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It is believed that metal debris on the freeway pierced the battery and caused the fire

A Washington driver of Tesla Motors' electric Model S experienced a fire this week that is reportedly battery-related.

According to The Detroit News, the driver -- who remains unnamed for now -- was traveling in his Model S southbound on state Route 167 through the Seattle suburb of Kent Tuesday when he hit a piece of metal debris on the freeway. He then exited the freeway, and the car became disabled right before he smelled something burning.

The driver called the police, and firefighters arrived in 3 minutes. They had a hard time putting the fire out, as water seemed to reignite the flames. But once the front end of the vehicle was dismantled and a circular saw was used to cut an access hole in the front section, water was poured through punctured holes in the battery pack. After that, the fire was out. 

Tesla spokeswoman Liz Jarvis-Shean said the fire was caused by a large metallic object hitting one of the battery pack’s modules, but that the fire was contained to a small section at the front of the vehicle and no one got hurt.

“This was not a spontaneous event,” Jarvis-Shean said. “Every indication we have at this point is that the fire was a result of the collision and the damage sustained through that.”

However, Trooper Chris Webb of the Washington State Patrol said there was too much damage from the fire to see what part the debris played in this. 

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) would normally make the trip to investigate the fire, but the partial government shutdown has suspended such activity for now. 

What is clear, though, is that the fire started in the battery -- and this will likely open Pandora's box, as lithium battery fire remain a huge topic of concern when it comes to electric vehicles and planes. 

Back in 2011, three separate Chevrolet Volt plug-in hybrid cars caught fire during NHTSA testing. Officials believed the fires were caused by coolant leaking from damaged plastic casing around the batteries after the side-impact crashes during testing. 

Earlier this year, Boeing's 787 Dreamliner jets had a series of fires as well, where some were related to their lithium ion batteries. The jets received a new battery system, which included a casing that would contain a fire to one area (similar to what Tesla touted about Tuesday's fire -- the fact that it was contained to the front) and the jets hit the skies again four months later. 

Back in April of this year, a panel of experts met at a forum sponsored by the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board in an attempt to solve the problem regarding lithium ion battery fires in both autos and planes. The result was that there's no sure method of protecting a battery from its own internal problems. 

Likely in response to the fire, Tesla's shares dropped $12.05 to $180.95 Wednesday. The stock is once again taking a hit today, currently trading at $170. The 52-week high was $194.50. 

Tesla and its Model S have been in the spotlight a lot this year after the company successfully paid off its government loans nine years early, pulled a profit, unveiled new tech for its electric car and the Model S even snagged the highest safety rating from the NHTSA. But it's unclear if this hiccup will further heighten the fear surrounding lithium ion batteries for cars and take a toll on Model S sales. 

Source: The Detroit News

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1 Tesla fire, from an accident?
By Rerednaweht on 10/3/2013 11:29:19 AM , Rating: 5
Okay 152,300 car fires a year that are from gasoline cars.

So...their stock prices also tumble? I don't hear about that in the news for some reason.

RE: 1 Tesla fire, from an accident?
By AMDftw on 10/3/13, Rating: 0
RE: 1 Tesla fire, from an accident?
By ShaolinSoccer on 10/3/2013 11:52:35 AM , Rating: 5
You can always hook up a speaker and make the Tesla sound louder.

RE: 1 Tesla fire, from an accident?
By Breakfast Susej on 10/3/2013 2:58:23 PM , Rating: 5
I say make EV's play ice cream truck music as an option myself.

RE: 1 Tesla fire, from an accident?
By embedded_bill on 10/3/2013 3:25:43 PM , Rating: 2
Turkey and the Straw

RE: 1 Tesla fire, from an accident?
By stm1185 on 10/3/2013 4:50:05 PM , Rating: 2
Danger Zone!

By flyingpants1 on 10/7/2013 5:27:07 AM , Rating: 1
Outstandingly stupid comment.

RE: 1 Tesla fire, from an accident?
By Monkey's Uncle on 10/3/2013 12:10:57 PM , Rating: 1
You think Ford's stock didn't take a big spill because of this? :

It made pretty big news back in the day and a huge sell off of Ford Pintos and earned the Ford Pinto a pot on Time Magazine's list of 50 worst cars ever made.

RE: 1 Tesla fire, from an accident?
By Mint on 10/3/2013 1:29:01 PM , Rating: 5
That's because Pintos caught fire higher than normal.

