Electric car fires have really hit the headlines in the UK after the Luton Airport fire. The question is, are electric car fires as bad as some people make out? Or are they the same as a normal car fire.
“Auto Expert John Cadogan” has done an excellent video on the subject and you can see it here.
I’m not going to go over his video in detail, but I am going to highlight some of the key points he made.
Cause of fire irrelevant
He says he gets some pushback from EV evangelists as he calls them, stating that electric car fires are no more common than any car fire. He doesn’t argue this point one way or another, what he does say is that it doesn’t matter.
From his point of view what matters is what happens when an EV catches fire for any reason. Namely there being next to nothing that can be done to put out an EV fire. If you check the link above and here, I go into detail regarding the potential issues of fighting EV fires. From the links I cite in that article, my understanding concurs with John’s. At the moment at least, EV fires have to be left to burn out. Perhaps adding water will keep the temperatures of everything around the fire cooler but the amount of water required is astronomical.
And this is the key of his argument. The fact is things catch fire, however most fires can be put out/controlled, EV fires not so much.
He then goes on to point out the worst-case scenarios.
Fires in underground parking complexes. Letting a fire burn under a shopping mall or under a residential block is undesirable. EV fires burn at higher temperatures than gas/diesel cars which can cause failures of the structure around the fire, again, the Luton Airport fire is an example of this problem. Thankfully the fire in Luton occurred in a free-standing parking structure. From anyone that saw the images, I think it’s easy to imagine what could have happened if it were in an underground parking.
As if the heat and fire control issues were not enough, there is also the poisonous gases and water that come from the fire and fighting the fire. People may not be in danger from the flames themselves but the smoke from the fire will travel. Again, underground parking structures or good forbid car ferry fires would be next to unfightable because of the smoke alone.
Speaking of Car Ferries
John details the case of a car transport which left Germany with new cars. Of the around 3000 cars on the boat/ferry, 500 were apparaently EVs. John says the petrol/diesel cars are not a huge problem because the amount of fuel in each car is minimal. However, every EV will have what? A hundred kilo battery? He states that some cars have batteries weighing as much as 400kg.
With the boat example, again John says what caused the fire is not the issue.
The issue is that the presence of EVs forced the coastguard to simply let the ship burn. If the car had petrol/diesel cars only, perhaps the ships onboard firefighting measures would have been enough. Not so with EVs in the mix, at least at the moment.
With the pictures from Luton, the car insurance industry is being put in a very difficult spot. And not only car insurers but also companies that deal with vehicle eg car parks, car ferries and so on.
Luton showed the absolutely catastrophic financial cost that can be caused by just one vehicle. Who will be paying?
As things stand with Luton, I would assume the insurer of the vehicle will be liable for everything. The collapsed parking building and all of the vehicles affected. I can easily imagine that claim coming to over 30 million pounds.
Going forward I can see the insurance industry covering their backsides if something like this were to happen again. The arse covering coming in the form of “well you let the car park in your establishment, you knew the risks”
And if it gets to this, I think the show is over. Car ferries will ban EVs, shopping malls & residential buildings with parking will ban EVs. Petrol stations will be joining the mix for obvious reasons.
And if it does get to that, who is going to want to park their EV next to their house to charge it? (Also easy to imagine home insurers refusing insurance if the charger is connected to the house or even worse, inside a garage).
And then we could have car insurance companies being held liable for the pollution caused from fighting the fire. Run-off water from the fire entering ground water/rivers etc but let’s not go there.
House of cards
As I’m writing this, I’m starting to get the feeling EVs are a house of cards or a thousand dominos just waiting to fall. As soon as companies start “protecting” their customers/understanding the magnitude of the potential hazard they are taking responsibility for, the dominos will start to fall. If putting an EV on a car ferry becomes viewed as a negligent, we could be looking at a tsunami of arse covering.
Electric Car Fires – “But its not that bad”
Of course, you can say “electric car fires are rare” and “chances of something catastrophic happening is low”. But it’s easy to say when your wallet is not involved as the insurer.