General Motors says it will be asking owners of its Chevy Volt to return the extended range electric vehicle (EV) to dealerships for enhancements to the car’s structure and battery coolant system that will protect its T-shaped battery pack in the case of a collision.

That means up to 8,000 cars already sold and another 4,400 still for sale will be in line for the fix to the problem discovered when the Volt’s plastic battery cases were punctured during National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) side-impact crash tests this past spring. Those crashes caused coolant leaks which led to shorts in the vehicles’ electrical systems. Those shorts were the cause of three fires which occurred from seven days to up to three weeks after the tests.

volt battery
image via General Motors

To make the fix, GM says it will strengthen an existing portion of the Volt’s vehicle safety structure with steel to further protect the 400-pound battery pack in a severe side collision. The company will also add a sensor in the reservoir of the battery coolant system to monitor coolant levels while also adding a tamper-resistant bracket to the top of the battery coolant reservoir to help prevent potential coolant overfill.

GM says that they’ve already tested the enhancements during four successful crash tests monitored by the NHSTA between Dec. 9 and 21. According GM’s statement, the repairs performed as intended and there was no intrusion into the battery pack and no coolant leakage in any of the tests.

The NHSTA opened a formal investigation of the Volt in November after the fires and says that that investigation is still ongoing. However, the agency also noted that no fires have broken out after Volt crashes on real-world roadways. In a statement the NSTA said, “As a precaution, NHTSA has monitored the crashed vehicle since the test and will continue to do so for one more week. However, the preliminary results of the crash test indicate the remedy proposed by General Motors… should address the issue.”

image via GM

As for the fix, GM is quick to point out that the repair effort is not a recall since the company made its decision to fix customers’ cars without a government directive. This, at lest, is a bit of good news as GM’s “customer service campaign” does not involve the government monitoring, consumer notification and bad publicity of a formal recall.

According to a report in the Detroit Free Press, GM has already agreed to offer a loaner car to any Volt owners who are nervous about the car’s safety. In total, about 250 people requested a loaner or asked the automaker to buy back their Volt. The automaker is willing to do so, but is first finding out why owners are dissatisfied.

News of the Volt’s problems come at a bad time for GM as the company struggles to  recover from the PR hit they took after the news broke that they would not hit their goal of selling 10,000 of the cars in 2011. While the company sold only 7,671 Volts last year, they also recorded a best-ever sales month in December, moving 1,529 cars.

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