back to article Tesla says 40% of its Roadsters may catch fire

Tesla Motors, the famous battery-car manufacturer backed by internet nerdwealth tycoon and nascent rocketry kingpin Elon Musk, says that approximately 40 per cent of the cars it has made have a technical fault which could cause them to spontaneously catch fire - but only in a minor way. In a statement posted on its website but …


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  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Tank of Petrol?

    Petrol doesn't burn... the fumes do. So a tank of petrol is a rather unthreatening thing unless sufficently heated so that the all the petrol becomes gas...

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward


      Also your average rapid responce unit is quite used to responding to accidents that include vehicles that have petrol/deisel in them, have they been trained in dealing with a lithium battery vehicle and containment? I don't know if there are any additional procautions that would have to be taken (anyone care to enlighten us?)

      What happens when a roadster slams into something at high speed? I guess a burning lithium car battery could be enough to set off a petrol carrier if it hit it and burnt a while though?

      Hmmm doesn't sound nice though, this being the result of a test, (burning normal laptop like batteries 32) also take with a dose of salt.


      Batteries were tested singly, and in groups of 32, 64 and 128. Tests also involved groups of batteries packed in rows inside cardboard boxes.

      * A relatively small fire source was sufficient to start a lithium battery fire.

      * The heat from a single battery afire was sufficient to ignite adjacent batteries.

      * The outer plastic coating on the batteries easily melted, fusing the batteries together, adding to the intensity of the fire.

      * The chain reaction ignition continued until all batteries were consumed.

      * The molten lithium burned explosively, spraying white-hot lithium to a radius of several feet as the batteries bounced around.

      * The duration of the peak temperature increased with the number of batteries, reaching as high as 1,400[degrees] F (as a matter of interest, the melting temperature of aluminum is around 1,200[degrees] F).

      * The cardboard packing proved highly flammable. The packing delayed battery ignition by about 30-60 seconds, but once ignited, the fire among the close-packed batteries was worse.

      * While thick-wall cargo liners were able to contain the fire (barely), thin-walled fire liners proved ineffective. The battery fire ignited the resin in the liner, and the liner was completely penetrated by molten lithium.

      * Halon fire-suppressing agent, injected in sufficient concentration to "knock down" a fire, proved totally ineffective, even when injected after just the first battery had caught fire. Nor did it have any effect on the peak temperature. The fire continued as if Halon were not present.

      * Lithium batteries catch fire with explosive force. When they burst, they create a pressure pulse. The eight-battery test produced a pressure pulse of 1.8 psi, and the 16-battery test generated a 2.6 psi pulse.

    2. PowerMacx


      Ah...thanks for the update... The local fire brigade will sleep easy tonight as little Jonny sticks a lighted rag into a stolen Ford Escort.... I can hear them now.... "Don’t worry it's - 60C outside it will never catch fire".

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward


        A car fire is more or less a known entity, Fire personnel know what most cars are made from, the biggest risks being are there paint cans (and the like) in the vehicle.

        A house fire is a far more risky affair, you need to go inside for a start and look for people in danger.

        Also a stick in a car isn't the same thing as (I was assuming was being talked about in the article) we were talking about namely a car crash leading to a major fire. The main problems with fuel being that it can make the road very slippy increasing the risks of further crashes.

        While it seems that if you heat a lithium ion battery in a car to a reasonable degree it may create an incredibly dangerous situation. So a car with a lithium ion battery would make a far more exciting explosive device then a conventional car.

    3. LuMan

      In theory, yes.

      In reality very few cars have totally full fuel tanks, and those that do don't have them for very long. So, it's likely that a proportion of your tank is fumes. If you have a fire that manages to breach your tank you'll end up with a lot of petrol that VERY quickly becomes gas... and a big, orange cloud of intense heat. As demonstrated by my mate's 2CV about 20 years ago.

      1. Lionel Baden
        Dead Vulture


        RIP 2cv :(

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          I don't get it

          I don't get it I got voted down for providing information I had found, while nobody else bothered looking anything up, I think it's a good sign of how thick some people are around here.

