Third fire in Tesla Model S reported

Nov 07, 2013 by Tom Krisher
In this Wednesday, Nov. 6, 2013 photo provided by the Tennessee Highway Patrol, emergency workers respond to a fire on a Tesla Model S electric car in Smyrna, Tenn. Spokeswoman Liz Jarvis Shean says Tesla has sent a team to Tennessee to investigate the fire. Two other Model S cars have caught fire in the past five weeks, one near Seattle and the other in Mexico. (AP Photo/Tennessee Highway Patrol)

A Tesla Model S electric car caught fire this week after hitting road debris on a Tennessee freeway, the third fire in a Model S in the past five weeks.

The blaze on Wednesday afternoon near Smyrna, Tennessee, engulfed the front of the car. A spokeswoman for the Tennessee Highway Patrol says the Model S ran over a tow hitch, which hit the undercarriage of the car, causing an electrical fire.

It's the second Model S blaze involving road debris. In early October, a driver near Seattle hit debris that pierced a shield and the battery pack, causing a fire. In the other fire, a driver in Mexico crashed into a concrete wall and a tree at a high speed.

Shares of the carmaker, based in Palo Alto, California, fell 7.5 percent to $139.77 on Thursday. That's on top of Wednesday's plunge of 14.5 percent, after concerns about a battery shortage, as well as the costs Tesla will incur as it builds more cars, spooked some investors. The shares are still up 312 percent this year.

The Model S has as a large battery pack under the passenger compartment, protected by a quarter-inch-thick metal shield. Experts say that if debris punctures the shield and damages the battery, it can cause shorts and arcing that can touch off fires.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the U.S. government's auto safety watchdog, says the agency will contact Tennessee authorities to determine if there are safety problems that need further action. NHTSA decided last month not to investigate the Seattle-area fire, saying there was no evidence it was caused by a safety defect.

In this Wednesday, Nov. 6, 2013 photo provided by the Tennessee Highway Patrol, emergency workers respond to a fire on a Tesla Model S electric car in Smyrna, Tenn. Spokeswoman Liz Jarvis Shean says Tesla has sent a team to Tennessee to investigate the fire. Two other Model S cars have caught fire in the past five weeks, one near Seattle and the other in Mexico. (AP Photo/Tennessee Highway Patrol)

The driver in Tennessee was able to pull onto an emergency lane and escape. Tesla said it has sent a team to investigate.

Company spokeswoman Liz Jarvis-Shean says the fire was not spontaneous. She says Tesla contacted the driver, who believes the car saved his life. Tesla CEO Elon Musk has said that the design of the Model S is safer than that of a car with a conventional fuel tank.

The fire burned the front of the car, according to pictures posted on the Jalopnik.com and Valuewalk.com websites.

Larry Farley, Rutherford County fire chief, says the blaze was so hot and intense that it melted the front of the car. "It pretty much just melted to the road," Farley says.

The passenger compartment was in pretty good shape after the flames were extinguished, Farley says. A Fire Department report estimated the value of the loss from the fire at $120,000.

In this Friday, June 22, 2012 file photo, Tesla CEO Elon Musk walks past the Tesla Model S after a news conference at the Tesla factory in Fremont, Calif. Musk on Tuesday, Nov. 5, 2013, blamed a shortage of lithium-ion battery cells for trouble meeting demand for Tesla's lone vehicle, the Model S. Cars that could have been sold in North America were diverted to Europe to satisfy waiting customers, Musk said on a conference call after releasing third-quarter earnings. (AP Photo/Paul Sakuma)

According to the U.S. Fire Administration, there are around 194,000 vehicle fires on U.S. roads each year. The vast majority—61 percent—start in the engine area, while 15 percent start in the passenger area. Approximately 300 people die and 1,250 are injured in U.S. vehicle fires each year. Most happen in gas-powered cars, which make up the vast majority of cars on U.S. roads. Electric vehicles make up less than 1 percent of the cars sold in the U.S.

General Motors and Nissan make the top-selling electric cars in the nation, the Volt and Leaf. Neither knows of any real-world blazes in those vehicles. A Chevrolet Volt caught fire two years ago after a government crash test, but the government closed an investigation into the incident after GM agreed to a safety campaign to bolster shielding around the battery.

