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Tesla Fires and Firestorms: Let's Breathe and Review Some Car Fire Math

Soulskill posted about 10 months ago | from the lies,-damned-lies,-and-statistics dept.

Transportation 264

cartechboy writes "There are about 150,000 vehicle fires reported every year in the U.S. — about 17 every hour, on average. But when that vehicle fire is a Tesla, the Internet notices. There have now been three fires among roughly 20,000 Tesla Model S electric cars on the road so far. The stock is down, the Feds are asking questions and the Internet is swimming in Tesla news. It may be time to check the facts and review some math (hint: we're looking at roughly one fire for every 33 million miles driven so far) and then breathe. Then look at what we know, what we don't know, and what we should know."

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American cars in general... (-1, Troll)

bazmail (764941) | about 10 months ago | (#45373613)

... catch fire more than Japanese or European cars. Its got nothing to do with fuel type. Its down to poor engineering.

Re: American cars in general... (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45373635)

i would say it is more than where the car was made but more who is buying and using the car.

TFA is a Tesla PR piece (0, Flamebait)

Taco Cowboy (5327) | about 10 months ago | (#45374315)

" There are about 150,000 vehicle fires reported every year in the U.S. â" about 17 every hour, on average. But when that vehicle fire is a Tesla, the Internet notices "

What is the real intention behind the above quote?

Was the author getting any financial supprt from the Tesla car company ?

The piece is nothing but a naked attempt in fraudulently abusing the statistics to make Tesla cars look better than they really are.

True, there are over one hundreds thousand car fires per year, and that shouldn't even be any surprise, for they carry HIGHLY COMBUSTIBLE HYDRO-CARBON FUEL, - such as gasoline or diesel, - in them !

On the other hand, Tesla cars, being electrically powered, do NOT need gasoline, or do they??

Comparing the big number of hydrocarbon-powered vehicles which caught fire with the 3 cases of Tesla cars is, to put it very mildly, totally misleading !!

Re:TFA is a Tesla PR piece (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45374373)

On the other hand, Tesla cars, being electrically powered, do NOT need gasoline, or do they??

What? You mean the Tesla runs on gasoline and they've been hiding it from us?

I'm SHOCKED!

Re:TFA is a Tesla PR piece (4, Funny)

LifesABeach (234436) | about 10 months ago | (#45374419)

Ya know, I feel real bad for the folks at Tesla, I'd like to volunteer my help to them. I'm offering to test drive a fully equipped Tesla to work, every day just so that Tesla can get some hard evidence of how their cars hold up under I405 traffic conditions. I see one to two car on semi accidents a day, my commute would make an excellent test environment. I will also offer to bring a fire extinguisher just in case something unforeseen happens. I know that the Tesla folks would want to see the initial damage without other damage occurring.

Re:TFA is a Tesla PR piece (5, Insightful)

fisted (2295862) | about 10 months ago | (#45374461)

The vehicle carries energy. It's pretty much irrelevant whether that energy is stored as gasoline or inside a huge battery -- whenever there is a large amount of energy around, there is the potential of shit igniting.

Re:TFA is a Tesla PR piece (5, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45374507)

There are about 150,000 vehicle fires reported every year in the U.S. â" about 17 every hour, on average. But when that vehicle fire is a Tesla, the Internet notices "

True, there are over one hundreds thousand car fires per year, and that shouldn't even be any surprise, for they carry HIGHLY COMBUSTIBLE HYDRO-CARBON FUEL, - such as gasoline or diesel, - in them !

On the other hand, Tesla cars, being electrically powered, do NOT need gasoline, or do they??

Comparing the big number of hydrocarbon-powered vehicles which caught fire with the 3 cases of Tesla cars is, to put it very mildly, totally misleading !!

Most car fires are the result of defective or worn wiring. Gasoline catches fires as the result of a collision. Diesel generally won't catch fire since it's the same as home heating oil, which only burns when sprayed as an aerosol. When a new expensive electric vehicle catches fire, it is news. Maybe not stop-the-presses news, but news nonetheless.

Re:American cars in general... (2, Informative)

Wintermute__ (22920) | about 10 months ago | (#45373653)

[citation needed]

Re:American cars in general... (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45373681)

Google.

Exactly (1)

Gription (1006467) | about 10 months ago | (#45374213)

Google solves everything!

Re:American cars in general... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45374263)

Perhaps you should ask Google what "citation" means.

Re:American cars in general... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45373691)

Bad drivers more likely. At least I have as much proof for my claim as you have for yours...

Re:American cars in general... (4, Insightful)

niftymitch (1625721) | about 10 months ago | (#45373849)

... catch fire more than Japanese or European cars. Its got nothing to do with fuel type. Its down to poor engineering.

Or simply decades of relentless improvement.

The first automobile patent in the United States was granted to Oliver Evans in 1789. (google search)
The first gas powered car was invented by Karl Friedrich Benz around 1885 to 1886 in Germany....(google search)

Woops before gas power there was steam and electricity.

Still this is interesting and important if you are an engineer but
it is clear the industry is 'after' Tesla. The real threat to the auto industry
is the Tesla distribution model that has all the dealers in the US up in arms.

Re:American cars in general... (1)

sumdumass (711423) | about 10 months ago | (#45374275)

It's no more after tesla then Ralph Nader was after GM when he insisted in safety improvements that doomed the Vega and led to the class action lawsuit against Ford over the gas tanks in the pintos which GM also had an issue with later in their side mounted fuel tanks.

