Nearby lightning strike killed ECU and more on 2013 Chevy; Keep it?

Terry Vanicelli
St. Louis, MO

My 2013 Chevy Captiva Sport LTZ (4cyl, 2WD) was near-missed by lightning back in July. Insurance will cover it, but my Chevy dealer and local TBA don’t want to mess with it. It’s in a shop about 40 mile south of here that has a good track record with my insurer. They replaced the ECU and dash control unit and it’s still not ready. I know some good mechanics and they all advised me to sell it as soon as I get it back. The guys working on it agree. It’s already had about $3500 worth of work done and it’s not back yet. Should I take their advice?

Dump it. They shop may never find all the problems… which they haven’t. I’d be pushing the insurance company to total it.


I’m surprised they didn’t push for that themselves. Electrical issues can be very problematic and erratic. Personally, I’d hate to pass that off to someone else.

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The ECU is just one of dozens of electronic components that could have been damaged. Get it totaled.


I’m surprised a nearby strike would cause so many problems. It seems like the majority of the current would flow through the metal chassis, bypassing the circuitry. I’m guessing most of the work that has already been done wasn’t actually needed, and may have been done incorrectly or used a faulty-out-of-the-box replacement part.

As far as what to do next, at this point, given the situation, punting seems like a good idea.

Ask your local Chevy dealer or any other licensed dealer to tell you, in writing, what they think your vehicle is worth now, what it was worth before it was fried, and then submit a demand to your insurance company, in writing, for its lost value. If it has lost 70 to 80% of its value, ask that they total it and take ownership.

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I am going to go against the grain here. No matter how many computer modules in the car have been damaged, it should be possible to find and replace them all. This is not a flood vehicle, so the likelihood of ongoing problems should be small. Either the repair shop can obtain the parts, within a reasonable amount of time, or they can’t. If they can’t, then you should ask the insurance company to total out the vehicle for that reason, not because it cannot be repaired to run reliably ever again.

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A lighting strike, or near strike, can fry wires as well as electronic devices. Really anything that can be affected by inducted current. Burned contacts, burned wires, and zapped electronics make this car a nightmare to repair. Can it be repaired, sure. Economically? Probably not.


That’s not how it causes damage. Far more damage results from indirect strikes than direct. There is a voltage gradient being produced for great distances around the actual discharge path. Depending on circumstances, it can be very high voltage across a given distance. The closer the discharge and dissipation paths, the higher the gradient. This is why you can be killed by an indirect strike and also electronics get damaged. Put even 50V/mm across a chip designed for a tenth of that and poof! and with millions of volts of potential, it doesn’t take much to develop that kind of gradient.

We have products at work that generate +1MV and higher with fairly substantial current potential. Part of V&V is arc testing. Electronics anywhere near those discharges can be damaged, even when floating with the supply voltage. When the electric field rapidly changes, high gradients are experienced by anything in the area. Smoking a $30k scope is frowned upon…Even unplugged, they are removed from the general area to avoid collateral damage.


Wow! That’s an amazing insight! Thanks!

Induced current could be pretty high I guess w/nearby strike. But it seems like that would affect the physically large circuit loops the most. Maybe something like a wire running from the ECM to the tail-lights could pick up enough current flow to zap the ECM. Power & Ground circuity seems like it would get the most induced current. Maybe check the fusible links & ground points first.

We had a lightning ball explode about 20 feet above our backyard. It dissipated into the ground and encountered a cast iron sewer pipe, maybe 5 feet below ground. The induced current ran up to our house and exploded when it got to the PVC sewer pipe in our house. It blow off the drain trap and pushed the bottom of the wall into the basement room where it was located. There was smoke, but no fire. The discharge at the PVC pipe jumped over to the Ethernet line and destroyed the Ethernet cards in two computers, a printer, the WiFi router, and the VOIP router. The Ethernet line was about 5 feet from the PVC pipe in the wall.


Good info, but hard to compare a car to a house. House is grounded; a car is insulated, on rubber tires. If voltage is high enough the current could jump across the tires tho. When I lived in Colorado, especially in August monsoon season, I’d sometimes have to disconnect the tv antenna and attach a dummy load b/c visible sparks would be flying around behind the tv caused by nearby lightning. The lightening bolt wasn’t actually striking the antenna, the current was getting induced into the antenna & its wiring. No damage to tv.

OP, just curious was there any tire damage as a result of the strike?

And the same thing could have happened to the OP’s car. No insulation from the tires would prevent induced currents if the strike was close enough.

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Remember I own an IT services business. Spring and summer is BOOMING around here! I mean the lightning and then all the business it brings. Induced currents are common culprits for sure. I see this poster is also in Missouri which doesn’t surprise me one bit from what I see with the weather here.

