Can the battery of your electric car catch fire?

Electric vehicle fires regularly stir social media. However, a battery-powered car has a much lower risk of fire than a thermal vehicle. If the fire is sometimes impressive, the emergency services have specific intervention procedures.

Sparkling, crunchy, thick smoke: The conflagration of an electric vehicle’s battery can be shocking. However, you are unlikely to see one in your lifetime. Do electric cars catch fire more often? No! Electric cars are less likely to catch fire than their gasoline and diesel counterparts.

A study published in early 2022 by US insurer AutoInsurenceEZ showed this in particular. It found a ratio of 25 fires / 100,000 vehicles in electric, compared to 1,529 fires / 100,000 vehicles for thermal and a staggering rate of 3,457 fires / 100,000 vehicles in hybrids.

Why can the battery of an electric car be turned on?

A battery can catch fire for a variety of reasons. Perforation, dislocation, deformation, or a simple malfunction of the BMS (the computer that regulates the energy flows in the battery) can cause a short circuit and then the thermal leakage of the cells, causing a localized fire or widespread.

Most battery fires appear to be caused by a design or manufacturing defect. Errors quickly corrected during extensive recall campaigns such as the Hyundai Kona, or through remote upgrades such as those performed by Tesla after a series of fires.

Protection against side impacts

Traffic accidents are rarely the cause of battery damage. If the tank of a gasoline or diesel vehicle can burst during an impact, it is more difficult for a battery that is protected by a metal frame. Cases of battery dislocation are only associated with extremely violent accidents and do not involve a systematic fire.

However, a package is more likely to puncture during a vertical impact and concentrate under the vehicle, the horizontal surface facing the road is its Achilles heel. In this case, the cell compartment may contain the fugitive in the affected area. In addition, a gutted battery does not filter large amounts of flammable liquid, unlike a fuel tank.

Is the battery of an electric car dangerous to fire?

Like all fires, a battery fire is naturally dangerous. Obviously, it is necessary to evacuate the vehicle without delay in the face of the slightest smoke or suspicious phenomenon. However, the absence of highly flammable fluid reduces the risk of spill damage spreading. A battery contains solid or gelled materials that will burn in place.

According to a test conducted in late 2021 by the Austrian fire brigade, the universities of Graz and Leoben as well as the consulting firm ILF Consulting, a fire in an electric car (taking into account the entire vehicle and not just its battery) releases a little. hotter than the fire of a diesel car. The latter measured between 6 and 7 megawatts (MW) the average “thermal load” of an electric, when a diesel releases about 5 MW. A rather small difference that would not cause a significant increase in risk for users, according to firefighters.

How do firefighters put out the fire in the battery of an electric car?

Emergency services have had to adapt to the arrival of the electric vehicle on the market. New protocols and materials are periodically introduced to contain a battery fire quickly and safely. A massive water supply is always recommended, as in a thermal vehicle. “If the high-voltage battery ignites, is exposed to high heat, or is bent, twisted, cracked, or broken in any way, use floodable amounts to cool the battery.” that’s why I recommend Tesla.

Electric cars are designed to cut off power immediately after impact. To avoid any risk of electric shock, firefighters can manually remove the main switch or use a specific plug to connect it to the vehicle’s charging port. This tool also prevents accidental starting, for example if the driver presses the accelerator pedal.

To act more effectively on wrapped batteries, lifeguards can also get a special spear. Equipped with a punch, it allows you to drill the package to directly inject high pressure water.

Finally, firefighters can use a thermal camera to identify hot spots and make sure the disaster is completely extinguished. In some cases, the battery can be kept under observation for several tens of hours and, more rarely, submerged in a container full of water. As in a thermal car fire, the extinguishing water is laden with pollutants. They must be collected by the settling basins usually located along the tracks.

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