GM has sold more than 50,000 Volts in the U.S. since late 2010. Nissan has sold almost 38,000 Leafs. Tesla has sold an estimated 16,251 Model S cars in the U.S., according to Autodata Corp.

The Model S, which starts at $70,000, can go up to 265 miles (425 kilometers) on a single charge.

Explore further: Feds won't investigate Tesla electric car fire

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User comments : 41

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Eikka
1.3 / 5 (16) Nov 07, 2013
Hollywood made a fantasy where every car accident ends up in a giant fireball.

Tesla Motors made that fantasy true.

The irony is that the most common reason for vehicle fire in all vehicles is electrical fault.
tadchem
1.6 / 5 (13) Nov 07, 2013
People mistakenly assume that electric storage battery technology is inherently safe. This is just a continuation of the paradigm of 'design by accident', in which pushing the design limits of any technology reveals previously innoticed difficulties through failures of that technology. These failures drive redesign, re-engineering, and eventually refinement of the technology.
We are only seeing Tesla Fires because the Tesla demands more from batteries than we have ever demanded before.
VendicarE
3.7 / 5 (6) Nov 07, 2013
For regular cars...

Highway Vehicle Fires (2008-2010)

From 2008 to 2010, an estimated 194,000 highway
vehicle fires occurred in the United States each year
resulting in an annual average of approximately 300
deaths, 1,250 injuries and $1.1 billion in property loss

Approximately one in seven fires responded to by fire departments across the nation is a highway vehicle fire. This does not include the tens of thousands of fire department responses to highway vehicle accident sites.

Unintentional action (32 percent) was the leading cause of highway vehicle fires.

Eighty-six percent of highway vehicle fires occurred in passenger vehicles.

Sixty-one percent of highway vehicle fires and 35 percent of fatal highway vehicle fires originated in the engine, running gear, or wheel area of the vehicle.

The leading factor contributing to the ignition of highway vehicle fires was mechanical failure (44 percent).

VendicarE
2.6 / 5 (5) Nov 07, 2013
Insulation around electrical wiring (28 percent) and flammable liquids in the engine area (18 percent) were the most common items first ignited in highway vehicle fires.

http://www.usfa.f...les.shtm
Eikka
1 / 5 (10) Nov 07, 2013
The problem with Tesla's batteries is that they're made with nickel cobalt aluminium oxide (NCA), which is known for having a low thermal breakdown temperature where it releases oxygen. It's not as easily ignited as the earlier cobalt oxide chemistry (LCO), but still much more flammable than the manganese based variants (LMO) used in other electric cars like the Nissan Leaf.

With the release of oxgen into the flammable organic solvent used as the electrolyte, it sustains a chemical fire without any outside air source. That's why, once ignited, the batteries aren't easy to put out.

http://www.mpower...ures.htm

http://batteryuni...hium_ion
NCA

High energy and power densities, as well as good life span, make the NCA
a candidate for EV powertrains. High cost and marginal safety are negatives.

Courtesy of BCG research
Eikka
1 / 5 (9) Nov 07, 2013
The reason why Tesla uses NCA instead of LMO or the like is because it offers up to 50% better energy density, which translates to half more range per weight.

Which reveals the fundamental problem with battery electric vehicles: the more range you want, the higher the energy density you need, and the more unstable the batteries become until you're practically riding a firebomb.

retrosurf
5 / 5 (2) Nov 07, 2013
What you really want to be riding is *half a ton* of TNT, not a "firebomb".

The Model S has can store about 60 Kilowatt-hours of energy ("a firebomb").
That's the equivalent of about 2 gallons of gasoline.

A regular tank of gasoline (20 gallons, or 120 x 20 megajoules) is equivalent to 1147 lbs of TNT (at 4600 joules per gram).

VendicarE
3.2 / 5 (6) Nov 07, 2013
"What you really want to be riding is *half a ton* of TNT" - retrosurf

What rational people would rather do is telecommute.

Move data, not meat bags.

retrosurf
5 / 5 (2) Nov 07, 2013
Vendi*CAR*E, work-related travel accounts for only 20% of the miles travelled per year per household in the United States. Transportation of goods accounts for about 12% of miles travelled PYPH.

Of course, you realize that plumbers and painters, cops and cooks, farmers and firefighters do not telecommute. There are many jobs that do not involve pushing electrons and re-arranging magnetic fields.