There are known hazards that shouldn't cause fires or risk of death to anyone. These known hazards do include road debris and collisions with the later being far more difficult to protect against. The investigations should not be seen as an attack but rather as a way to improve safety unless Tesla is going to be a Ford or GM and refuse to make minor modifications in the name of safety because the cost of implementing it so far is more then claims paid on it.

Re:American cars in general... (1)

Narcocide (102829) | about 10 months ago | (#45374369)

Right, unless of course someone is out there throwing tow hitches onto a crowded, fast-moving freeway in front of Teslas... in which case it actually is an attack too, regardless of any safety regulation consequences.

Re:American cars in general... (3, Funny)

Megane (129182) | about 10 months ago | (#45373917)

Nope, Italian cars (Ferrari, Lambo) are the top car for catching fire! I know because I heard it on Jalopnik!

fpm (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45373625)

Number of fires per vehicle model?

Thank you for the submission (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45373631)

Always a pleasure to get a submission from you, Mr. Musk.
Your's sincerely,
the slashvertising dept.

Re:Thank you for the submission (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45373705)

You're welcome Mr. Exxon.

Re:Thank you for the submission (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45373795)

your's? Kill yourself now. Sorry, I mean your'self.

Re:Thank you for the submission (1)

Mitchell314 (1576581) | about 10 months ago | (#45373843)

Yes, lets forget about pesky stuff like 'putting things in context' and 'lets critically assess the empirical data'. I want to be self-righteously outraged, and I want to be self-righteously outraged now, dammit! Anything to the contrary is supporting the fat cats.

Re:Thank you for the submission (0)

clarkkent09 (1104833) | about 10 months ago | (#45374165)

No, lets defend our pet products in a knee-jerk fashion even before the evidence is in. When Toyota's had problems I didn't see an article on /. saying there are 30 million Toyotas on the road and only a few of them happen to randomly accelerate and crash and burn their occupants, so it's not such a big deal.

Re:Thank you for the submission (1)

Mitchell314 (1576581) | about 10 months ago | (#45374431)

Who's pet product?

Re:Thank you for the submission (1)

clarkkent09 (1104833) | about 10 months ago | (#45374543)

Slashdot's.

Re:Thank you for the submission (1)

Mitchell314 (1576581) | about 10 months ago | (#45374567)

And it's a knee jerk reaction . . . how?

How about just battery fires also? (4, Insightful)

Slugster (635830) | about 10 months ago | (#45373671)

It is not useful to simply compare the rate of vehicle fires. That is important, but it is only half of the question.

What would be useful would be to also compare the rate of non-Tesla car fires originating from the battery, with that of Teslas.

It would not be advantageous for Teslas to have 'essentially eliminated" the risk of fuel fires, if doing so also include drastically increasing the risk of battery fires.

Re:How about just battery fires also? (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45373933)

[Assuming that fuel fires and battery fires are equally weighted as far as severity goes, which is obviously some frictionless-perfect-sphere-style handwaving...]

Let's say with gasoline-powered cars, the risk of fuel fire is 1%, and the risk of battery fire is 0.01%. The odds of your car igniting is 1.01%.

And let's say Tesla has effectively eliminated fuel fires, but it's now 50 times more likely that your battery start a fire. That's a 0.50% possibility of your car igniting.

All other things being equal, I'll take the car that is half as likely to catch on fire.

(Yes, the numbers are all made up, but the point is, I don't care WHAT lights my car on fire; I only care how likely it is that my car will light on fire. Therefore, I think it makes sense to look at all vehicle fires.)

Re:How about just battery fires also? (4, Insightful)

Dan East (318230) | about 10 months ago | (#45374169)

I don't care WHAT lights my car on fire; I only care how likely it is that my car will light on fire.

Hang on a second. You make it sound like gasoline or batteries set your car on fire, and then your "car" is simply burning. You do realize the gasoline is 99% of what is burning, and not really the "car" itself, right? So there's more to it than the cause or frequency, but the nature of the fire itself. Gasoline is particularly bad because it is a liquid that typically flows all over and around the scene of an accident, then it is the evaporated vapor of the fuel that combusts openly in the air. Essentially, it will spread and consume the entire car and surrounding area because of its liquid nature. Lithium batteries burn in an entirely different manner. It seems likely to me that a Tesla battery fire would be much more contained and thus less dangerous than a gasoline fire.

Your logic is like saying that headaches and strokes are equivalent medical events involving the brain, and you'd rather have strokes since they occur less often. I don't think most people would share that kind of opinion.

Re: How about just battery fires also? (3, Informative)

peragrin (659227) | about 10 months ago | (#45374433)

That's discounting other sources of iginition. Fuel fires are not the primary cause of car fires.

Catalytic converters, voltage regulators, and alternators also play significant roles. Devices used to generate and manage variable electrical loads cause more fires.

Re:How about just battery fires also? (1)

blackraven14250 (902843) | about 10 months ago | (#45374443)

Not only that, but I'd take the fire overall being "you're pretty much out of a car now" regardless as to what causes it, so a lower percentage overall is what really matters. Once you combine that with the battery fire being slower to progress towards a person who needs to get out ASAP, it's clear the Tesla can be a winner if the data comes out statistically showing that this is true over time.

