This Spark EV and I have been through a lot...
This Chevy Spark EV and I have been through what feels like hell and back. Purchased at the end of May 2019 used, this 2016 Spark was still early in its life and only had roughly 28,000 miles on the odometer. It was the perfect urban EV and used primarily for running errands, food delivery, and of course the occasional YouTube video.
Even though it was rated with an 82 mile EPA range, that didn't stop me from taking several longer trips with it, the longest being a 550 mile road trip with my daughter, just to prove that it could be done.
For a couple of years, everything was great...almost. In early 2021, I started to notice that the range wasn't as good as it used to be. This is normal for most EVs, but I was noticing some significant loss. In fact, its usable battery capacity had dropped from 18.4 kWh to around 13 kWh. That being said, while driving more efficiently I could still hit the 82 mile range... but then I started to notice that it was having problems when the battery state of charge was very low.
The problems started...
Twice while still displaying mileage remaining (usually around 2 miles or so), the car would lose all propulsion power and would leave me on the side of the road waiting to be towed home (I was always less than a mile from home). However, because the diagnostic light wasn't illuminated, Chevy dealerships told me they wouldn't touch it. Frustrated, knowing there was a problem, I would continue to drive the car for a few months until one day the light came on and I was able to pull the diagnostic codes and verify that there was, in fact, an issue with the battery system.
P0A7F refers to the high voltage battery and indicates the ECU has determined the HV battery has deteriorated. I arranged to have a local dealership diagnose the problem, confirm my findings, and service the car as needed.
After an exchange that lasted multiple weeks (I won't get into details, but I was VERY upset with the lack of professionalism), the dealership assigned the problem to the 12 volt battery (not the HV battery) and said that the 12 volt battery needed to be replaced. I had just done this a month before. Of course, it is possible that I had received a bad battery so I went ahead and, again, replaced the 12 volt battery. The dealership cleared the diagnostic codes and said that my problem was solved.
I was very confident that my problem had in fact NOT been solved, but without an illuminated diagnostic light, I once again resolved to driving the car until it failed again. I did not have to wait long, just over 2,000 miles in fact.
Dead. Like, DEAD dead.
In April 2022, it finally happened. With 17 miles left on the range meter, I lost all power and pulled to the side of the road. This time was different. The car reset the range to showing 3 miles remaining, BUT also that the battery was nearly full. I knew that this time my problem was different.
I had the car towed to the nearest charger, but it would not charge. So, I knew that I'd have to take it in to the dealership. This time however, I chose a different dealership (CMA's Colonial Chevrolet in Chester, VA), because their organization has said they want to be the leaders in EVs in Virginia. So of course, I gave them the challenge of figuring out what to do about my car.
The battery battle...
I won't go into details in this post, but there was quite a fight with GM about what to do next. Initially, the company said that there were no high voltage battery packs available for the Spark EV, the part had been discontinued, and my only course of action was to go through a buy-back process. I wrote an extensive article about that here.
After speaking with the company further, they committed to repairing the car (and other Spark EVs as well) and that I didn't have long to wait. I waited four months.
During this time, the service staff at the dealership provided me with a loaner vehicle and stayed in constant contact with me, even if there was no update to the situation. I have to say that I have never had a more pleasant experience with any car dealership ever and I would recommend CMA's Colonial Chevy to anyone in the central Virginia area.
After four months I finally got the phone call I was waiting for. My car was fixed and ready to be picked up! The funny thing though is that my battery pack hadn't been replaced. Just the battery cells, and one of the control modules. GM actually shipped all new battery cells to the dealership and the technician assembled the pack in his bay. This, as I'm told, is the first time this has been done with a Chevy Spark EV in North America.
Here are a few photos of the pack when removed from the car:
So what happened?
While the technician who worked on my car couldn't say for sure, we think that one of the cells of the high voltage pack had gone bad and as a result caused the entire system to fail.
Considering that the car wasn't even 8 years old and had less than 100,000 miles on it, all of the work was covered under warranty and I didn't have to pay for anything (except for the gas for the loaner vehicle).
Everything is great. In fact, the car is doing better than it ever was when I had it before. I have checked my battery capacity and it is restored to like new condition of 18.4 kWhs. The car has been achieving 4.4 miles/kWh in efficiency even with my (very inefficient) aftermarket and wheel combo, and after 2,500 miles it doesn't seem to have any problem at all anymore.
What does this mean for other Spark EVs?
This is harder to say. I have exchanged emails with GM and asked a lot of questions... to which I get generic empty answers that don't share any information at all. This is not surprising.
There have been reports of other Spark EV owners here in the US that are starting to get their vehicles serviced, but owners in Canada are reporting that they are only being offered a buy-back.
The situation for Spark EVs with failed battery packs is hazy at best and I have been telling potential buyers of used Spark EVs to stay far away from the car if it is close to being out of warranty. In fact, I wouldn't recommend anyone own one out of warranty because of what I think is going on...
Now, this is all speculation. I want to make sure that this part I'm about to say is very clear in that way. I have no proof and have gotten no information from GM that supports this theory... I think GM didn't have any battery packs for the Spark EV, as was what the company originally said to me. I don't think they have any battery packs now. I think they are getting the cells made on-demand as failed, under warranty, cars get brought into dealerships.
I also think that this means that the company is likely waiting out the warranty period on the battery packs, and once there is no coverage, that Spark EV owners will (as I had written in my original article) be left out to dry. There will be no option except to find a different Spark EV, remove the pack, and frankenstein together a working pack... assuming you have the equipment to program all the modules AND assuming you assemble everything in the correct order (the tech told me about that part after he was on the phone with his GM support for quite a while trying to figure it out). While GMs parts system does show that the pack is available for backorder (if you're willing to pay the $30k for a new one or $18k for refurbished), I don't believe that they will actually be supplying these packs at all at that time.
What will I do with my Spark EV when the battery dies again?
Naturally, it's hard to predict what I'll do. Hopefully, this updated pack will last at least 4 years. But, eventually it will fail. At that point, I'd love to tear apart the car, replace the battery pack, and a few other parts and basically do an EV conversion (to a custom system) on the car... but who knows if that will ever happen.
For now, I'm just going to be happy that I've made it through this experience, fought to get my car fixed (even though nobody should ever have to do that) and can drive on EV power yet again. And hopefully, this is the last time I'll have to write about this experience!