While automakers have been racing to design, produce, and promote their electric vehicles, they’re being confronted with a problem- battery-related fire risks.
How do Electric Vehicle Batteries Work?
The energy storage system in electric cars comes in the form of a rechargeable battery. These batteries can hold large amounts of energy in a small space. Current electric vehicle battery technology is designed for extended life (typically about 8-10 years or 100,000 miles). Battery type varies depending on whether a vehicle is all-electric (AEV) or plug-in hybrid electric (PHEV).
The most aggressive fires have involved lithium-based batteries, which can self-ignite and are difficult to extinguish. Manufacturing errors, Joule heating (short circuit & thermal runaway), exposure to extreme heat, or damage to the battery cell wall may lead to fire. A compromised battery may be at an elevated risk for fire when the electric vehicle is parked, not driven or, charging.
Extinguishing Electric Vehicle Fires
Electric vehicle fires can exceed 5,000 degrees Fahrenheit. Applying water or foam may cause a violent eruption as water molecules separate into explosive hydrogen and oxygen gases. FEMA also addresses additional risks of electrical shock, toxic fumes, toxic runoff, and re-ignition.
During an electric vehicle fire, over 100 organic chemicals are generated, including some extremely toxic gases such as carbon monoxide and hydrogen cyanide – both of which are deadly to humans.
Those tasked with extinguishing these fires, whether started in a crash or by defect, are fighting obstacles as well. A report released by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) states that only a quarter of fire departments have dedicated training for fighting these blazes involving electric vehicles. The NTSB began investigating after a series of crashes in which electric vehicle batteries burst into flames after an accident. After a March 23, 2018, accident on a California interstate, a Tesla Model X caught fire twice within 24 hours and then again six days later.
Recent Investigations & Recalls
November 13, 2020: The Chevy Bolt investigation turns recall. 2017-2019 Chevy Bolt EVs are being recalled and Chevrolet states “We will be providing our dealers with a software update beginning November 17, 2020 that will limit the charge for all the vehicles in this population to 90% while we continue to investigate the cause of these incidents.”
October 13, 2020: Safety Recall Report 20V-630 references 10 Hyundai Kona fires. Hyundai suspects defective production of high-voltage batteries used in these vehicles, which may have contributed to fires in parked vehicles.
October 9, 2020: Investigation PE 20-016 references 3 Chevrolet Bolt fires. 2 homeowners reported the fires, 1 of which suffered smoke inhalation injuries. Fires reportedly started under the rear seat in parked vehicles.
October 2020: A potential fire risk may have led Ford to delay the launch of its new Escape PHEV until sometime in 2021. The vehicle has been removed from the EV lineup on the website.
September 30, 2020: Safety Recall Report 20V-601 references 4 BMW hybrid electric vehicle fires. BMW issued a global recall of all 2021 hybrid models due to fire risk. They suspect that debris may have entered one or more of the hybrid battery cells during production.
We Want to Help
If you or someone you love has been injured by an electric car battery fire, it is important to consult with a Jacksonville personal injury attorney who has the experience and resources to vigorously pursue your product liability claim. You may contact me at 904-722-2228 for a complimentary evaluation. We are here to help.