We now have the first fire in 10,000+ Teslas that have been selling for almost a year. The 200M gas/diesel cars on the road see 150,000+ fires per year.

AFAICS, the Model S is less prone to fires than normal cars.

RE: 1 Tesla fire, from an accident?
By smegz on 10/3/2013 3:00:31 PM , Rating: 2
You are not wrong.

Tesla - 0.010% (1 of 10,000)
The rest of the world - 0.075% (150,000 of 200M)

Still, it's an insignificant risk in either case. This is just investor fear and over reaction. Or, business as usual.

RE: 1 Tesla fire, from an accident?
By Mint on 10/3/2013 8:37:11 PM , Rating: 2
FYI, those numbers were for the US.

But investor fear is based on estimated public fear, so it's not necessarily their overreaction.

RE: 1 Tesla fire, from an accident?
By Richard875yh5 on 10/3/2013 5:14:40 PM , Rating: 2
You can not go by the amount of cars sold and in the first place isn't that many. You have to go by how many have been in accidents. If not cars gets in an accident, then I would expect no fires.

If this were the Chevy Volt, the whole world would know about it by now. Quite frankly I don't think the Tesla does not have a chance in hell in making it. The big companies with much better resources will see to it.

RE: 1 Tesla fire, from an accident?
By Guspaz on 10/3/2013 5:40:27 PM , Rating: 3
Errm, the Chevy Volt already had a big fire-related scare when they caught fire during crash testing...

By StormyKnight on 10/4/2013 4:42:54 AM , Rating: 2
And how long after battery damage did the Volt catch fire? What was the time lapse for the Model S?

RE: 1 Tesla fire, from an accident?
By Mint on 10/3/2013 8:43:39 PM , Rating: 2
Well, if we estimate accidents as a relatively constant percentage of vehicle miles traveled, you still get numbers that favor Tesla.

Tesla said Model Ses have driven 83 million miles (quite reasonable given the sales). Total VMT in the US is 3 trillion miles in 2012. So divide it out and Tesla has several times fewer fires per billion miles.

By Dr of crap on 10/3/2013 12:33:28 PM , Rating: 2
Well come on, its Wall Street traders!

If one of the Arabs has bad gas, oil might tumble $10, or if the wind is blowing they'll ALL do a sell off.

They DON'T need a good reason. It like a school of fish. They all swim the same direction!

RE: 1 Tesla fire, from an accident?
By sleepeeg3 on 10/3/2013 12:54:25 PM , Rating: 1
Meaningless number. Percentages are what matter. How many million gasoline cars are on the road versus thousand Teslas? 60,000 Teslas vs 63 million registered cars? Teslas have been around for how long? ~4 years? Wait until the batteries start getting older and leaking...

RE: 1 Tesla fire, from an accident?
By othercents on 10/3/2013 1:26:37 PM , Rating: 2
Better percentage based on new cars vs older cars on the road. However I'm certain that Telsa will provide extra battery protection based on this one incident vs other companies that will deny, deny, deny until it becomes so rampant an issue that they then have to do something.

RE: 1 Tesla fire, from an accident?
By Shig on 10/3/2013 2:05:02 PM , Rating: 4
Tesla is now a hype stock, just like Apple. They could smash expectations and generate record profit and the stock price could go down.

In terms of real valuation the stock should be around 40-50$, the rest of the price is all potential. They do have almost unlimited potential at this point, but anything but pure perfection and beyond could make the stock go down.

The conservative media will have a field day with this picture, whether there is any true safety concerns or not. The market didn't seem to care in the 90's that SUVs flipped over and caught fire quite easily at highway speeds.

The fact still remains that the actual driver was 100% fine after this accident.

RE: 1 Tesla fire, from an accident?
By Reclaimer77 on 10/3/13, Rating: -1
RE: 1 Tesla fire, from an accident?
By Iaiken on 10/3/2013 3:49:36 PM , Rating: 3
Don't be an idiot...

Hell, I saw a car catch fire after they ran over a shredded tractor trailer tire and ruptured their gas tank which then poured down onto a hot exhaust.

Then there is the matter that gasoline cars are far more likely to catch fire after or as the result of a collision than an electric car.

