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Are fires in electric vehicles a concern?

When you think of highly flammable substances, gasoline is probably high on your list. When petroleum comes into contact with heat and oxygen, combustion is inevitable. In a running car, all three of these components are present. If something goes wrong, the results can be immediate and disastrous.

With this basic understanding of chemistry in mind, you might think that when you remove petroleum from the equation—and run a car on a battery instead—that you eliminate the risk of fire. This is not entirely true. While electric cars have an 11 times lower instance of fire, electric fires pose their own unique threats.

The unique risks of electric fires

Electric fires behave differently than gasoline fires. With gasoline fires, ignition is instantaneous. Electric fires are more of a slow burn. It can be tempting to believe that electric fires are therefore safer—as vehicle occupants would have a longer lead time to evacuate. However, it’s not quite that straightforward.

Electric fires are the result of battery damage or defect. Maybe you got into a fender bender and your battery took a hit. Or maybe the battery had a problem from the start, due to manufacturer error. Either way, a defective battery will begin to produce excess heat—which a driver wouldn’t notice. Over time, the heat will build to the point of combustion.

Here’s the real concern: with gasoline-powered cars, fire is only a concern as long as the car is running. With an electric car, a defective battery can overheat even when the car is turned off. This means that theoretically, you could pull your car into your garage for the night, and a fire could start hours later—when no one is around to attend to it. In addition, electric fires are more difficult to put out. It can take up to 24 hours to extinguish an electric fire completely.

Compared to a gasoline-powered car, the chances of fire in an electric car are low. However, the ramifications of such a fire could be more severe. If you’ve suffered injury or loss due to a fire from a defective battery, it’s important to consult with an experienced personal injury attorney about your legal recourse.

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