It seems whenever an electric vehicle catches fire it is reported in the media. Possibly because in Australia electric vehicles are relatively rare.
But “there’s less risk of an EV catching fire than a petrol car”, says Eric Rodda, the South Australian spokesman for the Australian Electric Vehicle Association.
Negative spin is not deterring Australians, with sales of EV vehicles “going crazy” according to Mr Rodda.
There was a record number of EV vehicles registered in May 2023, with 8124 registrations. Year to date sales totalled 32,050, a staggering increase of 275.2 per cent over 2022 sales.
Tesla’s Model 3 sedan remains Australia’s most popular EV vehicle in May 203, with 8124 registrations.
Electric vehicle sales increased by 778.3 per cent compared to May 2022, according to WhichCar?
This week, BYD releases the cheapest EV ever seen in Australia – the Dolphin hatchback. This vehicle is already open to pre-orders and is expected to be a big seller.
EVDirect managing director Luke Todd is quoted by Drive as saying the BYD Dolphin would be “well under $35,000 plus on-road costs”. But that was in 2021, and given inflation the price could be higher. More details on the Dolphin will be announced at the launch on 22 June.
According to Drive, the all-time cheapest electric vehicle in Australia was a batch of 50 BYD T3 vans which sold for under $40,000, plus on-road costs.
Fire records by vehicle type
A recent study by US insurer, AutoinsuranceEZ found that hybrid cars had the worst fire record, while EVs were the least likely type of car to catch fire.
Hybrid cars had 3474.5 fires per 100,000 sale; petrol cars had 1,529.9 fires per 100,000 sales and EVs had just 25.1 fires per 100,000 sales.
The primary cause of fires in EVs are batteries, according to AutoinsuranceEZ.
There were 82,000 Hyundai Kona EVs in a fire risk recall in the US because of the battery. A fire risk recall of the Chevrolet Bolt EV entailed 70,000 vehicles. And what about hybrid recalls because of battery problems? There were 27,600 Chrysler Pacifica vehicles recalled because of fire risk. And a total of 4500 vehicles recalled for battery issues being a fire risk among the following range of vehicle types: the BMW 530e, xDrive30e, Mini Cooper Countryman AII4 SE, i8, 330e, 745Le xDrive and X5xDrive45e.
Electric car fires
So, although EVs catch fire far less frequently than hybrid or petrol cars when they do, it’s a different type of fire due to lithium-ion batteries, AutoinsuranceEZ reported. EV fires are significantly harder to put out, and firefighters need special training to do so. This is because the lithium-ion batteries are essentially a fuel source so the fire can burn for hours and be very difficult for firefighters to cool down. Over-charging and high temperatures are risks for lithium-ion battery fires.
Tips to prevent battery fires in EV vehicles
One of the main triggers for battery fires is high temperatures. This is of great importance in Australia with extreme summer temperatures. If an EV battery is exposed to extreme temperatures then exothermic reactions can get triggered and generate more heat. Also, charging at high temperatures can lead to a gas generation that can ultimately lead to the car catching fire.
It is advised to avoid parking in direct sunlight or leaving your EV in hot surroundings. Keep batteries in cool, dry areas with adequate ventilation.
The EV should be unplugged before the battery is at full capacity. It is also dangerous for battery health to leave it completely drained. Batteries should be charged when they are between 20-80 per cent capacity.
Damage from the road
Potholes, rocks, or other debris from the road can be very dangerous for batteries with side impacts or underside punctures posing a great threat. Batteries should be taken immediately to a qualified electrician.
Let the EV cool down
Don’t start charging as soon as the car stops because the lithium-ion battery is very hot. Let the system cool down before you plug it in.
Information provided by Saur Energy International