Re:How about just battery fires also? (1)

VortexCortex (1117377) | about 10 months ago | (#45374545)

Factor in the survivability of the fires as well. Gasoline fires tend to escalate rather quickly.

Re:How about just battery fires also? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45373935)

What is the risk for a gasoline-fed fire in a Tesla? Its not that simple.

Re:How about just battery fires also? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45373999)

What would be useful would be to also compare the rate of non-Tesla car fires originating from the battery, with that of Teslas.

The proper question to ask is how much of the anti-Tesla media hype is coming from the oil industry and anti-electric vehicle state politicians whining about loss of fuel taxes.

anti-Tesla media hype (2)

mbkennel (97636) | about 10 months ago | (#45374511)


Much less likely to be oil industry, and much more likely to be financial institutions shorting the stock.

The threat to oil industry is slow and decades away---to them the problem is access to high quality oil fields currently held by nations and capital costs for fracking.

By contrast a 2 week hype/whinge cycle is perfect for a hedge fund.

Re:How about just battery fires also? (5, Informative)

s.petry (762400) | about 10 months ago | (#45374047)

Remove your biases for a moment and read TFA. All this bullshit doom and gloom is nonsense propaganda, or at least most of it. Most likely, brought to you by several groups of people that don't benefit (enough) from EVs, and stand to lose a whole lot of money if they begin to be successful.

Accident 1. It apparently occurred after the Model S ran over a piece of road debris later described as a "curved section that fell off a semi-trailer." That item punched a 3-inch hole through the 1/4-inch-thick armor plate protecting the pack, with a force of 25 tons, according to a report by Tesla. The car alerted the driver of a fault, and he pulled over and exited the car.

Emphasis is mine. It should not take a rocket scientist to guess that this is a big fucking piece of steel. It may not have made your Combustion car catch fire, but your car would have most taken tremendous damage at least. Your car does not have 1/4-inch armor plating, so you may not have lived through it.

Accident 2. It apparently occurred after the Model S driver jumped a curb, took out several feet of a concrete wall, and then hit a tree.

Ever hear of Michael Hastings who died in a new Mercedes that hit a tree and caught fire? It happened very recently, so you can save the "it never happens with gas cars" lines. I don't think the mention of the guy being drunk makes a lick of difference to the point. The point is, this guy was driving very fast and crashed into a bunch of hard stuff.

Accident 3. It too apparently occurred after the Model S ran over a piece of road debris, this time reportedly described by police as a tow hitch that pierced the undercarriage. Tesla issued this statement: “We have been in contact with the driver, who was not injured and believes the car saved his life. Our team is on its way to Tennessee to learn more about what happened in the accident.”

So once again, we have a massive piece of road debris that would have totaled any other car on the road as the culprit, and as of yet an unknown cause of fire. Note the drivers opinion that the car saved his life and received no injuries. Sure, he's not an expert but you were not there so are not an expert either.

All this shit keeps pointing to some people wanting bad press for EVs because, you know.. we kill a whole lot of people to get this oil that should be able to transfer a good chunk of your money to them!

Re:How about just battery fires also? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45374245)

on the upside, this is probably a good time to buy some of the stock.

Re:How about just battery fires also? (1)

sribe (304414) | about 10 months ago | (#45374085)

What would be useful would be to also compare the rate of non-Tesla car fires originating from the battery, with that of Teslas.

How in the hell would that be useful, when the Tesla batteries are the Tesla "fuel source"??? Think about it, that comparison would make absolutely no sense at all!

Re:How about just battery fires also? (1)

sumdumass (711423) | about 10 months ago | (#45374333)

It is more complicated then that. The comparison needs to involve details such as age of the vehicle and modifications/repair work done to it. Most vehicles that are new (within a few years) will not catch fire in accidents in which the occupants are not seriously injured. Most vehicle fires in cars not involved in serious crashes that I am aware of are generally the result if improperly performed maintenance, neglected repairs, or modifications and typically happen to cars that are aged.

If new cars, unmodified, were catching fire and burning up due to modest damage, you would see all sorts of issues surrounding it due to the past with Ford and GM and their gas tank issues. This persecution of cars catching fire is not new, it is only new tech involved. Remember the Pinto and side mounded fuel tanks on GM trucks?

apples to oranges (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45373675)

How many ordinary cars would catch fire if they contained no gasoline? That would be the better comparison.

Re:apples to oranges (1)

hawguy (1600213) | about 10 months ago | (#45374279)

How many ordinary cars would catch fire if they contained no gasoline? That would be the better comparison.

Isn't that like asking how many Teslas would catch fire if they had no battery?

Re:apples to oranges (1)

ebno-10db (1459097) | about 10 months ago | (#45374283)

How many ordinary cars would catch fire if they contained no gasoline? That would be the better comparison.

Assuming you only drive downhill.

Re:apples to oranges (1)

fisted (2295862) | about 10 months ago | (#45374493)

You're an idiot.

Best wishes anyway,
-Energy

OK, here is some math. (5, Informative)

wherrera (235520) | about 10 months ago | (#45373679)

According to the US Bureau of Transportation,there are over 250 million cars on the road in the US. There are 150,000 fires in those vehicles a year __according to the OP__.

There are 20,000 Tesla cars, with 3 fires.

