When news of EVs exploding hits the headlines, it makes sense to have some safety concerns. For the high-profile manufacturer Tesla, these news stories have grabbed a great deal of attention. But are EVs are less safe than conventional vehicles? And why do Tesla cars explode exactly?
Today, we’re going to answer these questions and more, putting current or aspiring Tesla owners’ minds at ease in the process.
What Causes Tesla Cars to Explode?
The phenomena of catching fire or even exploding aren’t limited only to Teslas, but rather a risk relevant to all kinds of rechargeable devices that contain a lithium-ion battery.
Those paying attention may have also noticed headlines about iPhones, E-cigs, and other portable devices spontaneously combusting over the years. This is caused when a cell within a lithium-ion battery overheats, which is most often a result of physical trauma to the battery, water within the battery housing, or a dead short, but can be due to a manufacturing fault.
The damaged battery cell that overheats can trigger what is known as a “thermal runaway” or “cellular propagation,” which sees the heating reaction travel through the lithium-ion battery.
The good news is that Tesla and other companies have gone to great lengths to ensure the stability of their lithium-ion batteries. In the case of Tesla, their batteries utilize a water and glycol coolant liquid between battery cells that serves to disperse heat quickly if one cell’s temperature rises.
While there have been around 143 recorded instances of Teslas catching fire throughout the brand’s history, the narrative surrounding them has not been helped by things like the fraudulent staging of a Tesla explosion by an insurance company.
That said, there have been reports of EV explosions due to water damage in Florida following Hurricane Ian, with emergency services highlighting that lithium-ion battery fires are technically challenging to put out.
Is a Tesla More Likely to Explode Than a Regular Car?
While the media has paid a lot of attention to Tesla in this regard, the brand itself argues that fuel-powered cars are about 11 times more likely to catch fire than a Tesla.
Each year, there are numerous vehicular ignitions reported, but only those that result in a newsworthy incident—or those involving a big-brand EV—make the newsreel.
In fact, the number of highway vehicle fires recorded in the United States annually has dropped steadily over the last decades, indicating that drivers in general have never been safer.
Total U.S. Highway Vehicle Fires by Year
It is also worth highlighting that where gasoline-related vehicle fires can break out and accelerate very quickly, lithium-ion battery-related fires tend to begin slowly following a gradual temperature climb within the battery itself. This means that if there were an accident and resulting damage to an EV battery triggered a fire, there would be a delay before ignition that would hopefully allow passengers to exit the vehicle.
Providing further peace of mind, the latest data indicates that the frequency of Tesla vehicle ignitions continues to improve.
Current statistics point to roughly one Tesla vehicle fire for every 210 million miles traveled—and this data set includes things like vehicle fires caused by structure fires, arson, and other things entirely unrelated to battery stability.
Crucially, while the risk that comes with lithium-ion batteries is something that Tesla drivers may want to be aware of, the company’s track record shouldn’t prompt unusual concern.