The other 80% travel (here in the US, anyway) absolute requires the corporeal transportation of bags of meat from one place to another. Some people travel for entertainment! One of my vehicles is a ton and a half of TNT carried by a bull elephant.

All data from Federal Highway Administration 2009 National Household Travel Survey.
ECOnservative
1.7 / 5 (12) Nov 07, 2013
How many Tesla fires per passenger-mile? How many accidents? I'd buy one If I could afford it.
ormondotvos
3.7 / 5 (3) Nov 08, 2013
More scary stories from/for the poorly educated. Try driving your Toyota over a trailer hitch at speed. I doubt there's a quarter inch of steel protecting that gas tank, not to mention all the other flammable liquids spraying around the red-hot manifold...
Einz
1 / 5 (11) Nov 08, 2013
Just put a thick armor around the batteries, that's should solve the problem.
Eikka
1 / 5 (10) Nov 08, 2013
What you really want to be riding is *half a ton* of TNT, not a "firebomb".

The Model S has can store about 60 Kilowatt-hours of energy ("a firebomb").
That's the equivalent of about 2 gallons of gasoline.

A regular tank of gasoline (20 gallons, or 120 x 20 megajoules) is equivalent to 1147 lbs of TNT (at 4600 joules per gram).



The difference of course is, that gasoline is not TNT.

Trinitrotoluene stores its energy in marginally stable nitrogen bonds that release energy once broken, and said release of energy causes a chain reaction that accelerates into detonation. Gasoline on the other hand is a stable hydrocarbon chain that won't do anything on its own.

The tank of gasoline is about as inert as a barrel of rocks until you mix it with oxygen.

The lithium battery on the other hand isn't. The comparison to TNT applies more to it than gasoline.
Eikka
1 / 5 (10) Nov 08, 2013
Try driving your Toyota over a trailer hitch at speed. I doubt there's a quarter inch of steel protecting that gas tank


And for precisely that reason it would most probably just make a dent in the bottom of the tank and fly off, if it even got that far under the car.

Driving over road debris doesn't usually set cars on fire because there's nothing in the bottom of the car that lights right up on impact.
mzso
1 / 5 (10) Nov 08, 2013
People mistakenly assume that electric storage battery technology is inherently safe. This is just a continuation of the paradigm of 'design by accident', in which pushing the design limits of any technology reveals previously innoticed difficulties through failures of that technology. These failures drive redesign, re-engineering, and eventually refinement of the technology.
We are only seeing Tesla Fires because the Tesla demands more from batteries than we have ever demanded before.

Nope. Batteries are pretty much always used to their full potential
mzso
1 / 5 (10) Nov 08, 2013
The reason why Tesla uses NCA instead of LMO or the like is because it offers up to 50% better energy density, which translates to half more range per weight.

Which reveals the fundamental problem with battery electric vehicles: the more range you want, the higher the energy density you need, and the more unstable the batteries become until you're practically riding a firebomb.


Not really. Lithium-sulfur has better potential for energy density yet safer: https://www.youtu...wtKGAK0Y

Also solid electrolyte batteries looks safer two and also promise multiple energy density.
mzso
1.4 / 5 (11) Nov 08, 2013
The lithium battery on the other hand isn't. The comparison to TNT applies more to it than gasoline.

It most certainly doesn't. The comparison to TNT is totally wrongful for both.
mzso
1 / 5 (11) Nov 08, 2013
Nonetheless. a better shield for the batteries is probably due.
TheGhostofOtto1923
2.3 / 5 (3) Nov 08, 2013
Try driving your Toyota over a trailer hitch at speed. I doubt there's a quarter inch of steel protecting that gas tank


And for precisely that reason it would most probably just make a dent in the bottom of the tank and fly off, if it even got that far under the car
"Tesla CEO Elon Musk has stressed how his company protects the battery pack with 1/4″ thick armor plating underneath the car..." -which means that it is better protected than the petrol in your tank.

