Millions of vehicles from a variety of manufacturers are currently under recall for risk of catching fire, which can cause property damage and tragic loss of life. The most newsworthy recalls of late are electric vehicles, specifically some Tesla, Chevy, and Hyundai car models. Between past recalls, ongoing recalls, and future recalls sure to come, you may be concerned that your own car might burst into flames at any moment.
A recent study from insurance experts AutoinsuranceEZ.com might have some answers. Researchers posed the question, “Are electric vehicles more prone to car fires than gas or hybrid vehicles?” Using data collected and analyzed from sources including the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), Bureau of Transportation Statistics (BTS), and government recall data from Recalls.gov, researchers broke down incidents of car fires by vehicle and fuel type.
After crunching car fire statistics and sales data, the authors of the study found that hybrids actually have more fires per 100K sales, with:
- Hybrid vehicles: 3,474 fires per 100K sales
- Gas vehicles: 1,529 fires per 100K sales
- Electric vehicles: 25 fires per 100K sales
Although electric vehicles (EVs) may not catch fire as often as other vehicles, when they do catch fire, they can be extremely difficult to extinguish and cause much more damage. This has to do with the battery, which we’ll talk about more in a moment.
As you’ll see below, when hybrid and EVs are recalled for fire risks, battery issues are almost always the cause. Using data from 2020, researchers compared fire risk recalls for all three types of vehicles (gas, hybrid, and electric). Ten different hybrid and electric vehicles recalled that year all suffered from defective battery issues, including the:
- Hyundai Kona
- Chevrolet Bolt EV
- Chrysler Pacifica
- BMW 530e, xDrive30e, Mini Cooper Countryman All4 SE, i8, 330e, 745Le xDrive, & X5 xDrive45e
Fire risk recalls for gas vehicles, on the other hand, cited issues like electrical shorts, fuel leaks, or braking systems – but not batteries.
Why do defective batteries cause car fires?
Electric vehicles use lithium-ion batteries as their fuel source. This means, unlike gas, once an EV catches fire, it can continue burning for hours. Axel Hernborg, CEO of Tripplo, told AutoInsuranceEZ:
“Electric automobiles catch fire less frequently than gasoline-powered cars, but the duration and intensity of the fires can make them considerably more difficult to put out due to the use of lithium-ion battery packs. Lithium-ion batteries are notoriously difficult to keep cool. Even after appearing to be turned off for 24 hours, the batteries can generate enough heat to re-ignite.”
Batteries can ignite from high temperatures or overcharging – but they’re not supposed to. Complicating this problem is the fact that because EVs are still relatively new, some fire departments aren’t familiar with how to put out these types of fires. Even when an EV fire appears extinguished, because the battery provides a prolonged source of energy and fuel, it can reignite hours later.
One expert advises vehicle owners in the report, “Ensure you have all recalls taken care of. You want to ensure the vehicle has no damage, especially near the lithium battery. Watch for red flags with charging issues, such as your battery not holding a charge or draining faster than normal.”
What should I do if my vehicle catches fire?
Be alert for early warning signs that your vehicle may be in trouble. Remember, where there’s smoke, there’s fire. Signs that something is wrong include a sudden drop in oil or fuel levels, extreme engine temperature changes, burning smells or smoke coming from the vents or engine, popping fuses, or other warning signs. Red flags for EVs include your battery failing to hold a charge or draining faster than usual.
If your vehicle does catch fire, whether while parked or as the result of a car crash, your first priority is to get away from the vehicle as soon as possible. Attempting to extinguish it on your own could result in severe burns or other serious injuries. Call the fire department, especially in the case of an EV fire, to ensure the fire is completely extinguished.
Can I take legal action if my car catches on fire?
In some cases, yes. If your vehicle caught fire because of a defective part, like a faulty battery, you are likely eligible to file a lawsuit against the manufacturer under product liability law. This legal action can help recover compensation for the losses you suffered as a result of the fire – whether you experienced injuries, the destruction of your vehicle, or a car accident caused by the defective part.
Car manufacturers must be held liable when they put unsafe vehicles on the market and people suffer injuries. If this happened to you, an experienced attorney can help you take action. At Larson Law Firm, P.C., our attorneys can help hold these companies accountable and work to secure compensation for your losses. Call us today at 701-484-HURT, or complete the contact form to schedule a free consultation. We serve clients in and around Minot, Fargo, and Bismarck.
Mark Larson is a Certified Civil Trial Specialist and Certified Civil Pre-Trial Specialist focusing on personal injury, motor vehicle, wrongful death, and oil field claims. Since 1979, Larson Law Firm has served the injured throughout North Dakota. Read more about Mark V. Larson