Electric cars utilize lithium-ion batteries in order to drive the car rather than internal combustion. These batteries will be charged and then when driven the batteries will supply power to motors that will be used to turn the wheels. From a complexity standpoint, electric cars are far simpler than internal combustion engines. There are far fewer components and the way that they work together is much simpler.
Have you ever wondered how safe electric cars are? While electric cars are very safe, it is possible to get electrocuted by one. Not knowing how to work with a lithium-ion battery is what puts you at most risk and should only be done by a professional. It’s important that you only work on electric car repairs if you know what you are doing.
While these systems on electric cars are quite a bit simpler, they are also very different in design. Many experienced mechanics who have worked on cars for decades are not able to diagnose or repair electric cars. The inner workings of electric cars are so different from regular cars that they can be dangerous for new owners. Many people who are used to working on cars themselves will try to work on their new electric car without really knowing what they are doing. We’ll dive some more into why electric cars can be dangerous and how you can best protect yourself.
How An Electric Car Can Electrocute You
So, how exactly can you get electrocuted by an electric car? Remember that in an electric car, you generally have a huge battery pack that is made up of many lithium-ion cells. These cells each hold a charge and together they power your car. You also have a standard, 12-volt, lead-acid battery like most internal combustion engines.
These huge lithium-ion battery packs have a far higher operating voltage than an internal combustion car. Hybrids and fully electric cars can have operating voltages between 200 and 800 volts. These allow you to get over 100 kWh from your electric car. These high voltages can be extremely dangerous. These high voltages do not travel around the whole vehicle though. They run directly from the battery pack to the motors that control the wheels. All of the different accessories and other functions are powered by the 12V battery. This 12V battery does get a charge from the battery pack.
The highest danger in an electric car is from being exposed to those high voltage wires underneath the car. If these were to come loose, you could be in serious danger. Likewise, if you are working on your car without being extremely careful, you could find yourself getting electrocuted. You should only ever work on a high voltage electric system if you know what you are doing. Auto manufacturers are usually very good at highlighting where high voltage lines are and will often paint them bright orange. This makes it obvious which components you need to be careful of.
Electric cars become especially dangerous in the case of an accident. If wires come apart as the result of an accident, there is a risk of those wires electrocuting someone, especially if there is water present. If you were to short circuit the battery cells, you also release a ton of energy in a very short period of time. This will transfer all of that energy into heat and can cause fires.
How Bad An Electric Car Can Electrocute You?
So, how bad can an electric car actually electrocute you? First off, let’s talk about what electricity can do to you. At 1mA (milliampere, a measurement for an electrical current) you will start to feel a tingle. At 10mA, you lose control of your muscles and they start to contract.
While this will not be a fatal level of current and likely won’t even require a hospital visit, it shows how even a small amount of current can have an effect on you. Between 50-150mA you will experience extreme pain and could have severe muscle reactions. 1-4.3 amps will cause your heart to stop pumping and 10 amps will put you into cardiac arrest, burn you severely, and most likely kill you.
In an extremely high voltage system, producing high amounts of current is very easy. Touching the wrong thing can create an easy path through your body to the ground and electricity loves the path of least resistance to the ground. These batteries can easily kill you, stop your heart, or severely burn you.
Individuals have died just from getting electrocuted while charging their electric cars. If there is ever a short, or if someone touches a bare connector they could be in serious danger. First responders are often in a very dangerous situation at the scene of a crash as well. When an electric car gets into an accident, there is no way to know the condition of the battery until someone looks at it.
Why An Electric Car Battery Is More Dangerous Than A Regular Car Battery
So, why exactly is your electric car battery more dangerous than a normal battery? As we previously mentioned, they operate at much higher voltages. This means that there is a lot of potential energy stored in the batteries. This energy can transition very quickly to other objects. If you were to touch the power wires while being grounded, the electricity will flow right through your body to the ground.
While this is possible with a normal car battery (and a normal car battery can still kill or severely hurt you) you are knowing having a much higher voltage pass through you which will force much more current through your body. With a DC voltage, even 55 volts is enough to kill you in the right conditions. Now imagine 800 volts.
There are a lot more cells in an electric car battery pack than in a normal battery. Each of these contains significant amounts of energy. In the case of an accident, you could cause one or many of these cells to short out. As many as are damaged will release their energy in the form of heat. This can cause fires that can burn for hours.
One prime example is when a Tesla crashed in Houston. First responders arrived and got to work trying to put the fire out. Despite their best efforts, the fire kept re-igniting. This continued for over four hours and the firefighters put over 30,000 gallons of water on it. All of that energy that is stored can be extremely dangerous.
Ways To Stay Safe When Dealing With Electric Car Batteries
So, if you own an electric car, how can you stay safe? First off, you should never work on your car or mess with any of the electric components unless you absolutely know what you are doing. If you see something that looks weird, looks out of place, or doesn’t seem to be properly connected, you should only try to investigate and fix it if you know how. Accidentally touching the wrong thing, could cost you your life.
High voltage lines will be marked on your car. They are generally painted bright orange to let you know what lines you should be careful around. If you see any of these lines, that’s you’re warning to proceed with caution or to bring in an expert.
Second, if you ever get into an accident in your electric car, you will want to get away from it as soon as possible until it can be looked at by an expert. Even a fairly minor accident could cause damage to the battery pack. This can quickly lead to a fire. If wires were to come apart as the result of an accident, there could be live wires hanging underneath your car. While these usually won’t be able to electrocute you, if it happens to be raining or if you are standing in a puddle, this could hurt or kill you.
Lastly, you will want to make sure that all of your electric wiring is in good shape. You want your car charger to be in good shape. If there is any exposed metal, you could touch it and get electrocuted. Likewise, if you notice any damage to the high voltage battery cables, you will want to have those replaced by an expert so that they don’t put you, or others, at risk in the future.