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Do electric cars burn faster?

The rumour that e-cars burn faster than combustion engines is circulating on the internet again and again. Different tests determine whether there is an increased fire risk with electric cars. Once an electric car is on fire, extinguishing it is complicated.

Similar to many a horror story about self-igniting e-cigarettes or mobile phone batteries, e-cars are also repeatedly the focus of discussion about safety and battery ignition, either during charging or, for example, after an accident. Only a few days ago, the scandal at General Motors widened, in which e-cars of the type Chevrolet Bolt EV have to be recalled because the battery of the vehicles ignites by itself. Initially, only models from 2017 to 2019 were affected, according to the manufacturer, but now the latest vehicles are being added to the list. The US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has already warned owners not to park the vehicles in garages or near the wall of their house.

Of course, these events are rightly unsettling for buyers. But what is the situation with perfectly good e-cars? Is there also an increased fire risk here compared to combustion cars? No. Experts have confirmed in several tests that there is generally no increased risk of fire with e-cars. Both the fire brigade and the German Insurance Association as well as experts from Dekra agree on this point. Not only spontaneous ignition, but also catching fire after an accident is very unlikely. Various crash tests have shown that the high-voltage system is reliably switched off in the event of an accident, thus preventing the current from the battery from causing a fire. With combustion engines, diesel or petrol leakage is possible and the risk of fire is therefore even higher.

Nevertheless, e-cars can of course catch fire, just like other vehicles. How quickly a vehicle burns then depends not on the engine but on the materials of the bodywork, which burn differently depending on their composition and cause dangerous smoke and toxic gases. However, since the batteries of e-cars are well protected, extinguishing an e-car is indeed difficult. The water often does not reach the battery immediately. Some vehicles, such as the Renault Zoe, therefore have a filler neck built into the battery through which extinguishing water can be fed directly to the battery. The fire brigade sees this approach as positive and would like to see a uniform system for all e-cars. So-called extinguishing lances can also pierce the battery housing to quickly bring extinguishing water to the right place.

So e-cars don't burn any faster than combustion engines. Certainly, there are always shortcomings in vehicles. We all remember the Mercedes A-Class that tipped over. So, as with GM in particular, there are also always defects with e-cars. However, the risk of fire with an intact battery is by no means higher than with a combustion engine.