Relative risk = ( 3 / 20000 ) / ( 150000 / 250000000 ) = 0.00015 / 0.0006 = 0.25.

Get a Tesla, so as to avoid vehicle fires. Maybe? Depends on whether the reported stats are correct.

Re:OK, here is some math. (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45373747)

Generally conventional cars burn when they are old. Calculate how many cars up to one year old are burning in comparison to Tesla.

Re:OK, here is some math. (3, Insightful)

msauve (701917) | about 10 months ago | (#45373861)

This. Older fuel hoses crack and split, older cars may have received little/no routine maintenance other than enough to keep them running, etc.

OTOH, you could also limit the comparison to cars costing twice the average price of cars when new - those might be expected to receive better maintenance.

Re:OK, here is some math. (3, Insightful)

bigwheel (2238516) | about 10 months ago | (#45374197)

Exactly. With a straight face, they cite statistics comparing a new $100,000 Tesla with an old beater that is held together with duct tape and probably worth a few hundred bucks.

Re:OK, here is some math. (1)

hawguy (1600213) | about 10 months ago | (#45374295)

Exactly. With a straight face, they cite statistics comparing a new $100,000 Tesla with an old beater that is held together with duct tape and probably worth a few hundred bucks.

But the risk of battery puncture and fire doesn't get worse as the Tesla ages, so a 10 year old Tesla shouldn't have any different fire risk than a brand new Tesla, so it doesn't seem unfair to compare across all cars.

Re:OK, here is some math. (1)

tftp (111690) | about 10 months ago | (#45374497)

But the risk of battery puncture and fire doesn't get worse as the Tesla ages

Why do you think so? LI-Ion batteries experience significant mechanical deformation as they are charged/discharged. There is a lot of vibration that is transferred into the battery from the road. Old batteries require longer charging, at higher temperatures. The numbers will not be the same.

There is yet another issue. Batteries are essentially strips of plastic tape that have goo smeared onto them, and then the strips are rolled up to form an element. There is not much accuracy in this process, and not much repeatability. Some batteries may serve longer than expected, and some may fail prematurely. Some failures can cause fires. A gas tank is a precision instrument, compared to a battery. It can be inspected for leaks, but a battery cannot be inspected in a similar way - there are too many sealed elements, and each of them is manufactured by the lowest bidder. We haven't seen yet battery fires in Teslas that are caused by an intact battery. But as more cars are put onto the road, and as they accumulate more miles, this may become an issue.

Re: OK, here is some math. (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45374527)

while i like tesla and the electric cars.....lets not forget...Lithium batteries can explode.....or have you all forgotten about the problems with notebook batteries.

driving is dangerous no two ways about it. hell i ride motorcycles as well as own a small fleet of vehicles............i am very much of the Hunter S Tompson school of thought...... I like danger. So my dream tesla is a superbattery powered one with a huge turbo/supercharged gas engine for extra boost/electric generation. hell i would like to see air bags replaced with pneumatic spikes......we simply cant make them dangerous enough.....i mean really we have to do something to thin the heard.

Re:OK, here is some math. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45373765)

You have to compare that by vehicle miles travelled to get a true picture of the risk.

Re:OK, here is some math. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45373907)

Way to compare apples to oranges. Your comparing all gas vehicles to a luxury electric vehicle, how about you pull all luxury gas vehicles from that 250 million and all the same from the 150,000 fires and then look at the statistics. According to the vehicle statistics on wiki (pulled from Gov info) gas vehicles rack up 2000-3000 billion miles per year compared to the 83 million miles that the Tesla has accumulated to date (according to Musk)

Re:OK, here is some math. (1)

Joining Yet Again (2992179) | about 10 months ago | (#45374151)

Better per mile driven, and taking into account relative driving styles, maintenance efforts, car ages, etc.

There's really not enough data to say that these electric cars are safer, merely a lack of data to confirm that they're either significantly less or significantly more safe, comparing like for like.

I think Musk is the worst sort of businessperson, from useless money-sink Paypal to sucking off the government space programme teat. But I wouldn't mind Tesla cars approaching the mainstream automobile marketplace on merit and winning on quality - none of this end-to-end lock-in bullshit they're engaging in, right down to post-accident propaganda.

Re:OK, here is some math. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45374217)

Not enough information to form a valid conclusion. You've only shown that given a fire, the odds that the car involved is a (brand new) Tesla is less than the odds that a randomly chosen car is a Tesla.

Wikipedia says "In 2007 the overall median age for automobiles was 9.4 years.... As of 2011, the median age for all vehicles in the US had risen to 10.8 years" (source [wikipedia.org] ).

[HYPOTHETICAL]
Your "relative risk" equation would go into "that's not looking good for Tesla" territory if less than 1/8th of the fires come from cars newer than 10.8 years old (i.e. cars made after 2002).
Relative risk = ( 3 / 20000 ) / ( (1/8 * 150000) / (50% * 250000000) ) = 0.00015 / 0.00015 = 1.0.
[/HYPOTHETICAL]

So as you can see, we can't form any conclusions until we know how many NEW cars catch fire. Personally I'd like to see the stats on fires involving cars less than 5 years old.

Re:OK, here is some math. (1)

clarkkent09 (1104833) | about 10 months ago | (#45374235)

You'd have to compare all the models, not just Tesla compared to the average of all other cars. If one brand of cars happen to catch fires all the time, Tesla could be the second worst and still come out better than average.

