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EV Fire Risk: Are Electric Vehicles More Likely to Catch Fire than Petrol and Diesel Vehicles?

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EV Fire Risk: Are Electric Vehicles More Likely to Catch Fire?

When electric vehicles catch on fire, they will often make it onto the front pages of the news. Warnings from firefighters earlier this year highlighted an issue that many opponents of electric vehicles are often quick to jump on: electric vehicles are at higher risk of catching on fire.

But is there any truth to this statement? Or is there another way of looking at this?

The issue with electric vehicles is not that they are more likely to set on fire, but that putting out an electric vehicle fire is more difficult. In reality, electric vehicles are less likely to catch alight, which should offer some reassurance to electric vehicle owners.

No one wants to think that the car parked in their driveway could be a disaster waiting to happen. So electric vehicle owners might be pleased to know their vehicles are actually safer. The issue lies in how we put out electric vehicle fires when they do go up in flames.

What do the stats say about EV fires?

What do the stats say about EV fires?

When an electric vehicle sets alight, it usually makes the headlines due to the public interest in electric vehicles. But in reality, an electric vehicle is much less likely to set on fire. 

According to one study from the National Transportation Safety Board, electric vehicles were responsible for 25 fires for every 100,000 sold. Contrast this to petrol and hybrid vehicles which were responsible for 1,530 and 3,475 fires for every 100,000 sold, respectively.

The fear is that electric vehicle batteries are unpredictable and more likely to spontaneously combust, but this fear is unfounded. Your electric vehicle is actually far less likely to cause a fire.

You might see stats stating that there has been a sharp increase in fires started by electric vehicles in recent years, but there has also been a sharp increase in the number of electric vehicles on the roads. And the increase in the number of vehicles is higher than the increase in EV fires.

What is the issue with EV fires?

What is the issue with EV fires?

Now we know that electric vehicle fires are more rare, but the issue is in how we put out electric vehicle fires. Fires involving petrol or diesel vehicles might be more common, but they are also more predictable. Firefighters know how to put these fires out to ensure there is no further danger to the public.

However, with electric vehicles, firefighters are concerned that these fires burn for longer, are less predictable, and also remain a risk for longer. There have been cases of fires seeming to be under control and then starting up again once the vehicle is towed away.

When an electric vehicle sets on fire, there is often a dangerous vapour cloud that is released. It often makes a hissing sound and there could even be an explosion. It makes headlines because it is novel and more dramatic. There is also the risk that the car could spontaneously combust again. This has been known to happen hours, days or even weeks after the initial fire.

This is why firefighters have to deal with electric car fires in a very different way. These cars often need to be stored separate from other vehicles until the risk that they could ignite again has been neutralised. 

Firefighters are responding to this threat with new protocols and additional training. Firefighters are being taught to quickly identify the make and model of an electric vehicle so they can identify where the battery and isolation switches are located. This will allow them to quickly direct attention to avoiding allowing the battery to overheat and ignite.

They are also developing new protocols for dealing with electric vehicle fires. This includes using fire blankets to protect crews from the toxic vapour clouds and using large amounts of water to cool the battery. A fire engine will also follow the towing vehicle back to a safe site to help deal with any recurrence of the initial breakout. 

Should I avoid an electric vehicle because of this risk?

Should I avoid an electric vehicle because of this risk?

It might sound daunting to read about toxic vapour clouds and vehicles spontaneously catching on fire weeks after a collision, but the reality is that your EV is much less likely to catch on fire than an internal combustion engine vehicle. In fact, your electric car is 20 times less likely to set on fire than an ICE vehicle.

As these vehicles become more commonplace on the roads, we can expect fire departments to become more savvy at identifying these vehicles when they are involved in collisions and taking action to help prevent more catastrophic outcomes. In many ways, an electric vehicle should feel more safe, as you aren’t driving around with a tank of flammable liquid.

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