          Old *I'll vote them down because I don't like that they bothered to source some information on the subject* Also for asking a question and pointing out a fact.

          The question being "what training do rapid response personnel get in dealing with lithium battery powered car incidents"

          The fact being "response personnel are trained in dealing with car fires/accidents"

          And the interesting information being the results of an experiment on burning lithium batteries along with a disclaimer that it isn't exactly the same but interesting none the less.

          Upvotes and downvotes suck arse anyway if you disagree with someone grow a pair and say something, if you agree then agree elsewise just gtfo.

  2. Anonymous Coward

    Electric cars...

    Do. not. want.

    I dont like my milk floats with added fail, so please the chaff :D

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Damn Right

      So long as they take longer than a couple of minutes or so to reach max charge, and said charge does less than 200 miles, I'm not interested.

      And you can all bugger off with your green environmental arguments, do you know what actually goes in to a li-ion battery? Long story short, lots of toxic crap which they blow holes in the side of a country to get at.

      Hydrogen fuel cell cars are the way forward. So yeah, there is some inefficiency in generating the hydrogen in the first place, but development of these processes will bring improvements in these areas. I'm sure there is nasty stuff put in to making these as well, but it's totally more worth while.

      Then, your car can again be filled in a couple of minutes, and fuel cells can be used to run practically anything.

      1. Danny 14


        I cannot believe countries such as iceland arent pioneering hydrogen production. Electricity is almost free in iceland and it is surrounded by water. Crack the water with mega cheap electricity - plus its "green"!

    2. Admiral Grace Hopper
      Thumb Up

      Electric cars...

      Earnestly. Desire.

      As soon as they are as convenient to use as hydrocarbon cars we've found a superb tool for personal transport. All the woes of emissions are punted off to the energy supplier and assuming that you don't interface with the scenery the only wear components are the contact points.

      Make an electric car with the same range and recharge time as a petrol car and I'll happily take that option.

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Lithium Ion cars set to become the standard.

    Hydrogen Fuel Cells will become the standard. Show me a battery car that can charge in under five minutes, then do at least 250 miles and I'll concede that Lithium Ion has a future in the automotive industry.

    Battery cars will forever be a step backwards, which ever eco car pretty much is. Of the big eco cars, the Prius is a tool, for tools... again, it's a noble idea with a pointless future. It's well.. eco for dummies really. For people that don't care that in a much shorter lifetime the car will be scrapped (or a big, expensive, distinctly un-eco battery replacement), or had a bigger carbon footprint to create. Tesla is the same boat. Isn't it 1000 lithium batteries or so. I'd love to see the bill for replacing those when you can get under 100 miles out of it before it's toasted. But dont worry... it's only 500 recharges before it hits 75% degradation.

    We need alot better tech for battery cars to even be viable. Massive, utterly insane bounds forward. Something that equals petrol in ease of use, is the way forward. What was the stat, two days to Scotland in a Tesla from London? Shoddy.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Dead Vulture


    Standard 1.6 16v VVT Astra 5-door tops out at 118mph. The sportier 1.4 Turbo only manages 126.

  5. Disco-Legend-Zeke

    I Have Always...

    ...worried that in a major accident, exploding batteries could be a genuine hazard.

    Fortunately, i can't afford a roadster anyhoo.

    211 beer: when you can't afford the best, or even adequate.

    1. Lionel Baden

      dont worry

      There will liley be some twat saving the planet tailgating you ....

  6. Anonymous Coward


    So its got enough ooommfff to get up to well over 80+ at the end of the very long runway test track. (the TG track is too short!, they need one of the USAF super long ones)

    Then have to be towed back to the garage/hanger cos it flattened all the batteries after 5000 feet with the limiters off (sic TopGear).

    During which its probably going to go up in a ball of fire as the remaining charge in the overheated batteries short out on the ropey panel gromets and melt the car down into a large puddle of toxic sludge & plastic.

    hey thats a good way to get rid of the now redundant (TC) Stig!!!

    and have the other 3 presenters manning the fire engine and get there too late to save the car or the day :)))

  7. Anonymous Coward

    Are the Batteries

    from S0NY??

