Despite sentiments strong enough to convince a condo association in Colorado to ban EVs in their parking garage due to the “constant fire hazards” around EVs, the fact remains that electric car fires in general, and Tesla fires in particular, are incredibly rare.
The idea of having your car suddenly catch on fire in the garage is certainly terrifying, and I’ve had a few friends address their own concerns with me. This prompted me to do some more research. So, how spontaneous are these Tesla fires anyway? And as a follow-up, how spontaneous are EV fires?
Real Data re: Tesla Fires
As many of you know, there’s are some very vocal groups of Tesla critics/haters, particularly on Twitter, and some of them operate the website “Tesla Fires,” where they have meticulously listed each incident of a Tesla catching on fire.
Now, having been bullied online by some of the people in these groups, you may find it odd that I’m referring to their list of fires, but it’s actually pretty detailed and useful at debunking some of the Tesla-related FUD and misinformation they are spreading, especially the fire-related incidents.
A quick look at the above list shows a total of 60 fire-related Tesla incidents from 2013 through 2021. That’s a range of 8 years. The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) found that in 2018, a total of 212,500 vehicle fires caused 560 civilian deaths in the US. Yes, there were Tesla fire-related incidents in 2018 — six, according to that list provided by the Tesla critics. Six, that is, if you count the NTSB links they used that goes to a page not found. And, sadly, yes, there were some incidents in the 2018 time period that contributed to a couple of deaths mentioned in the NFPA’s statistics.
All of these incidents are tragic, especially when lives are lost, but let’s face the facts: these incidents are being used by both the critics and their supporters in the media to spread misinformation about Tesla. This information doesn’t benefit the families of those who died or those who survived but are left without their car. They are being used.
If you zoom in and look at the details, you can clearly see that those deaths didn’t come from spontaneous fires, which is what this article is addressing.
How Often Do Spontaneous Fires Occur?
The NFPA reported that on average, there are around 14,070 fires annually that are caused by spontaneous combustion or chemical reaction. And if we look at that list of Tesla-related fires and go through each news article, we can see that many of those were driver errors, not randomly exploding cars.
Now, the following data is a bit old, but I’m adding it in for comparison. According to this NFPA report covering data from 2005 through 2009, 1,150 of these spontaneous fires were vehicle fires. This was well before Tesla started becoming the well-known company and best seller of EVs that it is today.
In September 2021, The NFPA published a report titled Fire Loss in the United States. The report stated that in 2020, local fire departments responded to around 1.4 million fires in the US. In total, these fires caused 3,500 civilian deaths and 15,200 civilian injuries were reported. Property damage was estimated at just under $22 billion.
According to the report, vehicle fires accounted for 15% of the fires, 18% of the civilian deaths, and 11% of the civilian injuries. According to the data, there were a total of 209,500 vehicle fires in 2020, with 630 civilian deaths.
“Vehicle fires are an often-overlooked part of the fire problem, yet in 2020, an estimated 209,500 vehicle fires (15 percent) caused 630 civilian fire deaths (18 percent); 1,700 civilian fire injuries (11 percent); and $5.2 billion in direct property damage (24 percent). More than half of the vehicle property loss resulted from a July 2020 naval ship.”
That report didn’t mention anything about spontaneous combustion, but in my opinion, it’s safe to assume that if an EV catches on fire, the odds of the cause being spontaneous combustion are very low given the data from the NFPA. However, it can still happen if the conditions are right. This is where prevention is key.
Installing fire and smoke detectors in your home and garages would be a smart way to help keep your family safe if you have any car — not just an EV — in your garage.
A Look At Natural Gas Explosions Compared With EVs Catching On Fire
I wanted to do a quick comparison of a common energy source with EV fires. The reason for choosing this is that I use natural gas in the home I rent.
According to RP Gas Piping, there were around 286 serious natural gas explosions annually across the US. Anyone with a natural gas line into their home faces the risk of some type of fire-related incident. I have natural gas, for example. If I turned on the stop and the light didn’t catch and I didn’t pay attention, I could accidentally blow myself up if I left it unattended and came back and lit a match.
“While local gas pipelines are designed to withstand two-to-three-times their usual operating pressure, once this limit is reached, there is a much higher likelihood of gas escaping and leading to an explosion. It’s this excess pressure that is believed to have caused the Massachusetts explosions last year. Gas escaped into homes and was ignited by a source within the home, such as the pilot light.”
If you compare the stats from natural gas explosions with the amount of Tesla fire-related incidents on that fire list, you can deduce that the odds of a Tesla spontaneously combusting is lower than a natural gas explosion.
ICE Vehicles Spontaneously Exploding
In October 2021, Consumer Reports reported that diesel Ram trucks were recalled for fire risk and noted that owners should park outdoors and away from structures or other vehicles until the free solution was available and completed.
In June 2021, Click2Houston reported that over 6.5 million vehicles were under recall because they could catch fire at any moment. The list of brands did not include Tesla, and the cars in question were not EVs.
Recent Study: Gas vs. EV Car Fires
AutoinsuranceEZ recently released the findings of its study, Gas vs. Electric Car Fires [2021 Findings], and according to the data, hybrid vehicles have the most vehicle fires per 100,000 vehicle sales, followed by gas vehicles. Some quick facts directly from the study are:
- Millions of gas, hybrid, and electric vehicles are recalled annually for fire risks.
- Gas vehicles have the most manufacturer recalls for fire risk defects.
- Electric vehicles catch fire less often, but electric car fires can be harder to put out than gas car fires.
What inspired the study were the recent stories about Tesla fires in the news and owners worried about their cars spontaneously bursting into flames. The study explores how cars catch on fire, expert advice on car fires, and frequently asked questions. It also delves deeper into the statistics for gasoline versus EV fires and fires by vehicle type.
Based on all the data above, it appears that EVs are safer than ICE cars when it comes to vehicle fires in general, with Tesla fires being rarer still. However, it’s always smart to consider fire prevention at all times.
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