These battery fires start and spread slowly as opposed to ruptured tanks which do make fireballs.
http://www.youtub...dt-lQVS8
mzso
1 / 5 (11) Nov 08, 2013
On the other hand petrol tanks are not at the bottom of the vehicle. There's stuff under it.
TheGhostofOtto1923
2.3 / 5 (3) Nov 08, 2013
On the other hand petrol tanks are not at the bottom of the vehicle. There's stuff under it.
Uh no theyre usually exposed. Google images 'underside of automobile gas tank' and see for yourself.
holoman
1 / 5 (10) Nov 08, 2013

Wouldn't happen in hydrogen fueled cars.
mzso
1 / 5 (10) Nov 09, 2013

Wouldn't happen in hydrogen fueled cars.

Because they'd go up like the Hindenburg? :)
antialias_physorg
3 / 5 (2) Nov 09, 2013
Because they'd go up like the Hindenburg?

Funnily they don't
http://evworld.co...ryid=482
(scroll to the images)
mzso
1 / 5 (10) Nov 09, 2013
Of course that's not a tank rupture. But yeah, petrol sucks in this regard too.
VendicarE
3 / 5 (2) Nov 09, 2013
"Vendi*CAR*E, work-related travel accounts for only 20% of the miles travelled per year per household in the United States." - Retrosurf

Not according to your own reference....

http://nhts.ornl....ard.aspx

Miles traveled

Earn a living 862208
Business/Family 1064350
Recreational 1031400

Even if Business/Family = Family then "Earn a living" = 29 percent.

And if business/family is half business, half family then work related driving is 47%
VendicarE
3 / 5 (2) Nov 09, 2013
"On the other hand petrol tanks are not at the bottom of the vehicle. There's stuff under it." - mzso

All of the car's I've ever seen have had the gas tank right underneath, the car, strapped, in, and unprotected from the bottom.

What planet are you from Mzso?
Eikka
1.4 / 5 (10) Nov 09, 2013
These battery fires start and spread slowly as opposed to ruptured tanks which do make fireballs.


Yeah. Guess what the Ford Pinto was famous for? A badly designed fuel tank that ruptured and caught fire on rear-ending because of sparking against the road.

But I guess the Tesla is the Ford Pinto of electric cars, then?

Because they'd go up like the Hindenburg?

Funnily they don't
http://evworld.co...ryid=482
(scroll to the images)


You've posted that link before, and I always point out that the demonstration is completely artifical: there's a pipe that hoses the hydrogen neatly out of a hole cut in the trunk lid. That's no more example of an accidental hydrogen release than a gas hob is an example of a propane tank rupture.
antialias_physorg
5 / 5 (2) Nov 09, 2013
there's a pipe that hoses the hydrogen neatly out of a hole cut in the trunk lid.

They shot a bullet in the tank. (Granted that is not a regular road hazard scenario...at least outside the US)

The main point is: hydrogen is flammable over a wide range of mixes with oxygen. However hydrogen is stored at high pressure. So the unless you completely break the tank in half no oxygen can enter while the gas is streaming out. So either you get nothing (as hydrogen quickly escapes upward) or you get a very contained flame point.

Much unlike gasoline that pools, and where heavier than air vapors stick around. It is flammable over a much lower range of mixes, but it's dangerous over a lot longer time frames than hydrogen (i.e. also until rescue teams arrive - by which time hydrogen has either dissipated - or isn't an issue at all because it is contained).

I'd go with hydrogen any day of the week.
TheGhostofOtto1923
2.3 / 5 (3) Nov 09, 2013
id go up with hydrogen any day of the week
Yah i suppose you would
http://www.youtub...a_player

Boom.
Guess what a pinto is famous for?
Guess you missed the nice vid I posted a few posts back?
VendicarE
3 / 5 (2) Nov 09, 2013
Gasoline is dangerous

http://www.youtub...QQ16FoIo

It gone and done burned dis carz.

http://www.youtub...XQomZcU4

So many gasoline fires, so little time.

http://www.youtub...v0E89fAc

Someone piss on that gasoline fire...

http://www.youtub...rtSJhrj8
VendicarE
3 / 5 (2) Nov 09, 2013
Truck and cars go boom cause of da gasoline.

http://www.youtub...4Zm8ryAU

Big fuel truck burns and goes boom

http://www.youtub...upIqM9T4

Exploding truck. Fuel destroys his truck.

http://www.youtub...1S-xvcYw
VendicarE
1 / 5 (1) Nov 09, 2013
Fuel Tanker explodes and melts road

http://www.youtub...Q-Uutq4k

The happy flames of Gasoline.

http://www.youtub...L7OEuDA8
VendicarE
1 / 5 (1) Nov 09, 2013
Oil burns boats too.

http://www.youtub...9RoF4eok

Evil propane tank destroys pickup truck...

http://www.youtub...NYw11XHM

Natural gas explodes.. Naturally

http://www.youtub...QWm4TxZU
TheGhostofOtto1923
1 / 5 (2) Nov 10, 2013
wait for cold fusion cars
You think this would be safer?

