The infamously exploding Ford Pinto was recalled because of a design defect with the Pinto — its proclivity to burn when hit from behind.
Electric cars have this defect designed into them.
All of them.
And, unlike with the Pinto, you don’t have to get hit — or hit anything — for an electric car to burn. The things can, and have, caught fire when parked. Actually, “caught” is not the right word to describe what happens.
Spontaneous combustion is better.
That’s because of the nature and design of electric car batteries, which are not like the small 12-volt battery that starts the engine of a non-electric car. That battery is generally lead-acid, and fires are rare because a fire would require two things: a spark — as caused by jumper cables contacting the battery’s terminals — and leaking hydrogen gas. If both of those predicates aren’t present, a 12-volt starter battery fire is highly improbable.
The fulsome, scurvy truth is that all EVs should be recalled because they are all fire-prone, by design.
These kinds of fires are almost unheard of nowadays because almost all 12-volt starter batteries made since the ’90s are sealed. Hence, no gas can escape, all but eliminating the possibility of a fire ignited by a spark during a jump-start operation.
You can break the case of a 12-volt starter battery, and it will leak — but not burn.
Electric car batteries, on the other hand, are very high-voltage batteries — 400 volts is typical; 800 volts is becoming common — and they are fire-prone by design.
A process called thermal runaway can trigger a fire without a spark — or an impact. This most commonly happens when the electric car is being charged, and it is why electric car fast-charging is always a potential fire problem.
With every electric car.
This is why “fast” recharging is slow compared to refueling, which takes less than five minutes without any risk of fire from the pumping of fuel. But the “pumping” of volts is always a fire risk; it causes the battery to get hot, and that can lead not just to a fire but a very hot and hard-to-extinguish fire.
Sometimes it takes several tries to extinguish the fire, which can restart itself. Roasted electric vehicles have re-roasted themselves after the melted and presumably extinguished hulk was dragged onto a flatbed, or at the junkyard, where special fire-containment systems are being installed to deal with this problem.
This is why “fast” charging of electric vehicles (EVs) takes 20 to 30 minutes or longer, and also why the charge is not to “full.” When you “fast” charge an EV, you only partially charge it — to about 80 percent of capacity in most cases. This is a necessary precautionary measure to reduce the risk of a fire.
Which also reduces the EV’s range, and so necessitates another (and sooner) recharge.
But it does not eliminate the risk, which is inherent. And which will in all probability increase as “fast” charging increases, despite the fact that it is more risky, as far as risking thermal runaway, than letting the battery charge slowly, such as by plugging in to low-voltage household (120-volt) current.
The problem with that, of course, is that it takes several (6 to 12) hours to recharge an electric car’s batteries that way, and most people do not want to wait that long or plan their lives around recharging. It hasn’t been an obvious issue — yet — because electric cars are still only about 1 percent of the total number of cars in service, and most of the people who currently own electric cars are zealous about electric cars. They’re willing to put up with the car’s deficits because they are so enamored of the cars themselves.
But most people who just want a car to work are not likely to be willing to tolerate such waits and will insist on “fast” and faster charging, in order to avoid the wait. And they will be “fast” charging more frequently.
This will almost certainly increase the number of thermal runaway fires and deaths. There will also be more accidents involving electric cars as more and more electric cars are force-fed into the pipeline thanks to the Biden–Harris administration’s “mandates” (and determination to install more “fast” chargers).
There is also a higher fire risk when an EV hits something — or is hit by something — for the same thermal runaway reason. The battery pack’s case is damaged or the internal cells are compromised. The materials within short circuit and voila: flambée.
This risk is, again, higher with EVs because it does not take a spark to ignite the fire, as it does with a gasoline fire. A non-electric car can be hit hard enough to deform or even puncture its gas tank, and even if there is a leak a fire is not inevitable unless there is also a spark.
But an EV battery can combust simply as a result of being hit. And it is more likely to be damaged in any accident because the battery is everywhere. Unlike a gas tank — which is usually located ahead of the rear axle and thus both isolated to that part of the car and protected by the surrounding structure of the car — an EV’s battery is spread out over most of the car’s floorpan, necessary because of its huge size (a Tesla 3 has 1,000 pounds of batteries). That means a frontal or side or rear impact can damage the battery and trigger a fire, whereas with a gas tank, the car usually has to be hit in the rear to cause any damage to the tank.
And even then, you still need a spark.
EV battery fires are the most under-reported and reluctantly recalled design defect in the history of the car.
The latest recall is a big one, though.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), which is the federal “safety” apparat, has finally had to do something about self-immolating Hyundai Kona and Ioniq electric cars. The fire risk from thermal runaway is so great that over 80,000 of these things are being recalled, and NHTSA exhorts owners that in the meanwhile, “the safest place to park them is outside and away from homes and other structures.”
But the fulsome, scurvy truth is that all EVs should be recalled because they are all fire-prone, by design.
Not that it matters. “Safety” is just a bogey, selectively applied — when it suits. And right now, it does not suit, because electric cars are the vehicle for getting the masses out of cars by making cars too expensive for most people to own. They’ll also help in getting the mobility of the masses under strict control, since they’re electronically as well as remotely controllable.
What’s a few eggs broken when you’re making such a tasty omelette?