RE: 1 Tesla fire, from an accident?
By Spuke on 10/3/2013 3:58:55 PM , Rating: 2
Unless another Tesla catches fire under similar circumstances (which would make this incident NOT an anomaly), there isn't a problem IMO.

Then there is the matter that gasoline cars are far more likely to catch fire after or as the result of a collision than an electric car.
Provide proof of this please. And I don't want hear your opinions either and don't bother posting fire statistics of gas cars because that will provide ZERO comparison between gas and EV's.

RE: 1 Tesla fire, from an accident?
By Mint on 10/3/2013 9:05:14 PM , Rating: 2
don't bother posting fire statistics of gas cars because that will provide ZERO comparison between gas and EV's.
Why do you say that? If we have statistics for both, why is that an invalid comparison?

RE: 1 Tesla fire, from an accident?
By Reclaimer77 on 10/3/13, Rating: -1
RE: 1 Tesla fire, from an accident?
By Iaiken on 10/3/2013 4:10:23 PM , Rating: 3
Not sure how you think that link applies.

Next time don't use the word never...

RE: 1 Tesla fire, from an accident?
By Reclaimer77 on 10/3/2013 4:20:48 PM , Rating: 2
I didn't said ICE cars never catch on fire...

But fair enough, my opening could have been better worded. Meah, no edit feature though.

RE: 1 Tesla fire, from an accident?
By Alexvrb on 10/4/2013 9:46:13 PM , Rating: 2
I don't always agree with Reclaimer but one good thing is that he can take a few punches. For example:

Hey Reclaimer, I bet you'd be defending the Model S vigorously if it was a popular Google product that ran Android.

By Skywalker123 on 10/3/2013 4:29:22 PM , Rating: 3
Don't be an idiot...

Telling Rec not to be an idiot is like commanding the tide not to come in.

Our definitions differ
By FITCamaro on 10/3/2013 12:22:00 PM , Rating: 2
They say the fire was contained to a small section at the front of the car.

The picture implies otherwise.

RE: Our definitions differ
By ClownPuncher on 10/3/2013 12:53:29 PM , Rating: 2
Indeed, the entire front half was fully engulfed.

RE: Our definitions differ
By Monkey's Uncle on 10/3/2013 1:15:35 PM , Rating: 2
Well... the front end of a Tesla Model S isn't very big...

RE: Our definitions differ
By Spuke on 10/3/2013 1:26:26 PM , Rating: 2
The Tesla S is a big car. Larger than a standard mid-sized sedan like an Accord or Camry.

RE: Our definitions differ
By Shig on 10/3/2013 2:07:41 PM , Rating: 2
Where else do you see a fire besides the front and the underside of the front? There is no fire on the middle of the undercarriage where the core battery sits, there is no fire in the cabin, and there is no fire in the rear........

RE: Our definitions differ
By Spuke on 10/3/2013 4:09:46 PM , Rating: 2
Tesla has said the fire started in the battery pack.

RE: Our definitions differ
By Shig on 10/3/2013 5:27:51 PM , Rating: 2
The car has more than one battery system sir.

RE: Our definitions differ
By Shig on 10/3/2013 5:29:51 PM , Rating: 2
The 12V system is up front where the fire was (which is what they said it was). The 240V system is the giant brick under the car.

RE: Our definitions differ
By Spuke on 10/3/2013 6:09:30 PM , Rating: 2
Tesla said battery PACK not the starter battery. I'll quote the spokesman for you since you can't seem to read this for yourself.

a Tesla spokesperson said the fire resulted because the car “collided with a large metallic object in the middle of the road, causing significant damage to the vehicle,” adding that “Because each module within the battery pack is, by design, isolated by fire barriers to limit any potential damage, the fire in the battery pack was contained to a small section in the front of the vehicle.”

RE: Our definitions differ
By Alexvrb on 10/4/2013 9:41:46 PM , Rating: 2
Tesla spokeswoman Liz Jarvis-Shean said the fire was caused by a large metallic object hitting one of the battery pack’s modules
The battery pack has multiple modules that are isolated. One of the modules caught fire. What is concerning is that it caught fire almost immediately... indicating that particular module was ruptured by the impact. Without more details, such as a way to tell exactly what hit the module, it's hard to assess risk. I'd say this warrants out-of-the-box testing by Tesla though. NOT the NHTSA - their testing is very traditional and sucks for EVs/hybrids.

