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Electric-Car Fire: Flaming Garage Shows Media Ignorance Page 2

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2011 Chevrolet Volt destroyed in Barkhamsted, CT, garage fire; image from WTNH News 8 report

2011 Chevrolet Volt destroyed in Barkhamsted, CT, garage fire; image from WTNH News 8 report

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Three months, three fires

Last November, musician Neil Young lost $800,000 of musical memorabilia and at least one classic car in a garage fire. Local fire officials conluded it had been caused by his converted electric "LincVolt," a 1959 Lincoln Continental converted to battery power with a biodiesel-fueled generator. Its construction had been the subject of a documentary film.

Later that same month, a Nissan Qashqai crossover converted to electric power by A Future Electric Vehicles of Denmark burst into flames aboard the Pearl of Scandinavia, a ferry running out of Oslo.

In January, an Audi A2 converted to electric power using a new type of battery from DBM Energy was destroyed in a warehouse fire in Berlin. Last October, that car had garnered huge publicity for apparently covering 375 miles on a single charge. DBM issued a statement claiming its battery was not in the car at the time.

Overcharging a risk

As author Nikki Gordon-Bloomfield points out, electric-vehicle conversion fires rarely occur due to short circuits. Instead, a prime culprit can be not switching off the charging station when the battery has reached capacity.

AFutureEV Fire - Oslo

AFutureEV Fire - Oslo

Nickel-metal-hydride and lithium-ion battery packs require active thermal management to prevent the cells from overheating, and most home converters don't have the skills to design and build a system with adequate sensors, logic, and safeguards to cope with all possible conditions.

That's why developing electric cars properly costs hundreds of millions of dollars. Or more.

Plug-in Prius up in flames

And Gordon-Bloomfield knows that as well as anyone. Her own Toyota Prius, converted to plug-in operation so it could run on grid power that charged a larger battery pack she had installed, caught fire a couple of years ago.

She's not alone; in June 2008, a converted plug-in Prius operated by the Central Electric Power Cooperative in South Carolina was destroyed after it caught fire. And there are other instances of converted electric cars catching fire as well.

Gordon-Bloomfield now drives a 2011 Nissan Leaf, a factory-built electric car from a major auto manufacturer.

[WFSB, WTNH via Autoblog Green]

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Comments (4)
  1. Yes John, it's really is too early to tell, the investigation needs to be completed before we rush to condemn. That being said, it is only a matter of time before we do hear stories of electric cars or their chargers causing a fire every now and then.
    Nothing is foolproof, 100% safe or above defect so unfortunately this is going to happen every now and then. So will the occasional severe accident where the high voltage system in an EV fails to shut down as it is designed to and someone gets shocked badly or even killed. These tragedies are inevitable. For that matter, so is a gasoline car blowing up or even an passenger airplane crash. There is error and defects in everything we do, we just need to do the best we can to minimize them.
     
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  2. When I purchase my RAV4-EV back in 2002 there was a questionable story involving a Chrysler GEM neighborhood electric vehicle that caught fire at a supermodel's house. The media was trying to make a scare story out of -that-, and all I can say is that the Web has a very long memory indeed:
    http://autos.groups.yahoo.com/group/think_ev/message/1005
     
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  3. I suspect that there were more gasoline car fires this weekend than there were electric car fires.
    In 1990 the NHTSA estimated 28,800 fires per year in cars and light trucks.... plus 60 school buses!
    That is 157 fires this last weekend alone.
    Sadly this is also 345 fatalities a year. Time to stop running cars on dangerous fuels.
     
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  4. So were there any findings reported after the investigation?
     
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