Tesla car fire in Shanghai China in the news

I heard about this on the radio news today. I don’t think it is known for a fact this incident actually happened as shown; but apparently Tesla corporation is investigating.


Spontaneous automotive combustion. It will be very interesting to see why this happened.

Phones, then hoverboards and now EVs.
Until someone develops a new generation technology that prevents thermal runaway in LiON cells, I will not have one of these anywhere near my house.

I read a while back there is R&D going on for next generation solutions. I saw this recently about a technology that could help stop existing packs from going up in flames. I’m not sure I agree with the 1 in a billion is too many position, but the technology element described is interesting-

It seems that we aren’t out of the woods as far as fires are concerned in battery powered vehicles as opposed to fossil fuel powered vehicles. Maybe Fred Flintstone drove the vehicle less likely to have a fire. Unfortunately, his car didn’t seem to be equipped with airbags or even seatbelts or shoulder harnesses.
As far as fires are concerned, I think more home fires are caused by electrical overloads than by gas. Yet, I have friends that would not have gas piped into there houses. I would venture a guess that more vehicle fires are a result of an electrical problem than a fuel problem.

That very well could be true. However, although the condo building/community I’m in as I’m writing this is not age restricted (not a 55 and older place), we do have several older folks living here. I made sure there was absolutely no gas being supplied to this building before I bought the place.

We have all kinds of fire/smoke alarms, automatic sprinklers, monitoring by the fire department, inspections, etcetera. We are to use one of two stairways, rather than the elevators if an alarm sounds. So, if there is an electrical fire, I’m fairly confident I can safely evacuate.

What I didn’t want is for some old codger to leave some gas on somewhere and go to bed causing a build up nd subsequent explosion. There’s something about waking up dead on the grass outside, five stories below, after being blown through a wall, that would ruin ones whole day.

I think it’s interesting that a car fire in an electric car results in people saying “electric cars are dangerous.” But a car fire in a gas-powered car results in people saying “there must have been something wrong with that car.”

If a burning Tesla means we should be wary of electric cars in general, doesn’t a burning Chevy mean the same thing for ICE cars?

At any rate, I’ve learned over the years to take stories like this with a very big grain of salt until investigations are carried out. This could have been a defect in the Tesla. Or it could have been the result of damage done to this particular Tesla (no one blames gas cars if you go off-roading in one and rupture a fuel line on a boulder). Or it could have been a sabotage campaign.

That last sounds like a whackjob conspiracy theory until you realize that Tesla already got a restraining order against one of the people trying to sabotage their company in order to make money short-selling their stock.

Until more facts are known, I’m not going to form an opinion as to the safety of Teslas, though I will note that I see probably 10 every day, and if they were inherently dangerous you’d think I’d have seen at least one of them on fire by now. :wink:

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I used to be a smoker. I always had a cigarette lighter in my pocket and it never caused me a problem. However, I was replacing smoke detector batteries at the church I attend. I put one of the 9 volt batteries I had removed in my pocket. The terminals of the battery came in contact with some coins in my pocket, and I suddenly felt something very hot. I almost set my pants on fire. Isn’t this proof that fossil fuels are safer than electricity?

Agree with @shadowfax, let’s see where this goes. Might be some accessory installed in the car with a self drilling screw throught the battery casing!

The run-away burn is a real problem with Li-ion as @TwinTurbo points out.

A punctured fuel tank can also cause a runaway fire but we are comfortable with that risk after 134 years of gas powered cars.

Because of these EV fires, I suppose an alternate means of propulsion, an alternative to electricity, could be devised for vehicles.

Perhaps a much safer vehicle could utilize some form of volatile and /or explosive liquid or gas for propulsion and carry it in the vehicle, 10, 20, or 30 gallons at a time.
What could possibly go wrong with that? :thinking:

Oh, wait!
I believe those vehicles are already on our roads and in our garages. :dizzy_face:



It looks like there are about 80,000 car fires per year in ICE engines. Sure the numbers will grow as the electric car percentage of the market increases, Not doom and gloom in my mind. Fire departments are getting training in dealing with an electric car fire.

And they’re downright safe next to LiPo, which I had to learn a whole lot about when I got a device that uses that tech.

There’s definitely an element of risk with high-potential batteries, but from what I’ve seen, most of the danger comes from bad design (in which case we’d see a lot more EV fires), abusing the battery by charging/discharging it improperly, or damaging the battery. The first two, I would hazard to guess, are unlikely to be a widespread problem because if it were, a lot more Teslas would have burned by now (the software should be preventing charger abuse).

The third is something we need to sit down and think about. If I’m driving along and I run over a piece of debris in the road, and it makes a loud bang under my car, I’ll be concerned for a little bit, but if I don’t see gas leaking out of the tank, or other evidence that there is damage, I’ll probably forget about it by the end of the drive.

