In 2017, long before the electric car boom, the German Insurance Association (GDV) registered around 40,000 vehicle fires a year. Of these, 15,000 cases were classified as actual fires, the rest as “scorching damage caused by a short circuit”. Such fires have rarely attracted much media attention in the past few decades. It’s nothing unusual when a car catches fire – like a house or a garden shed.
Things look different when an electric car catches fire. Within a very short time, the media are full of reports about “highly dangerous electric cars” that “the fire brigade cannot put out”. The Whatsapp groups of Diesel fans are starting to glow. You always knew that this electromobility heralds the end of mankind. First the power grid collapses and then the electric cars spontaneously ignite.
That is the myth. Time for a look at reality.
The rumor that electric cars catch fire quickly has been around for many years. During this time it was refuted several times statistically, but also by the fire brigade and all possible test centers. Nevertheless, it persists.
For example, Dekra writes on the subject of fire hazard in general: “ High-voltage systems are reliably switched off in the event of an accident. Damage patterns comparable to conventionally powered vehicles. Even if the drive battery is severely deformed, no outbreak of fire. “
And on the subject of fires in underground garages in particular: “ Modern electric vehicles are as safe as any other parked vehicle while charging. Parking in an underground car park is also not a problem, as the batteries used in modern electric vehicles do not outgas. “
There are now various studies on this topic, all of which show that the fire intensity does not depend on the type of drive, but of the materials used. In fact, modern vehicles have a “fire load” two to three times higher than cars from 30 years ago. But that is solely due to the fact that nowadays much more plastic panels and covers are installed.
Basically can be stated: A burning electric vehicle poses the same risk as a vehicle with a combustion engine.
Electric cars burn differently
How do electric cars and classic combustion engines differ? is the way they burn. It is important to know that not every vehicle fire necessarily leads to a battery fire. Lithium-ion batteries only react in the event of severe mechanical damage or prolonged exposure to heat from the outside.
In this case, unlike with incinerators, the fire cannot be extinguished with conventional extinguishing agents, as the battery may continue to burn due to the lack of accessibility. Instead, large amounts of water are required to cool the battery and interrupt the chemical processes.
However, this is not a problem for the fire brigades, like the German Fire Brigade Association in the first place clarified in February: “Due to the current reporting in various media, it seems important to emphasize that electric vehicles are also used by the emergency services can be extinguished by the fire brigade, ”explains Peter Bachmeier, chief fire director and chairman of the specialist committee for preventive fire and hazard protection of the German fire brigades. “This can be a little more difficult than fighting fires from conventionally powered vehicles. However, not more complex or dangerous than a fire in a gas-powered vehicle. “
The fire brigade association also makes it clear that “blocking a garage for alternatively powered cars is not indicated from a fire protection point of view”.
Only the removal of burned-out electric cars is currently still a challenge, as the batteries cause a so-called “risk of re-ignition” after they have been extinguished . But there are already adequate solutions for this, which will soon be part of the standard throughout Germany for towing companies.