Fixing a Crashed Chevy Volt

by Ben N on December 28, 2019

New to me 2012 Chevy Volt

I just purchased a Chevy Volt!
While I’m excited about that, the only reason I got it was because it was cheap. And it was cheap because it needed a bunch of work…

The nice side of the car

Not long ago, an acquaintance of mine was driving his 2012 Chevy Volt when a deer hit him. (No, he didn’t hit the deer). He was driving about 65 MPH when the deer ran into the side of the car. For those of you who don’t live in deer territory, striking one of these animals is common, and can cause a tremendous amount of damage.

The bad side of the car.

The car is the premium trim level with leather seats, backup camera, nice stereo, and all the other bells and whistles. The owner even installed a HEATED steering wheel in the car THE DAY BEFORE it was hit by the deer!

After dealing with the insurance company and getting a repair estimate, the cost to fix was nearly $8,000! So, the insurance company simply made a payout. The value of used cars like this in my area usually go for about $10,000. So, the insurance company would simply pay the value of the car, instead of fix it. It wasn’t a “total loss” in that the car actually still drove fine and safe. It would just cost a fortune to fix.

That’s when the friend called me and said that he could “buy-back” the car from the insurance company for only the difference between the car value and the repair estimate – in this case, $2745.oo! And he offered it to ME!

Here is also where things get interesting.
I actually ALREADY own a 2012 Chevy Volt. And I bought it from the same guy. About a year earlier, his mother was driving her Volt, ran a red light, and front-ended straight into a pickup truck. She was fine, but all the airbags fired off and the entire front end was smashed in. I purchased the car at the insurance salvage price so that I could get the battery and sell any other parts off of it to get a little profit. I’ve been busy with other projects and hadn’t had a chance to pull the battery yet, so I haven’t really talked about it.

The salvaged parts car.

That car has TWO PERFECT driver side doors. And it’s silver. And even the same model year!

So, when I had the chance to buy a Chevy Volt at a cheap price because it needed fixing, I jumped at the chance because I already owned a matching parts car!

I bought the car and was able to simply have the title signed over to me, instead of having to send in for a Salvage Title. I fully expected a salvage title and having to take the vehicle in for inspection after repair. Apparently, the State of Wisconsin no longer issues salvage titles for cars over 7 years old. It’s a 2012 model year car, and here we are at the very end of 2019! Whew! Just made it!

I drove the car home. My little girl got to ride with me and she said how “cool” it was! The first thing to do was just clean the car a bit. I even took it to the car wash to get some of the dirt off. For all I knew, the doors leaked like a sieve. Running through the car wash would let me know that too!

Running the car through an automatic car wash.

The next day, I set to work removing the smashed doors. The driver’s door doesn’t open from the outside. I’d been opening it so far by reaching in through the passenger side to unlatch it from the inside. For the rear door, I hadn’t even tried opening it yet, for fear that it wouldn’t close again. It turned out those fears were unfounded as I COULDN’T OPEN THE BACK DOOR AT ALL!

I tried finding some YouTube videos on replacing Volt doors, but wasn’t able to. I instead did a search for Chevy Malibu and Cruze, figuring those were similar cars. Sure enough, I found a couple of videos, and they were helpful to figure out how to take the doors off.
I also removed the driver seat, as that was torn and the heated seat wouldn’t work.

Removing the back door was challenging. It wouldn’t open at all. Even after I pulled out the bolts mounting it to the hinges, it barely moved. I pulled off the door interior and did all I could to unlatch it from the inside. No Luck.
I switched to the outside of the door and drilled multiple holes and cut with an angle grinder to expose the interior latch. Once I had, I could release the latch and remove the door.

Removing the driver seat and both doors.

After that, I headed over to where the parts car was stored and removed the doors and seat from that vehicle.

Back home again, installed the “new to me” seat and doors in the car. The back door needed a little tweaking, but after simply adjusting the hinge bolts, it seemed to fit and close well.

I finished installing the doors just before dark on Christmas Eve. We drove to the car over to visit relatives. It drove great, I love the stereo, and the heated steering wheel was pure luxury!

Although the car was totally drivable, I still wanted to fix the dents. I got a Harbor Freight paint-less dent repair kit. I set to work trying to pull the dents.
If I did it again, I’d try a kit with more accessories, like this one:

After I got the car all back together, I found that I had an Airbag error on the dashboard! Oh No! I know that cars get more and more complicated all the time, but I was really hoping to NOT have to do something like remove the airbag computer. Part of the appeal of buying the damaged Volt was that NONE of the airbags had gone off during the deer collision. So what was happening now?

I replaced the seat and doors from a parts car which HAD been in an accident where most of the airbags fired. Was a sensor from that crashed car causing a problem in the car I was now driving?

I set to work poking around inside the original doors. Two reasons for that. One is that the drivable car has the higher end sound system, including better quality speakers than the other car. I wanted to transfer those speakers, so I would take the door interior panels off anyways. Secondly, somewhere in those doors should be impact sensors. Perhaps those impact sensors in the replacement doors were the problem, and I could swap them for the originals?

Once I found the impact sensors, I ended up realizing that I didn’t have the right tools to remove them anyways. (I still pulled the speakers.)
I had found out on a web forum about something called the Seatbelt Pre-Tensioner. This is a device mounted on the seat.

Since I had the one seat out and accessible, it was easy to remove one plastic cover and take a look at it. I then removed the seat in the car, took at a look at the matching part, and compared the two.

Sure enough, they were physically different. Although the airbag in the driver’s seat had not fired (green-trimmed replacement seat from the parts car) the seatbelt-pretensioner HAD been activated. It’s a one-time-use part, and looks different after it’s been used.

Seatbelt pre-tensioners. Good one is in the upper-left. Used/fired/activated one is lower-right.

I swapped the pretensioner from the original seat to the replacement seat and reinstalled it in the car. Wow! The airbag error was gone! If you ever need to replace a seat in your car with one from a junkyard or parts car, keep this in mind! The only thing I wish is that I had thought of it sooner, so that I hadn’t needed to install the seat more than once!

That’s if for now! Check back on this post often, as I will update it with whatever progress I make on this car.

Until next time, stay charged-up!
-Ben Nelson

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