That may not be something we can afford to do with EVs, especially since they put their batteries right at the bottom. But how do we know what kind of impact is enough that we need to bring the car in to be looked at?

And I know that Tesla, at least, has titanium skid plates protecting the 1/4 inch of aluminum that sits under batteries to protect them, so in theory it should be fairly hard to get battery damage just from regular underbody impacts, which makes it even harder to judge how we’d figure out if there was damage to the packs.

I’m not sure who is saying that but to me, there is a big difference between the two, especially if we’re limiting it to energy source used to propel the car. A gas tank cannot self ignite. it takes two failures to cause a fire. A LiON battery can self ignite and go into thermal runaway. Latent issues in the construction of the pack(s) or subsequent damage can both lead to failure at an undetermined point in time.

Leaking gas tanks take quite a while to develop into an inferno or pressure release blast. All the while, the electricity powering the car is likely unaffected. LiON cells progress much more rapidly and, when used as the main power source for the car, the electronics are typically affected. I’m not a fear monger but the potential for being trapped in one of these cars is much higher than a gasoline powered car.

The probability of either developing a major failure like this is fairly low but not equal. I have two engineering degrees and understand most of the aspects at play. Until I see more statistically relevant sample sizes in use, and built under what I would define as normal production circumstances, I will remain leery of them and would avoid parking one in my attached garage…

I don’t really disagree with anything you said. But I would say that normal car fires can and often do result from things other than fuel. The second most common cause of car fires is the plain old 12v electrical system. The gas has nothing to do with it beyond maybe catching fire after the rest of the car is already burning.

At the end of the day, if my car is burning to the ground, I guess I don’t care if the fire started in a lithium battery or in a circuit powered by a lead-acid one. :wink:

But like I said, I’m neither defending nor attacking Tesla here. We don’t know the circumstances that caused this fire, but we do know that, literally, millions of people have lithium-battery-powered devices in their houses. If the technology were that inherently dangerous, reason dictates that there would be a lot more fires.

Remember Samsung/Sony/Apple phones going in flames?
They pushed the battery capacity/weight ratio to the dangerous limits, so the risk was elevated.
Later the technology was adjusted and problem seem to become much less severe.
Electric cars have the same dilemma: you have to have the least weight and the most of capacity, so the ratio also getting close to the current technology limits to stay competitive.
Give it time and batteries will likely get improved from what we see today, but it will not help the early adopters.

In automobiles a FIREWALL is a very literal description.

EV safety side-benefits ? (Hint: It’s not just an occasional vehicle fire here and there.)

Don’t forget that when comparing relative safety of EV (electric vehicle) with ICE (internal combustion engine) modes of propulsion, one has to consider the volume of gasoline that gets transported to support the ICE vehicles. As EVs become a larger percentage of all the cars on the road it seems that the volume of transported gasoline will decrease, proportionately.

Every year there are people injured or killed by burning fuel transported by trucks/trains and how is it even possible to quantify the numbers killed or injured, by spilled fuel, leaking pipelines, or leaking stationary tanks, seeping into ground water? Just saying…

P.S. Yikes! I’m starting to sound like one of those Environmental Wackos.:woozy_face:
I must be evolving.

Phones don’t have cooling systems, but EVs do, precisely because of the power density. This won’t help if a short causes cells to bleed charge continuously, but under normal circumstances, the battery will be at a safe temperature when the car is stopped.

From what I’ve read recently, battery manufacturers are working on the technology providing the thermal run-away “arrest”, preventing the cell[s] with short from heating other elements around above 100 Celsius, effectively containing the failure in a safe way.

That’s a mystery for me how it happened that this idea did not occur in Tesla’s engineers’ heads.

Apparently the likelihood of this type of fire is pretty small, otherwise, they might have done something already. This did not occur on an operating vehicle. The car was parked when the fire started. Under operation, the cooling system would have removed heat from the battery, making a fire much less likely. If the only time a fire might occur is when the car isn’t running, that implies it is vacant and no one could be trapped inside. If no one is injured, then the cost is only to replace the car, not deal with personal injury.

I’m not suggesting this is a good idea, just mentioning it is a possible reason for not spending more on failsafe systems. Further, Teslas in my area are most likely kept in a garage. If they catch fire in an attached garage, the house, its contents, and the residents could go up in flames, too.

I generally agree with you, just thinking out loud.

EV battery has a potential of a runaway reaction from a small failure, unlike ICE vehicles.

In nuclear reactors it is also a similar positive self-reinforcement loopback, and multiple failsafes are there to break the loop.

missing to address this dangerous self-reinforcement loop, even with low chances to be triggered, what I think is a great omission on engineers side.