  8. Yossarian

    "such speeds are always illegal"

    Not in the land of kraut and honey!!

    Sort yourselves out Tesla, stop messing around with little fires and get some proper power:)

  9. Martin Usher

    Fuel vs Fuel + Oxidizer

    The Mythbusters TV show went to some trouble to try to make cars blow up after they were driven off a cliff like you see in the typical movie sequence. It proved impossible. You can only get the fuel to burn if you vaporize it so it mixes with air (then you can get something seriously explosive).

    Batteries effectively have both fuel and oxidizer in the same package. This makes them inherently more inefficient than fuel alone (its the difference between a jet and a rocket engine -- rocket has to carry two tanks of stuff compared to the jet's one). It also puts them in the same category as explosives, substances that carry both their fuel and oxidizer in the same molecule (or intimately mixed if you're talking something like gunpowder). So long as you keep the reaction under control -- the battery under control, that is -- everything's fine. If it gets out of control you've got fuel and oxidizer in intimate proximity and a whole heap of fun while the two react and release their stored energy.

  10. Petrea Mitchell

    But the question is... this spontaneous combustion equivalent to what you can get with a more conventional car such as the F458, or has the electric-car world disappointed again?

  11. Anonymous Coward


    "such speeds are always illegal and mostly irrelevant – but-"

    NO BUTS.

    Top speed is faster than you have any right to be driving at.

    Flame icon for obvious reasons.

    1. sT0rNG b4R3 duRiD


      If you want to drive at 200 km/h or some other mindbuggeringly insane speed, please do so on your own private track. I don't want to be another statistic on account of your irresponsibility.

    2. Danny 14


      Maybe it is illegal in the UK. I remember hooning it back from Gutersloh to catch a ferry on my ZZR1100. That wouldnt do more than 160 on the autobahn and I was still getting overtaken.

      This was perfectly legal and a routine trip every few months.

    3. Lionel Baden

      @ Iron Oxide

      god you sound like a right twat.

      Yeah i lived in germany was quite happy driving 250kmh over to hannover from berlin legally.

      If one happens to live in the UK .... Buy a sports car for every day use but also drive it at the track (people actually do this believe it or not !!!!)

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Still okay for most drivers though

        Okay okay if you use the autobahn then your disdain for the slower car is justified.

        Or if you think you might need to escape a hurricane or something.

  12. Bucky 2

    An hour?

    It takes a whole hour to detach a cable, slip a sleeve on, and reattach it?

    It's astounding!

    Time is ... fleeting.

    Madness ... takes its toll.

    1. max allan

      Let me guess, you're an IT amateur...

      "detach a cable, slip a sleeve on, and reattach it?"

      You've missed out checking pre-requisites :

      Check the car's serial number against affected models.

      Check car hasn't already been fixed.

      Visually inspect existing cable and decide if it needs replacing or patching.

      Test entire system for faults so you can be sure that you haven't caused any new faults.

      I'm sure I could think of a few more if I could be bothered.

      Then, the "detach cable" part doesn't include the time where you have to extract it through a hole about 2" diameter hidden underneath some other panels that require you to remove half the car to get at.

      Similarly, if you've bought a new car recently, you might have seen that headlamp bulb replacement is something that is a "main dealer" only task. They'll probably bill you an hour or so's labour just to change a bulb.

      At the end of the day it's probably just that an hour is the smallest unit of time their maintenance process system can cope with. "Check your oil level sir? Takes an hour.", "Refill washer fluid sir? Takes an hour" etc.... "Charge your battery sir? Takes a week."

      (I know a Tesla won't have engine oil, but presumably it still has gearbox oil.)

      1. Lionel Baden

        @max allan

        Common thats a bit Harsh !!!

        The reason it takes an hour ....

        You need to dissasemble the entire front right wing to get to the cable.

        Its kinda standard for modern car design.

        E.g. Renault megan

  13. Anonymous Coward

    Nothing to see here.

