Fire hazard in electric cars overheated debate.

Fire hazard in electric cars overheated debate.

Berlin e-cars have a reputation for burning more quickly. They have even been banned from underground garages. What do firefighters and accident researchers say – and what are the results of crash tests?? Burning e-cars make on photos. Videos on the Internet regularly make the rounds. Are these individual cases or do e-cars have a problem??

"The fact is that, according to our findings, e-cars do not pose a higher fire risk than conventionally powered cars.", says Dekra accident researcher Markus Egelhaaf. Even the German Insurance Association (GDV) cannot deduce a higher fire risk for electric vehicles from its statistics.

Of course, e-cars can also burn. In contrast to a diesel or gasoline-powered car, where the fire hazard can come from fuel spills or hot surfaces of the exhaust system, the focus is on other areas in an electric car. "Causes here can include damaged battery cells or defects in the battery management system, for example", says Egelhaaf. A distinction also has to be made between the situations from which a fire arises. "In the case of accidental fires, for example, our experience shows that there is no difference in risk between e-cars and internal combustion engines.", says Egelhaaf.

Somewhat more difficult firefighting

The fire department also does not classify vehicle fires on e-cars as more risky: "Extinguishing an electric vehicle may be somewhat more difficult than fighting fires on conventional motor vehicles, but no more complex or dangerous than, say, a fire on a gas-powered motor vehicle", says Peter Bachmeier, Chief Fire Officer of the German Firefighters' Association (DFV).

Extinguishing a vehicle fire in a garage is always associated with considerable dangers and risks, and this applies to vehicles of all drive classes. Extinguishing an e-car is more difficult because a battery fire is fought primarily with lots of water, which is used to cool down the storage cells. But because the large battery packs are well protected in the underbody of most vehicles, the main issue for the emergency services is to get the extinguishing water there quickly. Various methods are currently being used for this.

If a burning e-car is in a garage, the fire departments' guidelines call for cooling down the battery on site and then pulling the car outside if necessary. The fire intensity of a car is fundamentally less related to the type of drive than to the materials used, especially plastics. During combustion, they produce a lot of smoke and toxic gases.

How likely is a fire after a crash?

But it is highly unlikely that an e-car will catch fire after an accident. According to the German Automobile Association (ADAC), electric cars often perform better in crash tests. Dekra accident research also came to a similar conclusion in several crash tests conducted jointly with Göttingen University Medical Center.

In any case, it makes sense for drivers to have a fire extinguisher on board – regardless of whether they drive a combustion engine or an electric car. "It is always possible to fight an incipient fire in the 12-volt electrical system with a small hand extinguisher," Egelhaaf warns, says Egelhaaf.

In addition, however, drivers are never allowed to touch the components of the high-voltage system of an electric car, which are marked with the color orange. In addition, e-car drivers should always make sure to charge their vehicle with intact charging cables on a suitable network. "Improperly repaired or defective charging cables can also lead to fires, as can charging on inadequately dimensioned building-side power installations.", warns Egelhaaf.

Banned in some places – is that possible?

The bottom line is that experts from ADAC to Dekra to fire departments agree that locking e-cars out of parking garages and underground garages is disproportionate. Nevertheless, municipalities that resort to this means could also get away with it legally.

"If there are objective reasons, this unequal treatment could withstand the principle of equal treatment from Article 3 of the Basic Law.", means Tobias Goldkamp, specialist lawyer for traffic law from Neuss. One such objective reason could be that it is more difficult to extinguish a fire, which in turn means an increased danger for the building in question.

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