For example, the Volts that caught fire "during" NHTSA testing? They did a ridiculously unrealistic "rollover simulation" that involved holding it at various angles for a long time (while pack coolant drained out). They also didn't discharge the battery (as you're supposed to do in the event of a major accident). Finally they parked it in a warehouse for something like a week, damaged and charged up.

Even so, the bad press prompted GM to install additional steel reinforcements around the battery. In case someone wants to demolish their Volt and then put it in storage for days untouched. But still, extra protection is extra protection. If Tesla wants to quelch negative feedback they could do something similar.

By Monkey's Uncle on 10/3/2013 10:59:50 AM , Rating: 1
A common theme with these high current batteries seems to be that they get freaking hot.

I remember a few years back more than a few issues with Laptop batteries exploding and catching fire (with some pretty dramatic results if they were actually on your lap).

Is this a sign of things to come? Forget exploding fuel tanks. Worry that your electric car doesn't go up in smoke when you charge it or hold the pedal down too long.

RE: Oopsie!
By bobsmith1492 on 10/3/2013 11:44:53 AM , Rating: 2
Lithium batteries do not get very hot. They have extremely low internal resistance and are very efficient at converting between chemical and electrical energy.

NiMH and NiCd batteries would get very hot because of their higher internal resistance.

RE: Oopsie!
By Monkey's Uncle on 10/3/2013 12:05:33 PM , Rating: 2
I beg to differ. The battery on my SGS4 gets pretty warm when it is being charged or getting discharging heavily. And a smartphone is not what I would consider a high current application.

If battery heat were not a problem, Tesla would not need to employ liquid cooling into their battery packs.

Li-Ion batteries are well known for starting fires. They are very versatile, but they are also very dangerous when damaged or misused.

RE: Oopsie!
By Dorkyman on 10/3/2013 12:53:24 PM , Rating: 2
I'm not a battery chemistry expert, but I recall that lithium-ion technology offers a lot of storage for the weight, but that the cells are fussier when it comes to charging, and that "thermal runaway" can occur if done incorrectly. But to my knowledge every cell now contains circuitry to prevent that situation.

I recall also that these cells (like all cells) operate best within a temperature window. Hence the need to heat and/or cool them depending on the environment.

RE: Oopsie!
By Shig on 10/3/2013 2:10:32 PM , Rating: 2
Nothing happened to the 240V system, all signs are pointing to the 12V system, which Tesla has had issues with in the past. The car still has a 12V lead acid battery just like every other car and when you have a fire around a lead acid battery it can do bad things.

Speculation is that the driver hit either the back of a semi-truck or hit some kind of debris at high speed on the road in rainy conditions (it was outside Seattle) and the front underbody got compromised in some fashion.

RE: Oopsie!
By bobsmith1492 on 10/3/2013 3:45:18 PM , Rating: 2
It is probably the charging electronics. Cheaper charger ICs use a linear regulator, which dissipates (Vin-Vbatt) * Icharge, which could easily be a watt or more.

RE: Oopsie!
By Mint on 10/5/2013 6:37:51 AM , Rating: 2
LOL it gets warm during heavy discharge because all of the energy in the battery is turned to heat through the processor. As for charging, there's no need for phones to have efficient charging circuits since they only store ~0.1 cents of electricity. All charging inefficiencies in those circuits get dumped out as heat.

There are a lot of battery chemistries under the category of "lithium ion". They have many different thermal runaway characteristics. I don't think Tesla chose the most fire proof type, but they have a lot of firewalls in their pack to keep things safe.

Any dense form of energy storage is going to prone to starting fires. As we're seeing with the Model S, though, batteries can result in lower fire rates than gasoline.

But the Ford Pinto...
By mmatis on 10/3/2013 4:50:36 PM , Rating: 1
was deemed a death trap because its gas tank could be punctured in a crash. No double standard here. Nothing to see, folks! Move along...

RE: But the Ford Pinto...
By Mint on 10/3/2013 8:33:43 PM , Rating: 2
All gas tanks can be punctured in a crash. They're not made of adamantium. The Pinto's was just more likely to see that happen.

The Tesla Model S, as far as we can see (stats are insufficient for any certainty), is less likely to result in a puncture.