Basically, you can have the best surge protection and still get hit. A near field strike induces current into the wiring connecting peripherals or in the circuitry itself. Anything with an antenna also brings the current in. Satellite dishes and the wiring bring in the currents where they fry satellite boxes, TVs, etc. The cables connecting your monitor to your computer, mouse/keyboard, power cables, etc. can bring this induced current in to PCs/laptops, even behind a good surge protector. I have users who are just sitting at their computer during a storm, then they hear a loud pop like a gunshot coming from the computer, then the smoke gets released!

I used to attempt to repair something like this, fixing the obvious things first. I quickly learned that replacing these damaged electronics was the best bet. Sometimes I will tinker when the owner dumps this stuff. I had a monitor I actually repaired. I hauled off a junker that had been hit by lightning. It turned on but wouldn’t do anything. The next day an IDENTICAL monitor was dumped with a busted screen. I opened both, extracted the main boards, and did a transplant. The monitor works but it was one that wasn’t meant to be taken apart so the appearance isn’t perfect. I also don’t use it often so don’t know if it will last under constant use but at least made a working unit from two bad ones. The problem with a customer is that they pay you to fix the device, then something else goes wrong and they are unhappy. Recent parts shortages have also made repairing something like this more impractical due to wait times and increased costs. There have been other units I am able to get going but it is quite obvious they are not functioning properly and couldn’t be returned to a customer as a repaired unit.

One thing I have noticed after a nasty storm is that a few people will call the day it happens, then far more trickle in during the days and weeks after the incident. Some make note that the equipment was quirky after the storm but continued to work until it didn’t. Other times it works fine and then just dies not long afterwards.

I know someone that used to be a Missouri State Trooper. They were almost struck while driving their patrol car and everything was immediately dead. The car was a total loss and not repaired which you can understand with the critical nature of this work. I believe the car was used in training where it was eventually destroyed during tactical exercises so at least got some use after this incident.

I remember hearing about someone having this happen with a Prius. This was at a social gathering and I didn’t know them well but the car was fried beyond repair. I am sure a Prius would be even more of a headache to deal with in a situation like this.

Yes, the car could probably be fixed but is it worth it? If you insist, find a wrecked version of the same year (at least generation if they use common parts for a several year period) using the same parts and options. If you have heated seats, get one with heated seats. If you have a moonroof, get one with a moonroof. You want all modules and switches to be the same. Change ALL the electronic modules/switches and hope for the best. Make sure the engine and transmission are all the same as well. Also remember that connections may be burned with the metal oxidized at the mating surfaces. Remove and clean EVERY ground point. Having an identical parts car makes something like this much more feasible. Color doesn’t matter unless you want matching body parts as spares.

Lightning is a strange animal. I have seen TVs with a hole blown through the panel and a “well done” smell connected to accessories such as DVD players that seem to come through unscathed and still work at the time I see them. I would have to guess the life has been shortened by the stress of this though.

If you have the time and can deal with the inconvenience of chasing down electrical gremlins until the end of time, fixing might be OK. If you want a relatively perfect car, probably not…

Good summary there @cwatkin . It would be interesting to know what exactly was damaged in OP’s car by the strike; i.e. were most of the circuit boards and display panels damaged, or just one or two of them? Maybe none of them were damaged, just some blown fuses and fusible links, maybe alternator diodes. Problem is practical, gonna take a lot of labor hours to figure that out I guess, cost of labor to do it can’t be justified.

Years ago one of the train-ee engineers plugged a connector in backward on a product scheduled to ship the next day. All heck broke loose b/c this set the shipping schedule back, customer complaining. . I decided to take a look for myself, discovered the problem was limited to a single transistor, part of an integrated circuit. It got reverse biased. 29 cent part replaced, product shipped one day behind schedule. VP’s running around like chickens with heads cut off prior, all b/c of a 29 cent part . lol …

I wonder if the shop has considered, and checked, the possibility of a blown fuse or fusible link.


Lightning won’t damage wiring that is near by the strike. It would have to get hit directly to damage the wiring. But the electrical modules can be damaged since they can be damaged in microseconds. There is the ECU, maybe TCU, cluster, airbag, ABS, radio/infotainment, maybe another for the interior lighting controls and stuff. It all should be available at a junk yard. Maybe 7 modules need to be pulled from a junk yard and replaced. The car will be as good as it was after this. AS someone said, it’s not a flood car where problems creep up later.

Does it currently run? They replaced the ECU so it should.

We’re all playing with theory here, but the reality is someone will have to pay a technician an hourly rate to do all this running around finding a donor, scavenging all sorts of bits and pieces from literally every nook and cranny of a junked car and then doing the same complicated surgery on the damaged car. Many of us have spent some time entirely upside down under a dashboard trying to locate one loose electric connection to understand that that’s a slow, tedious and exhausting project. Can you imagine paying a professional to do this on a 9 year old vehicle?


Get serious , this is an expensive repair even with used parts that might not even be compatible .