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Summary
  • Electric vehicles are less likely to catch fire compared to gas and hybrid vehicles.
  • Electric car fires are often caused by thermal runaways and damaged or defective batteries.
  • Some of the best ways to prevent electric car fires include charging your battery responsibly, parking in cool and dry areas, and using compatible chargers.

Fires from electric vehicles (EVs) are more dangerous than the ones caused by gas-powered vehicles because they’re much harder to put out. Conventional fire extinguishers can’t kill electric car fires because the oxidizers in the battery feed the flames with a steady source of oxygen. This led to the belief that electric vehicles are more susceptible to catching fire.

But is this a fact or a myth?

Are Electric Cars More Susceptible to Catching Fire?

No, EVs are not more prone to fires compared to their gas-fueled and hybrid counterparts.

It’s worth mentioning that vehicles powered by electricity are only 0.03% likely to catch fire. This risk is significantly less likely than gas-powered vehicles and hybrid vehicles, which have a 1.5% chance and a 3.4% chance of catching fire respectively.

The caveat is that EVs do catch fire, and when they do, the fire is a lot harder to put out than other types of car fires. Some people have lost their houses because their EV caught fire while they left it charging in the garage. But it’s not as common as it would seem.

The caveat is that EVs do catch fire, and when they do, the fire is a lot harder to put out than other types of car fires.

– Richard McCuistian, ASE Certified Master Automobile Technician

What Causes Electric Cars to Catch Fire?

The chances of a lithium-ion battery catching fire are low, but never zero. That’s why it’s important to familiarize yourself with the things that can ignite EVs.

See also  What Is EV Mode? (Plus Other Unique Hybrid EV Features)

Thermal Runaways

The most common cause of electric car fires is thermal runaways, which happen when the heat generated within a battery exceeds the heat it dissipates. The lithium-ion battery overheats and the heat spreads toward other batteries, causing a domino effect that can end in a fire.

Separating an overheating battery from its power source and isolating it from all the other batteries are effective ways to avoid thermal runaways.

battery modules from a 2021 ford lightning
Battery modules from a 2021 Ford Lightning. | Image Source: Richard McCuistian

Damaged or Defective Batteries

diagram bottom of most electric vehicles is the battery compartment
The bottom of most electric vehicles is the battery compartment (see diagram of Tesla battery location), and it is flooded with coolant that is circulated by pumps through heat exchangers to keep the battery cool. If something in the road, like a piece of rebar, breaches the battery compartment, the coolant will be lost and the batteries in the unit will overheat very rapidly and will typically catch fire. | Image Source: Richard McCuistian

EV batteries that have been damaged in traffic accidents need to be carefully inspected after getting into an accident.

In some unfortunate cases, the lithium-ion batteries used in an electric car can be defective. Defective batteries aren’t as stable and are more vulnerable to overheating. This can result in nigh-uncontrollable battery fires caused by thermal runaways.

How to Prevent Electric Car Fires

If you own an electric vehicle or plan on buying one, keep the following tips in mind to prevent it from catching fire.

Make Sure You Know Where to Put the Jack When Raising One

illustration battery can be damaged to the point of causing a fire if you arent careful using a floor jack or lift
The battery can be damaged to the point of causing a fire if you aren’t careful using a floor jack or lift (see illustration of Tesla Y). | Image Source: Richard McCuistian

Charge Your Vehicle Responsibly

Don’t overcharge your EV to avoid damaging its battery and increase the risk of electric car fires.

At the same time, don’t charge it immediately after driving. Wait at least 10-15 minutes to give the battery time to cool down to reduce the risk of a thermal runaway. Those few minutes will help ensure that the battery’s internal temperature is stable.

See also  How Long Do Hybrid Batteries Last? Tips On Operation and Replacement

Doing so can prolong the life of your electric car and minimize the risks of it catching fire.

Park in Cool, Dry Areas

Avoid parking under the sun and in humid spaces because these conditions can negatively impact your EV’s battery.

