Are Electric Cars More Flammable?

Electric cars operate on an entirely different principle than internal combustion cars. This brings with it it’s own unique advantages and challenges. So, when it comes to the risk of a fire there are different chemical questions that need to be answered.

Are electric cars more flammable than internal combustion cars? While the lithium-ion battery in an electric car is flammable and could lead to a fire, the risk of the car catching fire is actually lower than that of an internal combustion engine car. Gasoline and diesel are both much more flammable than any components of an electric car.

Car fires can be scary. It is fairly likely that you have been driving around and noticed a car in flames on the side of the road. This can happen for a wide variety of reasons, and no one wants it to happen to them. Not only can the flames completely destroy your vehicle beyond repair, but it can be dangerous for you and anyone else in the vehicle. 

Are Electric Cars More Flammable Than Gasoline Powered Cars?

First off, let’s talk about what flammable really means. This term can be applied to materials in almost any state. There can be flammable solids, flammable liquids, and flammable gasses. These are any materials that can ignite from any sort of ignition source. Oftentimes this will be a spark but there are many other things that can lead to ignition. 

The actual flammability of materials will vary. This refers to how easily these materials will ignite at normal conditions (ambient temperature and atmospheric pressure). You will likely have run into different things that ignite very easily at room temperature. 

Gasoline is a really good example of this. Gas is often used as a way to get a fire started because it is so flammable. Even when it is cold out, it’s still very easy to get the fuel to ignite. In an internal combustion car, this same principle is used to provide power for the vehicle. The difference here, is that the gasoline is also pressurized which makes it even easier to ignite with a spark.

So, are electric cars any more flammable than gas powered cars? The answer, as we’ve mentioned, is no. While there can be a fire on both types of vehicles, the likelihood of a fire is much higher with an internal combustion engine. Why is that?

First off, lithium ion (the materials used in electric car batteries) can ignite. During normal operation this will never happen. Although, in the case of a large force on the battery leading to a short circuit, you can have a fire. One example of such a force would be a crash. There are many protective layers applied to the battery pack to help prevent this from occurring. In addition, an electric car battery is never a single giant lithium-ion battery but rather an array of smaller cells with the hopes of isolating a single short circuit from becoming extremely dangerous.

Gasoline powered cars rely on combustion in order to operate. This takes place inside of the engine. When the combustible materials are able to escape outside of the vehicle, this can lead to a fire. In addition, internal combustion vehicles operate at much higher temperatures than EVs. This can make materials much more susceptible to ignition. As such, even minor fuel leaks can lead to massive fires that engulf and destroy the vehicle.

This is why internal combustion vehicles are much more likely to catch on fire than electric cars. In fact, the National Transportation Safety Board collected and analyzed data in order to help people visualize the difference between the two. Their data showed that per every 100,000 internal combustion cars that sold, 1529 of them experienced fires. For every 100,000 electric cars that sold, 25 of them caught fire. That is a massive difference!

Any car can catch fire and the reality is that regardless of the level of prevention applied by automotive manufacturers there will always be a small risk. Damaged and wearing components are the leading cause of automotive fires. But as you can see, electric cars are far less likely to ever experience a fire as compared to internal combustion engine cars.

Are Electric Cars More Flammable Than Hybrid Cars?

So, now you may be wondering if a hybrid vehicle is better or worse than an internal combustion engine car. These cars have both the internal combustion engine but also an electric battery and electric motors. In addition, the internal combustion engine itself is relatively small. So, does the hybrid pose a larger or smaller fire threat than a standard internal combustion engine?

Previously, we mentioned the results of a study performed by the National Transportation Safety Board. In this same study, the number of fires on hybrid cars was also analyzed. It turns out that hybrid cars had fires 3474 out of every 100,000 cars. That’s over twice as many times as much as a traditional internal combustion engine!

So, in a short answer, yes, hybrid cars are more flammable than electric cars. This is largely due to the fact that they have an internal combustion engine. In addition, the data suggests that they are even more flammable than a pure internal combustion engine car! 

While there isn’t a direct answer as to why hybrids experience so many more fires than any other type of car, there are some factors that come into play that could be potential causes. First off, the car has an internal combustion engine. Thus, combustible fluids and vapors combined with high temperatures can lead to problems. It also has a lithium-ion battery that is very flammable. These very rarely catch onto fire but if the internal combustion were to be what caused the ignition, the lithium-ion battery could take it from there.

What Components On An Electric Car Can Ignite On Fire?

As we have previously mentioned, the most flammable and most concerning component on an electric car in regard to flammability is the lithium-ion battery. While these batteries are very flammable, they are often designed in such a way that there are lots of preventative measures in place to help prevent fires. 

So, what exactly makes a lithium-ion battery dangerous? First off would be that these batteries contain liquid electrolytes throughout the battery pack. These electrolytes can catch fire when at high temperatures. If your car were to be subjected to a large external force (for example, your car gets into a crash), this can cause these electrolytes to leak.

These leaks and damages can lead to overheating as a result of short circuits or from external temperatures. Once the electrolyte is exposed to high temperatures, it will ignite. Unfortunately, in the case of a fire, electric car batteries can store a lot of charge. As a result, an electric car fire can last for several hours. Even once the fire appears to be put out, it can reignite and continue to burn.

While this may sound severe, do keep in mind that these fires are extremely rare. A properly operating battery and battery management system will prevent a fire from occurring. When components get damaged, that is when you become at risk for a fire. Generally, this is as a result of a crash.

How To Prevent A Fire In Your Electric Vehicle

So, is there anything that you can do to prevent a fire from taking place in your electric car? There are some things that you can do. First off, as we’ve mentioned before, these fires are often a result of damage to your battery or battery management system. Thus, by avoiding accidents, you can help ensure that you don’t ever have to deal with an electric car fire

When we say accidents, we oftentimes think of cars crashing into each other on the road. While this can damage your battery, there are also a lot of other things that can as well. For example, driving offroad can lead to rocks, branches, and dirt causing damage to your electric battery. While minor scratching and wear and tear won’t have a big effect, hitting something very hard can lead to a fire.

Lastly, you can take proper care of your battery cooling system. If you remember, the battery electrolyte ignites as a result of high temperatures. If your battery were to overheat, it could lead to a fire. Thus by ensuring that your coolant levels are where they should be and that you radiator and water pump are working properly, you can have more confidence that you won’t have to deal with an electric car fire.

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