A number of fire incidents involving older Tesla Model S and X vehicles that experts say are battery-related are raising questions about the safety and durability of electric vehicles as they age. According to a news report in The Washington Post, Usman Ahmad, the owner of a Tesla Model S vehicle said his car “erupted like a flamethrower.” Ahmad said his vehicle spontaneously ignited as he stood on the side of the road.
The Danger of Catching Fire
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is evaluating the fire involving Ahmad’s vehicle in Texas and has contacted Tesla over the matter, according to agency officials. NHTSA also opened an investigation last year into alleged battery defects that could cause fires in older Tesla sedans and SUVs.
The NHTSA investigation was spurred by a lawsuit and defect petition, which alleged that the automaker manipulated its battery software in older model vehicles to reduce the risk of fire, lowering the range and lengthening charging times as it sought to address the undisclosed defect. The lawsuit cited an “alarming number of car fires” that appeared to be spontaneous.
Electric Vehicles and Fires
Tesla has said that its cars are 10 times less likely to catch fire compared to gasoline-fueled vehicles. Other electric vehicle models have also faced federal scrutiny and voluntary recalls over fire dangers. Just last month, General Motors recalled more than 50,000 Chevy Bolt electric vehicles over the potential for fire in its high-voltage battery pack. NHTSA confirmed that there were five known fires involving Bolts resulting in two injuries.
NHTSA also advised owners to park their cars outside until the problem is resolved. Audi recalled its e-tron SUV last year after the discovery of potential fire risks due to a wiring harness issue. Experts say electric vehicles catch fire at a similar rate to gas cars. But the duration and intensity of these fires, which are fueled by chemicals and the extreme buildup of heat in the lithium-ion battery systems, can make electric car fires more difficult to extinguish.
Auto Product Liability Issues
We hope NHTSA continues to investigate this important issue, which clearly presents a risk of injuries, fatalities and property damage. If you or a loved one has been injured as the result of an electric vehicle fire, please contact an experienced auto defect lawyer to obtain more information about pursuing your legal rights.