Too much sun exposure can cause the vehicle’s temperature to rise, making it more likely for the engine to overheat or catch fire.

Meanwhile, humid areas can cause batteries to absorb moisture, resulting in swelling and venting. They also make electric engines more vulnerable to corrosion, and damaged engines are more prone to thermal runaways.

Take Care of Your Car Battery

Another effective way to prevent electric car fires is to bring your vehicle to an auto repair shop for maintenance and inspection at least once every two years. A mechanic can replace old or malfunctioning parts to minimize the risk of thermal runaways.

Similarly, if you get into an accident with your electric car, it’s a good idea to have it inspected by a professional, especially if your car battery starts malfunctioning. If the battery charges slowly and drains quickly, it might be damaged.

Use Compatible Chargers

Incompatible chargers can’t provide enough charge or supply too much, and both can cause electrical issues that can lead to lithium-ion battery fires.

In other words, batteries charged by incompatible chargers are more likely to deteriorate and sustain permanent damage.

Frequently Asked Questions About Electric Car Fires

Here are the answers to some of the most commonly asked questions concerning electric car fires.

How Many Electric Cars Catch Fire Every Year?

Approximately 4,125 electric cars catch fire across the globe annually, which is a significantly smaller figure than the figures for gas cars, which is around 284,130. Most of these fires occurred while the vehicle was charging.

ev fire is much harder to put out than a conventional vehicle fire
But again, when EVs do catch fire, they’re much harder to put out than a conventional vehicle fire. The photo here is of a Hyundai Sonata (not EV or Hybrid) that caught fire and was extinguished very quickly by the fire department. While this car was totaled, it didn’t take much water to put out the fire. | Image Source: Richard McCuistian

Can you use a conventional fire extinguisher on a fire caused by an electric car?

Foam and water are ineffective at stopping electric car fires, meaning conventional fire extinguishers won’t work on them.

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While foam can stop fires from a gas-powered vehicle, it’s not as effective against a fire caused by a lithium-ion battery, which creates hydrogen gas when doused with water. This makes the flame even stronger and more difficult to put out.

Do electric car battery fires need oxygen to sustain them?

Unlike gas fires, electric car battery fires are self-sustaining and don’t require external oxygen to stay lit. This is because lithium-ion batteries come with their own oxidizers that continuously release oxygen at certain temperatures. It’s why battery fires are extremely difficult to put out.

Where to Get Replacement Parts for Your Electric Vehicle

Electric vehicles have different components compared to gas vehicles, so it’s important to know where to get replacement parts in case any of them break or malfunction. Fortunately, finding auto parts designed to work with your electric car is easy with the help of CarParts.com.

The best part? You can get your hands on some replacement parts without leaving your house. Simply use your mobile device or computer to visit our website. Use our vehicle selector and input your vehicle’s details to narrow down the catalog.

We source our auto parts from some of the most trusted manufacturers in the industry. Every item in our catalog is vetted by a team of professionals to guarantee both quality and longevity. You won’t have to worry about your new parts failing you any time soon.

Don’t hold out on replacing faulty or malfunctioning parts. Get replacements that are built to last now by visiting CarParts.com.

About The Authors
Written By Automotive and Tech Writers

The CarParts.com Research Team is composed of experienced automotive and tech writers working with (ASE)-certified automobile technicians and automotive journalists to bring up-to-date, helpful information to car owners in the US. Guided by CarParts.com's thorough editorial process, our team strives to produce guides and resources DIYers and casual car owners can trust.

Reviewed By Technical Reviewer at CarParts.com

Richard McCuistian has worked for nearly 50 years in the automotive field as a professional technician, an instructor, and a freelance automotive writer for Motor Age, ACtion magazine, Power Stroke Registry, and others. Richard is ASE certified for more than 30 years in 10 categories, including L1 Advanced Engine Performance and Light Vehicle Diesel.

Any information provided on this Website is for informational purposes only and is not intended to replace consultation with a professional mechanic. The accuracy and timeliness of the information may change from the time of publication.

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