LE-cars burning ichterloh regularly make the rounds in photos and videos on the Internet. Followed by comments that electric cars would burn particularly quickly and that such battery fires could not be extinguished so easily.
The topic boils up again and again. At least one municipality even went so far as to block parking garages and underground garages for e-cars. What’s the matter?
“The fact is that, according to our findings, electric cars do not pose a higher fire risk than conventionally powered cars,” says Dekra accident researcher Markus Egelhaaf. The General Association of the German Insurance Industry (GDV) cannot deduce a higher fire risk for electric vehicles from its statistics.
Causes of an electric car fire
Of course, electric cars can also burn. In contrast to a diesel or gasoline engine, in which the risk of fire can arise from leaked fuel or hot surfaces of the exhaust system, for example, other areas are the focus of an electric car.
“The causes here can be, for example, damaged battery cells or defects in the battery management system,” says Egelhaaf.
A distinction also has to be made between the situations in which a fire arises. “In the event of fires following an accident, for example, from our experience there is no difference in the risk between electric cars and combustion engines,” says Egelhaaf.
The fire brigade does not classify vehicle fires on e-cars as being more risky. “Extinguishing a Stromer can be a little more difficult than fighting a fire in conventional vehicles, but not more complex or dangerous than a fire in a gas-powered vehicle,” says Peter Bachmeier, Chief Fire Director of the German Fire Brigade Association (DFV).
Extinguishing a vehicle fire is always risky
Extinguishing a vehicle fire in a garage is always associated with considerable dangers and risks, but this applies to vehicles of all drive classes. Extinguishing an e-car is more difficult because a battery fire is fought with a lot of water, which is used to cool down the storage cells.
However, because the large battery packs are installed in the underbody of most vehicles well protected, the emergency services are primarily concerned with getting the extinguishing water there quickly.
Renault has built a Fireman Access into the battery of the Zoe for this, a kind of filler neck for extinguishing water. An approach that the fire brigade welcomes in principle. “For us, however, it is not expedient if individual solutions are found depending on the vehicle manufacturer or even the vehicle type,” says Bachmeier.
Because then the fire brigade would first have to look for which car with which extinguishing system is located in the event of a rear-end collision on the motorway, for example. The goal should therefore be uniform and automatically triggered protection systems.
In extreme cases, the Stromer goes to a diving station
Various methods are currently being used to bring the extinguishing water quickly to the battery cells. “Tests were also carried out with a fire lance specially developed for electric vehicles, with which the battery housing is pierced and water is then introduced,” explains Egelhaaf.
According to Dekra, completely sinking a Stromer up to the top edge of the battery is only recommended in exceptional cases. For example, if no other extinguishing success can be achieved or a re-ignition is likely.
If there is a burning electric car in a garage, the fire brigade’s guidelines provide for the battery to be cooled down on site and then, if necessary, to be pulled outside.
The intensity of a car’s fire is fundamentally less related to the type of drive than to the materials used, especially the plastics. When burned, they cause a lot of smoke and toxic gases.
Crash tests examine the risk of fire in e-cars
It is highly unlikely that an electric car will catch fire after an accident. According to the ADAC, electric cars often do better in crash tests. The Dekra accident research also came to a similar result in several crash tests carried out together with the Göttingen University Medical Center.
“None of the four extreme tests we conducted did not result in a fire. In all cases, the high-voltage system was also switched off automatically, ”said Egelhaaf. This protective mechanism is intended to prevent the current from the battery from leading to a fire or electrical hazard after a severe collision.
Stay away from the high-voltage system
In any case, it makes sense for drivers to have a fire extinguisher on board – regardless of whether they are driving a combustion engine or a Stromer. “With a smaller hand extinguisher, it is always possible to fight an incipient fire in the 12-volt electrical system,” says Egelhaaf.
In addition, drivers are never allowed to touch the components of the high-voltage system of an electric car, which are marked with the color orange. In addition, electric car drivers should always ensure that their vehicle is charged with intact charging cables on a suitable network.
“Incorrectly repaired or defective charging cables can lead to fires, as can charging on insufficiently dimensioned building-side power installations,” warns Egelhaaf.
The more extreme temperatures that are common in our latitudes, on the other hand, are not a problem for electric vehicles, as the battery packs are well shielded and designed for this.
The bottom line is that experts from ADAC, Dekra and fire departments all agree that locking e-cars out of multi-storey car parks and underground garages is disproportionate. At the same time, municipalities that resort to this method could also get away with it legally.
“If there are objective reasons, this unequal treatment could withstand the principle of equal treatment from Article 3 of the Basic Law,” says Tobias Goldkamp, specialist lawyer for traffic law from Neuss. Such a factual reason could be that a fire is more difficult to extinguish, which in turn means an increased risk for the building in question.