    It's a wiring issue rather than an "electric car" issue. If you think petrol cars aren't affected by this sort of thing, tell that to my TVR! And as for bursting into flames, have a quick look at Google for Ferraris and Lambos.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Thumb Up

      LOL @ TVR comment

      I know exactly what you mean.

      My brother bought one a few years back and the salesman couldn't stop telling us how it was "all hand built" etc etc.

      Then a week later after the electrics failed while on the M1 (leaving him literally stuck inside it on the hard shoulder for 4 hours waiting for a recovery truck) he marched back into the showroom and gave them an ear full. Only to be told: "Well...what did you expect? It IS hand built you know".


  14. david wilson

    Noticeably slower?

    125mph might be slower than the fastest petrol/diesel Astras, but I'd have thought that for almost any driver who doesn't do track days or drive flat-out on an autobahn, not /noticeably/ slower.

  15. Kevin McMurtrie Silver badge

    Carbon fire

    I tossed an old 12V NiCd battery pack into a box for storage... that happened to have an unused sheet of carbon fiber in it. Even without epoxy to feed fire it wasn't what I'd call a minor issue. Carbon doesn't melt/burn until it's white hot and the fire throws off fragments of fibers that lead to more shorts elsewhere.

  16. Richard Porter

    Nothing to worry about

    "There's nothing wrong with the car except that it's on fire." (Murray Walker)

  17. Skymonrie

    Rolling in the right direction

    As with most new technologies, it comes with a premium; fair does for that.

    It's not like solid state drives are anything like the traditional platter approach. I for one salute Tesla on their product, it might not be perfect but that's all good.

    What would quaff well would be the plans for a car like the Tesla up for free on the internet for anyone to take and modify with any (good) changes making its way back in to the original, much like the way Linux has achieved "god like" status on computers.

    Who knows, it might become good enough, we can start to slowly say goodbye to our petrol loving ways. One can always dream...Admittedly, fuelling these things is power generated by fossil fuel though, bring on a nuclear icon!

  18. Adrian Esdaile

    Um, did anyone see the F1 from Singapore?

    Did you see one of the Lotuses go a little bit on fire at the end of the race?

    I was astonished how rapidly the carbon body panels, the wing and side pods in particular caught fire, and how intense the fire was. Sure, there was petrol in there by the look of it, but the wing was disintegrating within seconds.

    I wouldn't want to be cruising a freeway in my Tesla as a 'small, unimportant' fire behind a headlight is fanned by road wind to be a whopping big carbon-epoxy blaze streaming up the bonnet into your face.

    Flames, because from little things big things grow.

    1. Danny 14


      I would say it was more likely to be the hydraulic sub system going up in smoke with the carbon being used as a wick. Oil is natier than petrol when it goes up.

    2. Lionel Baden

      I saw that

      That guy was so cool handling the situation !!

      i thought he was just going to jump back in and drive off !!!!! :D

  19. bogwart


    Bloody Tesla - they know Ferrari have a virtual monopoly on exploding cars.

  20. Anonymous Coward

    Apples / pears

    Top speed of a porche is 180mph.


    Top speed of a Caterham Superlight R500 & Ariel Atom are well below this, but utterly shit on a 911 on a track. I know I've destroyed 911's in a humble Tiger Six, with it's mere 120mph top end (and been in turn left for dust by Atoms)

  21. Anonymous Coward

    Will No One Think of The Batteries?

    "..governed to a maximum speed of 125 mph to avoid damaging the batteries."

    It protects the environment and the batteries. Ah, that's so sweet.

  22. Rogerborg

    Can be fixed in the field...

    ...on the hard shoulder, in a hotel car park, the middle of a busy intersection, or wherever else the car ran out of charge.

  23. Anonymous Coward


    Hmmm. Open source cars? That's a new and interesting idea...

    1. Chemist

      "Open source cars?"

      Well I'm a Linux user and I can hack-up a C program with the best (of the amateurs).

      But I am really a chemist and I wouldn't like any amateurs playing around with the sort of chemistry necessary for batteries that have any chance of reaching the energy density of petrol.

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