Electrical practice. How many liters of water and how long does it take to put out a burning electric car?

This is a point that is often mentioned, and confirmed by firefighters. Electric vehicles are more complicated to “turn off”. In question, the electrical system of the car. Once on fire, it is more persistent and tends to rekindle. Putting out an electric car fire can be time-consuming and dangerous.

More fires on electrics?

Contrary to popular belief, there is no evidence that electric cars catch fire more often than their thermal equivalent. Studies even tend to prove the opposite. Thus for Tesla, between 2012 to 2018, we know that there was a fire at Tesla for 170 million miles traveled in the United States at the wheel of cars of this brand.

At the same time, and for all American motorists, a vehicle fire occurred every 19 million miles. The risk of fire would therefore be nine times lower driving a Tesla than for all vehicles in circulation, according to the US Department of Transportation.

Firefighters must adapt

Although electric vehicle fires seem to be less frequent, they do require special procedures. A reality that forces firefighters to review the way they work.

Since 2010, several countries have reviewed the training of their firefighters. “The brigades are reviewing their protocols for electric vehicle fires” confirms a firefighter. “It’s a new challenge for the emergency services, especially since hybrid vehicles also have batteries”.

Photo Archives Le DL

Photo Archives Le DL

Less frequent but more delicate fires

According to a firefighter “An electric car fire will always be more complex than for a thermal car. Firefighters know and master the risks associated with electricity, but they are not always prepared for this in a car fire. Be aware that thermal runaway can occur. It will take a lot of water, sometimes more than 30,000 litres, to extinguish this type of fire.” A figure taken from a guide from the manufacturer Tesla for the attention of first aid.

The manufacturers concerned

According to the testimonies of firefighters or automotive professionals, it is not uncommon for the batteries to catch fire again after a few hours or even a few days.

Manufacturers advise monitoring the temperature of the batteries for at least 24 hours after the accident. Last June, in Sacramento, the fire of a Tesla required the construction of a mini-basin to immerse batteries which refused to go out, three weeks after their arrival in a car junkyard.

Automakers seem determined to tackle the problem with first aid training programs on their models. In a GM guide, for example, we can read that many motorists and rescuers forget to turn off the engine because it makes no noise, thus increasing the risk of fire.

Progress to be made

In a report, the American agency in charge of investigating transport accidents (NTSB) in 2020 asked manufacturers of vehicles equipped with lithium-ion batteries to put in place a single protocol intended for rescue, with specific information for each type of battery.

Last June, only eight out of 22 manufacturers had returned their copy. At the same time, General Motors was asking owners of Chevrolet Bolt EVs not to charge them unattended and not to park them indoors. Not enough to reassure motorists.