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Understanding fire risk in electric cars

We all know that gasoline is highly flammable. If your gasoline-powered car starts on fire, you need to evacuate quickly, because the flames are going to be big and grow fast. But what about with electric cars? Is there a similar risk of fire, and how does it differ from fire in other cars?

According to Tesla—one of the leading makers of electric cars—such vehicles are about 11 times less likely to catch fire than their gasoline-powered counterparts. However, just like cell phones, laptops and any other device containing a battery, fire is a possibility.

How do electric vehicle fires happen?

With cars running on fuel, fires typically happen while the car is running. Gasoline comes into contact with something hot inside the vehicle, gets exposed to oxygen and bursts into flames. The fire is virtually instantaneous.

With battery fires, however, the process is a bit different. A battery may sustain damage (e.g., from a car crash) or have a shirt circuit, which the driver may not even realize. These types of conditions will cause the battery to generate heat, which could ultimately result in a fire—but it could take some time for the fire to ignite.

From a safety perspective, this may seem like an advantage—since it would allow vehicle occupants more time to evacuate the vehicle if a fire occurs. However, there is also the risk that a fire could ignite when no one is operating the car at all—when it is parked in your garage overnight, for example. The implications of such a scenario could be disastrous.

Finally, extinguishing battery fires offers other unique challenges. It can take as much as 24 hours for a battery fire to be completely put out.

If you have suffered injury or property damage due to a car fire, it’s important to consult with an experienced personal injury attorney to understand your recourse.