Probably going to clear Tesla (5, Interesting)

Todd Knarr (15451) | about 10 months ago | (#45373689)

In all 3 cases, it seems like the fire was caused by severe damage to the car from an outside source rather than a fault in the car. In all 3 cases the car's design prevented injury to the driver from the fire rather than contributing to the fire. And, let's face it, if we investigated every conventional model of car that was involved in 3 fires in a single month, every single model would be under investigation continuously. So, the people panicking over this and getting rid of Tesla stock, and the people pointing to this to impugn Tesla, need to get a grip. There's other reasons not to like Tesla, but it's not because their cars are in any way unsafe (or at least nomore unsafe than ~2 tons of steel barreling along at between 80 and 110 feet per second carrying between 10 and 30 gallons of highly flammable fuel (which forms explosive vapors under normal environmental conditions) in a thin sheet-metal tank with no armor or other protection against penetration).

Re:Probably going to clear Tesla (1, Insightful)

DerekLyons (302214) | about 10 months ago | (#45373831)

In all 3 cases, it seems like the fire was caused by severe damage to the car from an outside source rather than a fault in the car.

In all three cases the fire was caused by an event that rarely causes a fire in a conventionally powered car. That it was an outside source is irrelevant to this, as it's a normal hazard of operating a car over the road - regardless of it's power source.
 

carrying between 10 and 30 gallons of highly flammable fuel (which forms explosive vapors under normal environmental conditions) in a thin sheet-metal tank with no armor or other protection against penetration).

Quite the contrary. In a conventionally powered car, the fuel tank is located in the rear of the car. In the case of incidents like the Tesla fires, the fuel tank is protected by the entire length of the car , while the Tesla's battery is only minimally protected despite it's more exposed position to such hazards.
 

So, the people panicking over this and getting rid of Tesla stock, and the people pointing to this to impugn Tesla, need to get a grip.

No, the people who need to get a grip are people like yourself - those who, whether through ignorance or bias, continue to insist on making apples-to-oranges comparisons, misrepresenting the facts, and blowing smoke in order to exonerate the Tesla.

Re:Probably going to clear Tesla (1)

Phoeniyx (2751919) | about 10 months ago | (#45374005)

As the poster above (werrerra) said in a parallel thread: According to the US Bureau of Transportation,there are over 250 million cars on the road in the US. There are 150,000 fires in those vehicles a year __according to the OP__. There are 20,000 Tesla cars, with 3 fires. Relative risk = ( 3 / 20000 ) / ( 150000 / 250000000 ) = 0.00015 / 0.0006 = 0.25. Tesla is safer. Apples to apples.

Re:Probably going to clear Tesla (2)

Mr D from 63 (3395377) | about 10 months ago | (#45374195)

Factor in age and miles driven per vehicle if you want apples to apples. I would guess the average gas vehicle is logging a whole lot more miles per year. I would also guess that the rate of fires in 2 year old or less gas vehicles is much lower. So we really don't have a good comparative number.

It is a new technology....Tesla will figure it out and make fixes where needed.

Re:Probably going to clear Tesla (1)

ebno-10db (1459097) | about 10 months ago | (#45374313)

So we really don't have a good comparative number.

That's true. I would hope sufficiently accurate stats are kept on car fires to make such a calculation, but I wouldn't bet on it. The "older cars are more likely to catch fire" is just speculation at this point.

What we do have though is enough information to say that "Tesla is a deathtrap" is way overblown.

Re:Probably going to clear Tesla (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45374341)

Age and miles would be relevant if the vehicle caught fire spontaneously, not when the vehicle is driven into an object capable of totaling any new car.

Re:Probably going to clear Tesla (1)

Kjella (173770) | about 10 months ago | (#45374029)

While we're talking about apples-to-oranges comparisons, I don't care much about "trivial" fires that don't cause any personal harm. They're rare enough to be an annoyance for the insurance company to deal with, but not a big deal for the overall cost. For example it's much more expensive to have a small crash with a modern car that has huge, soft crumple zones than an old rigid car as much less gets bent out of place. But if you're in a solid crash you'd want to be in the modern car that diverges all that energy around you, not transferring it to your soft meatbag. I suppose it does sound bad if you're upside down in a ditch or the doors are jammed shut by the collision, but the rate of fire doesn't directly translate to the risk of being hurt by an engine fire.

Re:Probably going to clear Tesla (1)

zippthorne (748122) | about 10 months ago | (#45374097)

Much less expensive for your car budget. How about your whiplash budget?

Re:Probably going to clear Tesla (2)

fredprado (2569351) | about 10 months ago | (#45374063)

In all three cases the fire was caused by an event that rarely causes a fire in a conventionally powered car.

In the second case it was a direct hit at high speed against an immovable target. Fires are actually relatively common in non electric cars, and fire or not death is relatively common in these situations. The driver escaped unscathed in this case, though.

In the first and second case the case was hit very hard, again at high speeds, by a large object on the road that punctured through their shielding and hit the battery. And yes, the combustion engine cars usually do not have their energy source in the front, but there are cases, and they are not rare, of cars hit on the sides and catching fire. Additionally these Model S cars didn't lose stability or control and detected the failure quickly enough to allow the drivers to pull over and leave in safety in both cases.

