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NZ Unprepared For EV Fire Risks: OIA Documents Reveal – Part 3

In brief
  • EV fires can be difficult to extinguish compared to ICE car fires.
  • Risks include high voltage shocks, direct jet flames, toxic gases, and long-lasting re-ignition.
  • Potential increase in insurance costs for cars and homes due to risks from charging.
  • Maritime authority advises ship crews to stay away from EV fires. 
  • Consultants suggest measures, such as banning EVs from underground car parks.

Click for Part 1, Part 2, Part 4, Part 5

Premiums may have to rise to reflect EV fire risks

Our Part 2 article makes it obvious the amount of firefighting resource required to fight an EV fire is magnitudes higher than needed for ICE car blazes. 

As the proportion of EVs on the roads grows, the cost of car and house insurance may go through the roof to pay for the much larger fire crew attendance and time taken (EV fires can burn for four hours whereas a petrol fire is out in ten minutes, freeing firecrews up for the next emergency). 

Car insurance premiums may skyrocket in particular because of the massive repair costs for EV’s involved in a routine fender-bender – even if they don’t catch fire.

In mid-December just gone, Maritime New Zealand became aware of new ferry safety advice from its counterpart across the Tasman, the Australian Maritime Safety Authority, warning about “New risks identified in relation to BEVs”. Those risks included:

  • High voltage shocks
  • Direct jet flames
  • Fires develop in intensity quickly and rapidly reach their maximum intensity (typically within 2-3 minutes)
  • Toxic gases
  • Gas explosion (if the released gas accumulates for a while before being ignited)
  • Long lasting re-ignition risk (can ignite or re-ignite weeks, or maybe months after the provoking incident)
  • Once established fires are difficult to stop/extinguish
  • Thermal runaway (see below)

AMSA now advises ship crew to stay clear of burning EVs:

“If a BEV fire has broken out and has taken hold, the crew should undertake appropriate firefighting and emergency action from a safe distance. The crew should not approach the fire unless they have specialist protective clothing and firefighting training.”

EV fires like these can be incredibly dangerous due to the extremely difficult problems they present when attempting to put them out. Is New Zealand ready for mass adoption of EV vehicles in the face of these difficulties?

Rationale warns that lithium batteries can be internally damaged by the physical shock of a minor collision:

“Vehicles involved in minor crashes/incidents that are not reported may ignite post event.”

American insurers starting to deny claims

The briefing notes that American insurance companies are starting to deny claims for house fires caused by EVs:

“In the US house insurance is null and void if vehicle is parked in garage or charged.”

In New Zealand, “Insurance has provided limited communications”, and overnight charging is a major risk: 

“Australian research shows 28% of issues are whilst charging and no one is monitoring it.”

Companies, warns Rationale, could find themselves legally liable if their EV malfunctions and burns down a worker’s home:

“Charging of company vehicles at home needs advice. Charging, storing and driving non-ICE company vehicles requires guidance.”

Among the recommendations, officials were asked to consider banning EVs and hydrogen vehicles from underground car parks, in case an EV fire traps other motorists in the danger zone.

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