How much of a fire risk are electric vehicles (EVs)? What would cause such fires, and is there anything an EV owner can do in order to mitigate this risk? EVs are not exactly new. Some of the very first cars were battery-powered. Because of escalating environment concerns, they are making a comeback.
For the general public, these cars are novel. Hence, news about EVs tend to be sensationalised. EV fires, for instance, make headlines.
Unfortunately, there is no independent data on how common EV fires are vis-a-vis their population. Most reports cite absolute numbers, which are not meaningful since EVs still make up a tiny percentage of a country's total vehicle population.
Most EV fires occur as a result of serious crashes. But such fires are not unique to EVs.
Combustion-engined cars carry liquid fuels, and petrol is highly flammable. Hence, in bad accidents, the combination of leaking fuel and hot exhaust (or short circuit) can lead to a spontaneous fire.
The difference though, is that EV fires produce very noxious fumes and are harder to put out. There have been reports where fires which had been put out re-ignited hours or even days later.
There have been some news lately of EV fires due to manufacturing defects of battery packs. But such fires are not rampant and manufacturers have been relatively quick to act to rectify the situation.
Cases of fires at home while charging an EV or even plug-in hybrid are actually more common.
Some of these are caused by people using extension cords to charge their EVs. This is a bad idea, as these cords are made for low-load home appliances. When used for an EV, they can easily overheat.
It is always recommended that a dedicated wall box be used for EV charging.
Public charging points are purpose-built for EVs and are safe. They will become increasingly common in the next 10 years.