has a quickly expanding network of DC fast-charging stations. These can recharge most EVs to 80 percent of their battery capacity in 20 to 45 minutes. The Tesla Supercharger network is viewed as best for its ubiquity and reliability—even though, until quite recently, it had 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 on-road public charging are 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 their vehicle may be totaled, ruining not just their trip but their car as well. Will their new-car warranty cover whatever damages occurred, they wonder? (The short answer is that it depends on the circumstances, and on the carmaker.)
Trip Ended, EV Totaled? Three Real-Life Mishaps
This scenario is extremely rare, but it's not entirely hypothetical. Since November, at least three drivers who charged three different models of EV at Electrify America stations heard a loud bang, after which charging stopped and the car wouldn't start.
The vehicles in question 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 considerable attention on social media, but the outcomes have varied.
Car and Driver reached out to Electrify America and the three carmakers to ask for details on each case. EA provided statements on each incident but declined to let us speak with network engineers about details. Carmaker replies varied from "no comment" to more substantive responses. We've pieced together the stories from the EV owners, the statements we received, and off-the-record chats with several sources who asked not to be identified due to the sensitivity of the topic.
EVs Have Circuit Breakers Too
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 operates just as circuit breakers in your home do: if too much current flows through the circuit, the breaker trips, which interrupts the circuit and protects 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 can be in the charging equipment, the vehicle, or both, since there are redundant failsafe systems."
Indeed, this is 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 several weeks later. "This activated charging system failsafes and triggered safety features in the vehicle," it continued.
The statement's most important sentence is this: "Ford replaced the onboard 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 wrote later that one module in the battery had to be replaced. He was not charged for that work.
Asked whether Ford's EV warranty routinely covered resetting the high-voltage circuit breaker, the company responded: "It depends on what triggers the breaker. If a vehicle fault triggers it, that's absolutely covered under warranty." However, "If something else trips it, and the vehicle behaves as it should, that's not covered by warranty." But, Ford added, "For the incident in question, Ford did cover the cost as it was seen as an isolated incident."
Less Is Known in the Rivian Case
As for 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, that means something went wrong inside the charging station or with the power equipment feeding it.
"The appropriate safety systems deployed as designed," EA wrote. This suggests that a circuit breaker designed to protect the Rivian's high-voltage battery pack tripped. It rendered the truck unusable but likely preserved the pack—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 had returned his fully repaired truck. The company even replaced a bumper he'd 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, although Rivian declined to comment, its New Vehicle Limited Warranty Guide (a 23-page PDF download) offers some guidance. Broadly speaking, as with other makers, repairs are covered if a Rivian component or party is defective under normal use. But if an external issue—for instance, a malfunctioning charger—creates damage not originating in factory-supplied materials or workmanship, it does not appear that it is covered. The repair costs would have to be addressed by the outside party that caused the damage.
We'll leave it to the lawyers to fight out whether charging at a public charging network constitutes "normal use." As noted, in this instance, Rivian repaired the truck at no cost to the owner.
A Chevy Bolt EV Mystery
We know the least about the case of the Chevrolet Bolt EV, which would not start after a January 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 lies with the dealership, not the automaker. Bolt owners Cass and Sara Tippit have put in an insurance claim for the value of the vehicle but must still cover their incidental costs, including car rentals for the weeks they have been without a vehicle.
Chevrolet told Car and Driver the carmaker's engineers have not been able to inspect the vehicle, which is now in the possession of the insurance company. The carmaker still hopes to do so at some point, the spokesperson told C/D.
On the question of coverage for repairs, however, GM appears to have the most expansive warranty of the three. A GM spokesperson confirmed that resetting of an EV's high-voltage circuit breaker would be covered under its warranty—no ifs, ands, or buts.
Electrify America said only, "The incident with the Bolt is still being investigated."
Working to Reassure Customers
While it declined to provide any details on 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 the customers were inconvenienced in each of these cases, as the welfare and charging experience of our customers is of the utmost concern.
"In 2022 we had over six million charging sessions, and each situation is unique. Overall, we see very few vehicle immobilizations per million sessions. However, the resolutions of those issues are used to strengthen interoperability testing, component reliability standards, and continued over-the-air updates to the network.
"As with any technology, those improvements are part of developing and innovating, such as DC fast charging, during early stages of its growth trajectory."
EV drivers, now you know.
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