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Are Electric Vehicles More Likely to Catch Fire?

Are Electric Vehicles More Likely to Catch Fire?

Are you considering buying an electric vehicle? If so, you’re probably curious about how safe they are. After all, if you’re going to spend tens of thousands of dollars on a car in the name of efficiency, you don’t want to worry about things like electrical fires.

So, how common are EV fires? Will switching from a gas vehicle to an electric vehicle increase your safety risk? 

In this article, we aim to answer these questions and more by exploring the hard facts about electric vehicles and whether or not there’s any truth behind these fears. 

Let’s dive in. 

What Is an Electric Vehicle? 

An electrical vehicle (EV) has an electric motor instead of a combustion engine. Therefore, instead of relying on gasoline or diesel to power your car, your vehicle runs off electricity stored in its batteries. These battery packs are located underneath the main part of the vehicle and made up of lithium-ion cells. You must plug the vehicle into an electric outlet for a certain amount of time to charge these cells. 

Other important components of an electric vehicle include the electric traction motor, the power electronics controller, an AC/DC converter, and a thermal cooling system. These parts work together to create a driving experience that’s very different from combustion engines: quiet, comfortable, and economical. But how often do they catch on fire? 

How Common Are EV Fires? 

Thankfully, EV fires are rare. According to a study by AutoinsuranceEZ, fully electric vehicles have only a .03% chance of catching fire, while an internal combustion vehicle has a 1.5% chance. Surprisingly, hybrid vehicles (which have internal combustion and battery power) are the highest risk of all at 3.4%. 

And while electric vehicle fires don’t happen very often, they’re very difficult to put out. Lithium batteries are subject to a phenomenon called thermal runaway, which is essentially a chain reaction of extremely hot combustion within the batteries. Because of the chemical makeup of the batteries, these fires are hard to get under control and can even burn for days.

Electric vehicle on fire in road.
Complicated electrical systems can make EVs more likely to catch on fire.

Can Electric Cars Catch on Fire While Charging?

The unfortunate answer to this question is yes. In the past, EVs have definitely caught on fire while charging. In fact, in the summer of 2021, Chevrolet recalled over 60,000 of the Bolt EVs for this exact problem. However, what’s most important to know is why EVs catch on fire

Number one, the battery pack may not have been manufactured correctly. Two, the software that operates the Battery Management System (BMS) didn’t have a good design. Or three, the battery pack became damaged in some way. 

As you can see, all three reasons have to do with the function of the battery pack. Thankfully, these instances are rare and usually caught early. What’s more, battery technology and safety are constantly improving. So, in theory, these occurrences should become very rare. 

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How Many Electric Cars Catch Fire Per Year?

There were 322,000 fully electric vehicles sold in 2020. Considering the rate of fire per 100,000 sold (which is 25 per 100,000), this means that there were less than 100 EV fires in 2020. Compare this to the 170,000 highway vehicle fires in America per year, and it’s easy to see how rare EV fires actually are. 

Electric vehicle on fire while driving at night.
Electric vehicle fires are rare, but can still occur.

How Many Teslas Have Exploded?

You may have heard about Teslas spontaneously combusting in the news, but when you look at the numbers, you realize that the hype is just that – hype. In reality, there were only 60 Tesla-related fires between 2013 and 2021. And while one explosion is too many, Telsa fires are incredibly rare compared to gasoline-powered vehicles and hybrids. 

Pro Tip: Unsure if an electric RV is the right option for you? These are 5 Reasons to Avoid Electric RVs.

More Myth Than Fact

So, is there any truth to what you hear on the news? Well, sort of. The reality is that EVs do catch on fire occasionally, and it usually has something to do with the battery malfunctioning. Nevertheless, EV fires happen much less frequently than fires from internal combustion vehicles and hybrids. So why does it seem like we hear about them more? 

Well, these fully electric vehicles are relatively new on the scene, and when novelty is a factor, these occurrences tend to get reported more often. This, therefore, creates the illusion that EV fires are happening more often than they really are. 

Are Electric Vehicles Dangerous?

Electric vehicles are no more dangerous than typical gas- and diesel-engine vehicles. In fact, statistics show that they’re probably a lot safer. Yes, they do carry a ton of energy-dense power under their carriage, but EVs are the highest battery technology there is. This includes a BMS that constantly monitors its function and many safety features. So, should safety concerns stop you from buying an EV? We definitely don’t think so!

What do you think? Are EVs dangerous? Tell us in the comments!

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