In all three cases the drivers seem to be very satisfied with the degree of safety those cars provided then in the extreme situations they found themselves.

Re:Probably going to clear Tesla (1, Insightful)

greenbird (859670) | about 10 months ago | (#45374257)

Man, your breath must really stink cause you're surely talking out your ass.

In all three cases the fire was caused by an event that rarely causes a fire in a conventionally powered car. That it was an outside source is irrelevant to this, as it's a normal hazard of operating a car over the road - regardless of it's power source.

In the first place the second fire involved a high speed collision into several objects. That could definitely has a reasonable chance to cause fire in any vehicle. As to the other 2 fires you seem to have some statistics that prove a similar incident wouldn't cause a fire in a gas car? It certainly seems to me running over something that has enough force to puncture "a 3-inch hole through the 1/4-inch-thick armor plate" would have a enough force to puncture a gas tank.

How about you supply some of this evidence you seem to have to support your fallacious claims.

Quite the contrary. In a conventionally powered car, the fuel tank is located in the rear of the car. In the case of incidents like the Tesla fires, the fuel tank is protected by the entire length of the car , while the Tesla's battery is only minimally protected despite it's more exposed position to such hazards.

So when you run something over the gas tank is protected by the entire length of the car? I really want to see how you're managing to drive your car standing on end.

No, the people who need to get a grip are people like yourself - those who, whether through ignorance or bias, continue to insist on making apples-to-oranges comparisons, misrepresenting the facts, and blowing smoke in order to exonerate the Tesla.

Wow, the level of irony in that statement...

Re:Probably going to clear Tesla (1)

Mr0bvious (968303) | about 10 months ago | (#45374335)

Quite the contrary. In a conventionally powered car, the fuel tank is located in the rear of the car. In the case of incidents like the Tesla fires, the fuel tank is protected by the entire length of the car , while the Tesla's battery is only minimally protected despite it's more exposed position to such hazards.

But also consider - you have more influence over what the front of your car hits, you have less influence over what hits you from behind (especially when stationary).

So it may not be correct to automatically conclude that having a fuel tank in the rear is the safer option.

I'm not claiming that it's not safer, but I personally trust myself not to collide with an object in front of me rather than some other fool slamming into my car from behind (or the from any direction in for that matter)....

Re:Probably going to clear Tesla (1)

ColaMan (37550) | about 10 months ago | (#45374437)

the fuel tank is protected by the entire length of the car , while the Tesla's battery is only minimally protected despite it's more exposed position to such hazards.

When you run over something, it's pretty much up to chance as to what it hits under your car, how it tumbles, when it gets flicked up, and what gets punctured as a result.

Also considering that the lithium battery is self contained , and not particularly explosive as such, and tends to (from what we've seen) burn in-situ and not spread fuel all over the place if punctured.... the two methods of energy storage probably come out equal.

Sure, things might be better if the batteries were more centrally located. And things might be better if all liquid-fueled cars used the F1-style fuel bladders to keep fires to a minimum during accidents, but here we are.

Re:Probably going to clear Tesla (1)

pesho (843750) | about 10 months ago | (#45373941)

Gasoline and electric cars catch fire for different reasons. In two of the cases of Tesla fires the damage was from road debris hitting the car from below (possibly lifted by the tires?). This is relatively frequent event on the road, so there is a good reason at the very east to look at the details of the incidents and consider the possibility of adding a new safety test for electric vehicles. Gasoline cars typically shrug off hits to the undercarriage, because while they have fuel and break lines running under neat, these are small targets and are typically well shielded. Tesla claims to have a 1/4 inch metal shielding for the battery. They have either been extremely unlucky to have in a short period of time two unusually powerful impacts to the bottom of the car or there is something very wrong with their choice of metal for the shield. Having said that if a something capable of piercing 1/4 inch metal plate is coming at high speed towards the parts of my body facing the pavement, I would rather have the battery take the impact. I

Re:Probably going to clear Tesla (2)

sribe (304414) | about 10 months ago | (#45374099)

..and the people pointing to this to impugn Tesla, need to get a grip.

Nah, I suspect those people have a very firm grip on the facts and know exactly what they are doing!

Look at a problem rationally, Never! :) (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45373739)

So well under 1% caught fire. (3 out of 20k is about .015%) Yes, we should apply math to this like we do with crime stats before acting irrational. Nope, it's news, so it's statistically irrelevant, which is why it's news. We should punish all Tesla owners and the company for the 3 that caught fire. That's what we do elsewhere *cough* gun control *cough*.

Tesla fire is good news (5, Insightful)

richtopia (924742) | about 10 months ago | (#45373753)

I was looking to purchase some TSLA, here is my opportunity.

Re:Tesla fire is good news (1)

Giant Electronic Bra (1229876) | about 10 months ago | (#45373807)

Yup, always buy on bad news!

dropped cigarettes, intentional etc. vs. spontaneo (2, Informative)

raymorris (2726007) | about 10 months ago | (#45373767)

The "all car fires" stat includes dropped cigarettes that smolder, cars intentionally set on fire, etc.
How many regular cars light on fire on the highway after running over a debris such as a hitch?

Also, how many do you want to have on fire? How many would ignite if there was a shield that would flex rather than puncture?

Re:dropped cigarettes, intentional etc. vs. sponta (1)

fredprado (2569351) | about 10 months ago | (#45374083)

Very few, on the other hand there are quiet a few would catch fire when hit hard on the sides, where the gas tank is, which wouldn't happen with this Tesla Model.

