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What happens to your EV in a crash?

15 June 2022 - 09:29 By Nafisa Akabor
Audi SA recently launched a training programme for rescue personnel on how to deal with EV collisions.
Audi SA recently launched a training programme for rescue personnel on how to deal with EV collisions.
Image: Supplied

Electric vehicle (EV) technology is in its infancy in SA. Everyone could benefit from education on the subject, including those in the emergency response sector.

Sascha Sauer, head of Audi SA, said it was important for first responders and rescuers to be trained in dealing with EVs safely in extreme situations such as accidents or if they catch on fire.

“We got in touch with the National Disaster Management Centre and found  they have never been offered training in the technology, notwithstanding that EVs have been sold for 10 years by some of our competitors in the country.”

“We took over the responsibility and offered training free of charge to first responders,” said Sauer.

In May, Audi completed training for 70 first responders from the SA National Fire and Emergency Services at its dealer training academy in Pretoria. They will train teams across the country, part of its “train the trainer” programme.

The training covered the handling of EV accidents, awareness of features, technicalities of charging and battery operations and safety guidelines of handling an EV when compared to an internal combustion engine.

How common are EV fires?

According to Emma Sutcliffe, director of EV FireSafe, EVs are less likely to catch fire than ICE vehicles.

“Electric vehicle lithium-ion battery fires are very rare. We have been able to verify fewer than 200 globally since 2010,” Sutcliffe said in an interview with wcnc.com.

“We obviously don’t know what will happen in 20 years when we've have electric vehicles that are 20 years old and have been through 100 potholes and have a lot more wear and tear.”

EV FireSafe is a global database of verified EV battery fires that recognises there is a lot to be discovered on the technology. It shared research that states thermal runway (short circuit) is how all EV fire batteries start, and a battery under 50% charged is less likely to ignite, but EV lithium traction batteries burn hotter than ICE vehicles.

What happens to EV batteries in an accident?

Naked Insurance said the threshold for an EV or hybrid car being written off is lower than for ICE vehicles. Co-founder Ernest North said if there is any damage to the electric system or energy related components, it works directly with the OEM itself or their preferred repairers as it relies on them to do disposals.

Jaguar Land Rover said it shares a first responder guide for every model in its range, including EVs and hybrids, and when a vehicle is written-off by an insurance company, the insurer takes possession of that vehicle, which is no different for EVs.

Similarly, BMW prepares a rescue guideline for first responders detailing what needs to be done in an accident. The company said  since trialling and selling EVs in SA from early 2010, there have been no reported battery failures in the event of collisions.

Its recycling initiative includes a plant in Leipzig that houses around 700 i3 batteries – used as buffer storage – but SA has yet to contribute to the facility due to lack of battery failures locally.

Nissan SA said by law, all obsolete batteries must be recycled, and the same procedure is followed when a Leaf’s battery has aged or is involved in an accident.

The company sends its batteries to uYilo, which are disassembled and deployed into grid support within the uYilo smart grid facility for electric vehicles. Unused battery components are further recycled through the e-Waste Association of SA.


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