""Several labs have blown up studying LENR and windows have melted," Bushnell writes, "indicating when the conditions are right prodigious amounts of energy can be produced and released."
[UPDATE:  Lewis Larsen responds to this statement in the comments below this post: "Firstly, all such violent energetic events are quite rare — only a handful have ever occurred over the past 20+ years during the course of literally hundreds of thousands of LENR experiments; most have involved water-filled reaction vessels of one kind or another . Secondly, and most importantly, NONE of these incidents were caused by a nuclear explosion per se."

-Per se.
http://www.youtub...a_player

-On the upside they would be really fast.
Eikka
1 / 5 (6) Nov 10, 2013
So the unless you completely break the tank in half no oxygen can enter while the gas is streaming out. So either you get nothing (as hydrogen quickly escapes upward) or you get a very contained flame point.


Hydrogen's rate of diffusion is quite fast and it loses lift when mixed with air because the lift force for individual molecules is so weak. When hydrogen diffuses to the surrounding air, it tends to form a combustible cloud that indeed does rise up, but at a snails pace. It can be easily pushed back down and sideways by air currents, or trapped under ceilings and overhangs. Hydrogen only rises up fast when it's concentrated.

And you can't guarantee that the leak always happens so neatly as to vent into a well placed duct that carries it out from the inside of the vehicle before it has a chance of mixing with air. Suppose the leak is at the bottom of the tank, from where it vents to the undercarriage of the vehicle, from where the gasses and flame diffuse up.
Eikka
1 / 5 (7) Nov 10, 2013
Guess what a pinto is famous for?


Guess you missed the nice vid I posted a few posts back?


No. That's exactly the video I was commenting there. You really should pay attention.

The Ford Pinto had its fuel tank unshielded all the way back behind the rear axle right in the crumple zone with the filler neck pointing backwards, so every time it was rear-ended, the fuel tank would rupture and spray fuel all around.

It was a horrible design error.
TheGhostofOtto1923
1 / 5 (2) Nov 10, 2013
No. That's exactly the video I was commenting there. You really should pay attention
So youre restating the subject of the notorious pinto crash test in the vid is original somehow?
Yeah. Guess what the Ford Pinto was famous for? A badly designed fuel tank that ruptured and caught fire on rear-ending because of sparking against the road
-Sorry redundancy looks a lot like ignorance to me. My apologies.

GM pickups had a similar problem with side collisions.
http://www.mother...g-pickup
VendicarE
1 / 5 (1) Nov 10, 2013
"Hydrogen's rate of diffusion is quite fast and it loses lift when mixed with air because the lift force for individual molecules is so weak" - Eikka

Well.... No...

There is no "lift" from mixed hydrogen because lift requires a difference in density and density is a bulk property.

Density has no meaning when you are talking about Individual hydrogen molecules

holoman
1 / 5 (3) Nov 11, 2013

A tragedy 73 years which was not solely the result of hydrogen only but the diesel catching on fire, the ignition of the exotic materials of the super structures, fabric of the ship and a massive structure crashing due to gravity.

Alot of deaths occurred due to people jumping to their dearths, so please tell the facts.
Eikka
1 / 5 (2) Nov 11, 2013
Well.... No...

There is no "lift" from mixed hydrogen because lift requires a difference in density and density is a bulk property.

Density has no meaning when you are talking about Individual hydrogen molecules


That was kinda the point.

Once the hydrogen is mixed with air, it stops rising up like a hydrogen balloon would. It will still settle down (or up in this case) according to molecular weights of the gasses, but only very slowly for the same reason why oxygen doesn't separate from the nitrogen in the atmosphere despite having different molecular weights.

That's why slow hydrogen leaks are particularily dangerous. They don't leave the area immediately, but instead collect up a combustible cloud that lingers on inside buildings and under overhangs, or get blown around by the wind until it finds a source of ignition.