The fact is these cars were only hit because the drivers were speeding too much and failed to avoid the collision, and in all cases the cars took considerable time to catch fire, warned the drivers in advance and the drivers escaped unscathed.

Re:dropped cigarettes, intentional etc. vs. sponta (1)

zippthorne (748122) | about 10 months ago | (#45374117)

How many would ignite if there was a shield that would flex rather than puncture?

Flex where? If it's up against the battery, when it flexes it will compress the cells, causing exactly the kind of damage that causes fires...

not my department, but I visit that department (1)

raymorris (2726007) | about 10 months ago | (#45374305)

>. Flex where? If it's up against the battery, when it flexes it will compress the cells, causing exactly the kind of damage that causes fires...

Intuitively, you'd think to make a car safer, you'd make it stronger. In fact, you reduce G forces by designing it to crush - crumple zones. How can the shielding or battery positioning be improved? I don't know, but I hope Tesla's engineers are asking those questions.

At Texas Transportation Institute (part of the agency I work for) they're still crash testing gas cars to figure out how safety can be improved. The same needs to be done with Tesla cars, that's all.

Re:dropped cigarettes, intentional etc. vs. sponta (1)

alexhs (877055) | about 10 months ago | (#45374207)

The "all car fires" stat includes dropped cigarettes that smolder, cars intentionally set on fire, etc.

Exactly.

How many regular cars light on fire on the highway after running over a debris such as a hitch?

NFPA report [nfpa.org] . Same source as the other stats cited in the article, not mentionning the causes was a simple oversight, right ? I didn't check the full PDF reports yet.

So, three fires for Tesla vehicles, one of them caused by "collision or overturn", and the two other by... malfunction ?
There is also bias as "older vehicles were more likely to have a fire caused by mechanical or electrical failures.".
I'm surprised arson counts for "only" 8 percent of reported fires.

Anyway, Musk and the writer's stats are meaningless, especially the "no one's been killed" when we have 3 cases and the rate for gasoline vehicles is 0,1%.

Re:dropped cigarettes, intentional etc. vs. sponta (1)

ebno-10db (1459097) | about 10 months ago | (#45374339)

the two other by... malfunction ?

Striking something hard enough to punch through a 1/4" steel plate is not called a "malfunction", it's called a car accident.

The oil lobby (3, Insightful)

jonfr (888673) | about 10 months ago | (#45373797)

It is no surprise that the oil lobby is jumping on this. Even when in reality it is more dangerous to be in a car that runs on oil or gasoline than lion batteries. While batteries are not risk free, they are considerable lower risk than using oil and gasoline cars.

Re:The oil lobby (1)

b4upoo (166390) | about 10 months ago | (#45374135)

I would not be shocked at all to think that Tesla has so many enemies that the very lives of the owners and managers of the company are at risk of murder. Big industries do not like to fail and Tesla has such a superior product that there is almost no reason to buy any other brand. Not only are the Detroit based companies upset but the gas and oil industries don't love Tesla one little bit. Then to top it off there are tons of dealers that hate Tesla and on top of that conventional garages and mechanics will all lose work due to the success of Tesla.

Re:The oil lobby (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45374319)

Even when in reality it is more dangerous to be in a car that runs on oil or gasoline than lion batteries

Shouldn't they use cheetah batteries rather than lion batteries in their power supply for fast cars? Camel batteries appear to be a very good choice if you want to it to work for extended periods of time without refueling.

Re:The oil lobby (2)

Jeremi (14640) | about 10 months ago | (#45374349)

It is no surprise that the oil lobby is jumping on this

What evidence do we have that the oil lobby is jumping on this?

Re:The oil lobby (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45374363)

1. The question is if Tesla cars are in fact lower risk than gas cars. It hasn't been shown that the risk is considerably less, in fact according to the article it is only a little safer than the average car, and teslas are well above average price, and much newer than the average car to boot. The fact that their fire safety record is trending down dramatically doesn't help. Now maybe you can claim 3 fires doesn't equal enough data to draw lots of conclusions and I'd agree with you, but if true your statement about the relatives risks is unwarranted.

2. oil lobby is jumping on this? ok I'll take the troll bate...How much of the media attention is provably funded by oil companies?

Ancient safety engineering principles (5, Insightful)

Beryllium Sphere(tm) (193358) | about 10 months ago | (#45373827)

1. Stored energy is a hazard
2. Humans are fragile
3. Therefore create barriers between humans and stored energy.

Any self-powered vehicle with useful range needs a lot of stored energy. This can be in a form that drips and pours out of any opening in can find, like gasoline, or it can be chemical energy in a solid battery.

Tesla engineers implemented point 3 so well that the guy in Auburn opened the door and walked away from the uncontrolled release of energy happening in front of him.

Complete non-story, until they start catching fire spontaneously on the road like my neighbor's New Beetle.

Calm down in response to the call to calm down (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45373855)

You know, it is a good thing the NHTSA ( or whatever branch of the federal government ) is looking into these Tesla fires.

Electric vehicles are new ( again ), and regardless of Tesla supposedly superior design, or it's mathematically "fewer fires per mile" or whatever statistic someone wants to throw down on the table as proof of this or that, there is tremendous benefit in having qualified engineers investigate these fires.