RE: But the Ford Pinto...
By PaFromFL on 10/4/2013 8:35:11 AM , Rating: 2
In the early days gasoline powered automobiles, there were many fuel related accidents. Steam powered cars were even more dangerous. It takes a while to shake the bugs out of any new technology. The Pinto problem was caused by a dangerous design decision that made the gas tank overly vulnerable in rear end collisions. The Tesla battery needs better shielding or a more sheltered position in the car.

RE: But the Ford Pinto...
By Keeir on 10/4/2013 12:27:37 PM , Rating: 2
The Tesla battery needs better shielding or a more sheltered position in the car.


If fires continue to occur, or even a second fire occurs, then we can talk about more shielding.

Kent -
By ClownPuncher on 10/3/2013 12:48:57 PM , Rating: 1
Kent isn't a Seattle suburb, it's a city.

RE: Kent -
By Flunk on 10/3/2013 3:15:31 PM , Rating: 2
Cities that are close to larger cities are still suburbs.

RE: Kent -
By ClownPuncher on 10/3/2013 3:29:29 PM , Rating: 2

In the United States and Canada, suburb can refer either to an outlying residential area of a city or town or to a separate municipality, borough, or unincorporated area outside a town or city

Kent is a city. Kent has its own suburbs.

Whole article seems suspect
By jimbojimbo on 10/3/2013 12:56:29 PM , Rating: 4
Fire happened in Washington but they link to an article from a Detroit news agency? Strange.
Also, what's with the firemen? Have they not heard yet that lithium reacts violently with water? How about try some foam or CO2?

Started in the battery????
By CU on 10/3/2013 4:01:56 PM , Rating: 2
Look here and scroll to the bottom.

The battery runs from wheel arch to wheel arch. If the battery was on fire wouldn't fire be coming out from underneath the middle of the car.

RE: Started in the battery????
By Spuke on 10/3/2013 5:14:28 PM , Rating: 2
The fire started in the battery pack. There is ZERO room for dispute here.

Tesla fire
By Richard875yh5 on 10/3/2013 5:04:38 PM , Rating: 2
If this were the Chevy Volt, you would hear no end to negatives from the media.

RE: Tesla fire
By foxalopex on 10/4/2013 9:39:35 AM , Rating: 2
The Volt probably has a better protected battery than the Tesla S as it's located in a central column in the middle of the car which is likely protected by a fair bit of steel. The only Volt known to have caught on fire was a test situation where a side collision turned it into a pretzel and then it was flipped upside down for 3 weeks. The coolant caught on fire after it dried which explains why it took three weeks. I've seen some amazing collisions on the Volt Forums where the battery didn't catch fire.

The Tesla S has it's batteries lying flat covering the base of the car. It sounds like the driver clipped a hunk of metal on the highway which ripped open the battery pack causing a fire.

I could be wrong too but I believe the Tesla S also uses a more volatile battery chemistry too that provides more power but is more likely to catch on fire. The Volt uses a chemistry that's less likely to catch on fire.

It's a shame that so many folks want to believe there's something wrong with the Volt when in reality, it's actually a very well designed car.

Fire Video
By Spuke on 10/3/2013 1:09:50 PM , Rating: 3
Let's keep it to the facts
By langosta399999 on 10/3/2013 11:18:20 AM , Rating: 2
News coverage only ever mentioned one (not 3) Chevy Volts catching fire, and that one fire was after letting the charged battery sit for a many days after the crash testing. So either provide references to your claims or adjust your story.

Also, Li batteries do not "run hot" due to normal operating current. They actually have very low internal resistance. The fires and explosions are due to physical failures of the battery, over charging, or over depletion which cause the chemical system of the battery to react and go unstable.

By sudz on 10/4/2013 10:11:26 AM , Rating: 2
Really? ONE car catches fire, because it hits metal debris on a highway, and it sends people in a selling frenzy and marrs The Tesla Model S?

What if that metal Debris poked a hole in a plastic gas tank, spewing gas everywhere? Or a Fuel Line? or a brake Line? to batteries explode instantly into big fireballs Like gasolene can? No. Did he have enough time to DRIVE off the highway, pull over, get out of his car, Call the fire department? Yes. Was anyone Hurt? no.

There are over 150,000 Vehicle fires every year in the US alone. 200,000,000 vehivles on the road, that means approximately 1 in every 1,350 vehicles per year. Tesla just had its first one. Its odds people - Calm yourselves.

"Well, there may be a reason why they call them 'Mac' trucks! Windows machines will not be trucks." -- Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer

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