They call it ‘Testla’, a $60,000 car among six electric vehicles to catch fire in Australia that could become key in dealing with future battery blazes.

Hundreds of fire investigators tuned in to watch a video of the burnt-out Tesla Model 3 being taken apart, after the automaker donated it to an agency tracking and investigating EV fires in Australia.

Industry experts say while research into fighting car fires is vital, the risk of electric vehicle blazes remains seriously overblown in Australia as they are significantly less likely to experience issues than diesel or petrol cars.

Researchers at EV FireSafe received the gutted vehicle from Tesla after it was destroyed in an accident on the Hume Highway near Goulburn, NSW in September 2023.

The electric car was hit by debris from a truck, causing significant damage and a fire that took the Penrose Rural Fire Brigade more than half an hour to extinguish.

Although the fire’s cause seemed obvious, examining the wreck provided important information for fire authorities, EV FireSafe chief executive Emma Sutcliffe says.

“We thought we knew what had caused the battery fire – you’ve got an 18kg chunk of steel there so that’s a clue,” she said.

“But once we got it up on the hoist, we could confirm that was the cause of the thermal runaway because we could see the impact point and where the tail shaft had torn open a module.

“It wasn’t a random event.”

A closer examination showed the car’s base plate had melted and 95 per cent of the battery pack had burnt out, she said, which limited the risk of a secondary ignition.

Having access to the vehicle also allowed EV FireSafe to demonstrate to emergency responders how to safely handle a damaged electric vehicle, and to pass the wreck on to the Victorian Country Fire Authority to cut it open and learn how their tools worked on a Tesla.

“This poor car, I feel so sorry for her,” Ms Sutcliffe told AAP.

“She was burnt then we pulled her apart, now she’s in about 50 pieces in a yard in eastern Melbourne.”

But while teaching firefighters how to deal with electric vehicle fires will be a focus for the agency in future, Ms Sutcliffe said incidents remain “very rare”.

The agency has recorded six electric car fires in Australia since 2010, all of which occurred after their battery packs were damaged.

One vehicle was deliberately lit, another caught fire in a collision, while three more burnt when the area in which they were parked caught fire.

Electric Vehicle Council energy and infrastructure head Ross De Rango says the small number of incidents do not match the “fear-mongering” from some commentators, and the statistics prove electric cars are safer than traditional motors.

“If we look at the annual reports from Fire Rescue NSW, they roll out to about 2500 petrol and diesel vehicle fires every year,” he said.

“The relative rates of these vehicle fires are such that EVs catch fire about one-tenth to one-twentieth as often as petrol and diesel vehicles.”

Mr De Rango says some fear around electric vehicle fires may have come from people confusing the rates of car fires with that of e-scooters and e-bikes, even though they were very different in quality and regulation.

While electric scooters and bikes can be purchased cheaply online from little-known brands, and were not subject to regulations, all registered vehicles had to abide by strict rules.

“A road-registered vehicle is regulated not just at the time of construction or at the time of importation … but all the way through its life cycle,” Mr De Rango said.

“If it becomes apparent to the (manufacturer) that there is an issue with the vehicle that merits a recall … that recall is executed.”

Allianz emerging risks manager Chris Wood says the insurance firm recently compiled data from 183 fire claims involving lithium-ion batteries.

E-scooters, e-bikes and e-skateboards were the vehicles most commonly involved in fires, and incidents occurred most often in apartments, on carpet, in laundry and kitchen areas, and in children’s bedrooms.

But he says Allianz has very little information on electric vehicle fire claims for one very good reason.

“What you won’t see on that list are electric vehicles,” he said.

“In fact, we haven’t had an electric vehicle fire claim at Allianz, nor have we had one for an electric vehicle charger.”

Strata Community Insurance technical director David Ellis says insurance companies were still working out how to create new “risk profiles” for the use of electric vehicles, but information about potential dangers remained low simply because there have not been many fires.

“If it does take longer to extinguish an EV fire … and it’s in an underground car park, it may increase the level of damage and may limit or restrict access for fire services as well,” he said.

“Most insurers are still trying to work out how to manage our way through this process.”

Extracted in full from:  https://thedriven.io/2024/03/03/burned-out-tesla-provide-clues-on-how-to-deal-with-ev-and-battery-fires/

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