They might find some design improvement, that makes them even safer, you know, like they do with every airplane crash ?

Should we trash Tesla for bad design ? No, not yet.

Should we defend Tesla and consider them beyond insvestigation ? Pfft, no.

Should we get a hard look at exactly what is happening in an attempt to make it stop ? You bet.

Carry on slashdotters, carry on.

Two irrelevant statistical numbers (1)

geneing (756949) | about 10 months ago | (#45373869)

The post has two completely irrelevant numbers: 1. fires "about 17 every hour" (why the rate of fires in the whole country important? Many cars -> many fires per hour). 2. "one fire for every 33 million miles" - useless number without providing comparable stats for gasoline cars, and normalizing to the car age, adjusting for causes of fire, etc. C'mon editors and writers, don't be lazy bums - there is enough of this stupid garbage in "mainstream media".

Re:Two irrelevant statistical numbers (1)

Sique (173459) | about 10 months ago | (#45374177)

Read TFA, the numbers are right there. "One fire for every 20 million miles" is the stats for normal cars.

Re:Two irrelevant statistical numbers (1)

Tailhook (98486) | about 10 months ago | (#45374387)

stats for normal cars

The stats used include the entire US fleet, including every neglected, run down, ancient, fire prone junker on the road with their untold accumulations of poorly done repairs, low quality replacement parts and ill-considered modifications. A legitimate comparison would consider only new manufacture gasoline cars.

That's not what we have here. What we have here are Tesla advocates advocating. Nothing more.

Re:Two irrelevant statistical numbers (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45374423)

I'll add another factor price/type of car. comparing teslas to cheep economy subcompacts is hardly a fair comparison...
We should be comparing the teslas to porsche and other such performance cars,

Oh, the Humanity! (1)

Black Parrot (19622) | about 10 months ago | (#45373977)

Tesla down, Bitcoin down, what's Slashdot going to push when they fold?

Re:Oh, the Humanity! (1)

Bing Tsher E (943915) | about 10 months ago | (#45374183)

Dice. They can push Dice as a most excellent place to look for work.

Re:Oh, the Humanity! (1)

Narcocide (102829) | about 10 months ago | (#45374531)

In Soviet Russia work looks for you!

Let them hype all they want (4, Funny)

Tmack (593755) | about 10 months ago | (#45374061)

Makes the stock cheaper for me to buy. Once they figure it out and it recovers, $$$

-T

why care about Tesla (0)

Gothmolly (148874) | about 10 months ago | (#45374081)

Other than the owner having a weird, slightly dirty-sounding name, who cares about Tesla? Why does Slashdot masturbate furiously in its parents' basement about anything related to Tesla?

Re:why care about Tesla (1)

Bing Tsher E (943915) | about 10 months ago | (#45374201)

It's about Ebon. Slashbots wishes they could have birthed a beautiful ethical company like PayPal.

THE REAL MATH (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45374107)

Here's the real math. If your car gets 35 miles per gallon and gas costs $3.50 per gallon, driving 200,000 miles costs $20,000.

IF YOU EVER EVEN CONSIDER BUYING A TESLA, YOU'RE MENTALLY RETARDED COMMUNIST SCUM

Good opportunity (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45374311)

If the market is so stupid that it would devalue their stock, they should take advantage of it and buy some shares back. They know that fires are just blown out of proportion but media outlets that have nothing better to report on anyway.

going per mile is not a great measure (2)

YesIAmAScript (886271) | about 10 months ago | (#45374329)

Since the biggest factors in car fires (mechanical failure, electrical failure, being in another fire and arson) all are active not just when the car is moving but when it is still.

The number of fires expected for Teslas in collisions at this point in time is about 1.25. We're looking at 2 or 3 right now (depending on whether you count Mexico).

This is above average and thus a valid reason to investigate.

Some math:
99.7% of collisions do not result in fire. About 11M cars are in collisions per year in the US, out of 250M cars. So about 4.4% of cars are in collisions per year on the road and 0.0132% of cars will catch fire due to collisions in a year on the road.

Tesla has about 20,000 cars out there, for about 6 months (on average), or about 10,000 car-years so far on Teslas. You would expect thus 1.32 car fires so far due to collision.

We have 2 or 3 depending on whether you count the Mexico fire. There is a case for not counting it, since all the other stats I list are US-only.

Given that car fires of all types rise with the age of the car since the fire prevention mechanism age and become less effective, having 2 or 3 car fires due to collision in 10,000 car years is perhaps alarming.

Either way, despite what greencarreports says, this rate of collision fires seems high enough to warrant an investigation, even with the small sample size.

Ford Pinto (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45374455)

I drive a Ford Pinto. These fancy pants EV death traps need to be removed from the roads before somebody gets hurt.

Say (1)

Impy the Impiuos Imp (442658) | about 10 months ago | (#45374467)

Some car fires are caused not by accident or defect. Uncle burns leaves, later that night it snows. Cousin comes home in the dark and parks with tire over smouldering coals.

Lithium battery fires (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45374471)

Lithium cells like to 'vent with flames' when overcharged. They burn like highway flares; I tried it. Good times, crack open an old laptop pack. Do all this outside!

So now we have many kilograms of stuff that can light up due to a charger defect. Do you park your Tesla in the garage? And plug in the charger? What could possibly go wrong?

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