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Electric vehicle on fire because of saltwater exposure.

Electric Vehicles and Saltwater: A Potential Fire Hazard

The recent hurricane in Florida, Hurricane Idalia, has revealed an unexpected danger for residents – electric vehicles catching fire after being exposed to saltwater. This article will highlight the risks associated with saltwater exposure for electric vehicles, as well as provide important safety measures that owners should be aware of.

The Dangers of Electric Vehicles and Saltwater Exposure

During the storm, two separate incidents involving Teslas occurred where the vehicles burst into flames after being submerged in saltwater. The Palm Harbor Firefighters issued a warning to car owners, emphasizing the potential for rechargeable car batteries to combust when exposed to saltwater. This risk extends not only to electric vehicles but also to electric golf carts, scooters, and bicycles that rely on lithium-ion batteries.

The Formation of Electrical Connections Can Spark a Fire

When lithium-ion batteries, present in electric vehicles and other electric vehicles, come into contact with water, salt residue can form bridges between the cells. These bridges create electrical connections that may spark a fire even after the water has dried out. The risk is especially higher in electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids due to the larger number of cells they possess compared to lower energy batteries like those found in e-bikes.

Combustion Can Occur Well After The Electric Vehicle Has Been Exposed To Saltwater

In Pinellas County, Florida, a submerged Tesla being towed suddenly burst into flames, showcasing that combustion can occur well after a vehicle has been exposed to saltwater. It is crucial for car owners to relocate potentially damaged vehicles from garages and away from nearby structures. Tesla itself warns against driving flooded vehicles and advises contacting insurance companies as if the vehicle has been in an accident. Moving the vehicle 50 feet away from other structures or combustible materials is also recommended.

Fires resulting from waterlogged lithium-ion batteries may not ignite immediately after exposure. In some cases, fires can occur days to weeks later. Patrick Olsen, spokesperson for Carfax, stresses the importance of having a professional inspect a vehicle that has taken on water. Raising awareness among electric vehicle owners about the risks of flooding is crucial, as some are unaware and wrongly assume their vehicles are immune due to the absence of a traditional engine.

Proper Education and Training Prevents Further Risk

Owners of hybrid and electric vehicles, as well as electric golf carts, scooters, and bicycles, must be aware of the potential fire hazard caused by saltwater exposure. Andrew Klock, head of electric vehicle training for firefighters at the National Fire Protection Association, highlights that electric vehicles are not inherently more dangerous than gas-powered vehicles during flooding incidents. However, proper education and training are essential for all parties involved to effectively handle these situations. Firefighters, in particular, must understand the correct methods to extinguish an EV battery fire. Ensuring that water reaches the battery, usually located under the chassis, is essential for an efficient extinguishing process.

See also Responding to Electric Vehicle Fires Caused by Salt Water Flooding posted at the U.S. Fire Administration website.

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