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How to avoid a fire in an EV (electric vehicle)

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Electric vehicles are far less likely to catch fire than vehicles powered by petrol or diesel, but when they do, it’s more difficult to bring the fire under control due to the structure of the battery cells and lithium’s properties.

Electric vehicles are different from those with an internal combustion engine. They require a different style of driving to maximise the battery, and also it’s advisable to be aware of the risks, particularly what to do to avoid a fire.

To minimize the risk of a fire in an electric vehicle (EV), drivers can follow these guidelines and best practices:

  1. Regular Maintenance:
    • Adhere to the manufacturer’s recommended maintenance schedule. Regular check-ups can help identify and address potential issues before they escalate.
  2. Battery Health Monitoring:
    • Keep an eye on your vehicle’s battery health through the onboard monitoring system. Be vigilant for any unusual warnings or signs of battery-related problems – strange noises, smells, loss of power, or smoke.
  3. Charge Responsibly:
    • Follow the recommended charging guidelines provided by the EV manufacturer. Avoid using damaged charging cables or adapters, and refrain from charging in extreme conditions that could lead to overheating.
  4. Avoid Overcharging:
    • Avoid overcharging your EV. Most modern electric vehicles and charging stations are designed to prevent overcharging, but it’s still a good practice to unplug once the battery is fully charged.
  5. Use Genuine Charging Equipment:
    • Use authentic charging equipment recommended by the EV manufacturer. Substandard or counterfeit charging accessories may pose safety risks. If you are charging in a garage connected to your house, ensure that you have smoke alarms in every bedroom and the hallway to give you any warning in case there is a fire.
  6. Don’t park in risky places:
    • As with any vehicle, don’t park in places that increase the risk of a fire, particularly on dry grass in summer where hot components can spark a grass fire under the car.
  7. Avoid damage to the vehicle:
    • Drive responsibly to minimize the risk of accidents. Remember that your EV weighs more than a fuel-powered vehicle because of the weight of the batteries. This means that braking and cornering are likely not as good as you are used to, and they are often capable of more rapid acceleration than is expected.
  8. Follow Manufacturer Guidelines:
    • Follow all guidelines provided by the EV manufacturer regarding vehicle operation, maintenance, and safety. This includes understanding the emergency shut-off or disconnect switch and how to use it.
  9. Stay Informed about Recalls:
    • Stay informed about any recalls or safety-related updates issued by the EV manufacturer. Promptly address any recall-related issues to ensure your vehicle is up to date with safety improvements.
  10. Ventilate the Battery:
    • Park your EV in well-ventilated areas, especially if you’ve just completed a long drive or charging session. Adequate ventilation helps dissipate heat and reduces the risk of overheating. If your battery is hot, you can wait until it has cooled to park it in your garage
  11. Emergency Response Preparedness:
    • Be aware of emergency response procedures in case of a fire. Know the location of the emergency shut-off switch, keep a Class D fire extinguisher in the vehicle (though its use might be limited), and be prepared to exit the vehicle safely in an emergency.

EV fires in trucks may be a bigger issue due to the increased battery sizes and the potential for them to be carrying cargo which is also flammable.

How do you fight an EV fire?

Fighting an electric vehicle (EV) fire requires specialized knowledge and equipment due to the unique characteristics of lithium-ion batteries.

  1. Safety First:
    • Ensure the safety of yourself and others by establishing a safe distance from the vehicle. Follow standard safety protocols and evacuate the immediate area. While an EV is less likely to explode than an internal combustion engine vehicle, it can transfer a lot of heat to surrounding objects which could explode.
  2. Call for Professional Help:
    • Contact emergency services immediately and provide them with as much information as possible, including the type of vehicle, any signs of damage or hazards, and the location.
  3. Identify the Vehicle:
    • Identify the make and model of the EV, as well as the type of battery it uses. This information can be crucial for FENZ.
  4. Use a Class D Fire Extinguisher:
    • If the fire is small and manageable, and you are trained to use a fire extinguisher, use a Class D fire extinguisher designed for metal fires. Apply the extinguishing agent to the base of the fire. It’s unlikely that a small fire extinguisher will solve your EV fire, but it might give someone else enough time to exit the vehicle.
  5. Do Not Use Water:
    • Avoid using water to extinguish an EV fire, as water can conduct electricity and may not effectively cool the battery. Water can also lead to electrical shock hazards.
  6. Cool the Battery:
    • Use specialized cooling equipment or techniques to cool the battery and prevent the risk of re-ignition. Some fire departments use cooling blankets or other materials designed for battery fires.
  7. Wait for Professionals:
    • Even if the visible flames are suppressed, wait for professional firefighters to arrive and assess the situation. Lithium-ion batteries can pose a risk of re-ignition, and professionals are equipped to handle these scenarios.
  8. Thermal Imaging:
    • The fire service might use thermal imaging cameras to identify hotspots and monitor the temperature of the battery. This information helps in assessing the effectiveness of cooling efforts.
  9. Battery Disconnect:
    • If it can be done safely and you are trained to do so, disconnect the vehicle’s battery. Some EVs have an emergency shut-off or disconnect switch that can be used to cut power to the battery.
  10. Containment:
    • Attempt to contain the fire to prevent it from spreading to nearby structures or vehicles. This can be achieved by using barriers or other means to limit the fire’s reach. However, don’t risk moving a car that’s already on fire.
  11. Evacuation:
    • Ensure that any nearby occupants are safely evacuated from the area, especially if the fire is spreading or if there are concerns about toxic gas emissions. Don’t stand downwind of an EV fire.

It’s important to note that fighting EV fires requires specialized training, and the procedures may vary based on the specific circumstances and the type of electric vehicle involved. Firefighters and emergency responders should receive ongoing training to stay updated on the latest techniques and safety measures for dealing with EV incidents.

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Darren has written over 3000 articles about driving and vehicles, plus almost 500 vehicle reviews and numerous driving courses. Connect with him on LinkedIn by clicking the name above

Posted in Advice