Date Published: 2023/09/05

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Lithium-ion battery fires: What you need to know as an electric vehicle owner

The words “Li-ion Batteries” fading into a black screen.

Lithium-ion batteries are rechargeable batteries that power many electronic devices, such as laptops, smartphones, e-bikes, and electric vehicles (EVs). They are popular because they can store a lot of energy in a small space and have a long lifespan. However, they can pose a serious fire risk if they become damaged, defective, or overheated. As electric modes of transportation grow in Canada, the risk of fires caused by lithium-ion batteries is on the rise. 

In this article, we’ll provide an overview of what causes lithium-ion battery fires, what you can do to prevent them, and how to be prepared when they do happen.

What causes lithium-ion battery fires?

Lithium-ion battery fires happen when the battery undergoes a process called thermal runaway, which is a rapid and uncontrollable increase in temperature and pressure. This can cause the battery to catch fire or explode.

Thermal runaway can be triggered by several factors, such as:

  • External damage: Physical impacts, punctures, or crushing can damage the battery’s internal structure and cause short circuits or leaks.
  • Manufacturing defects: Poor quality control, faulty design, or improper assembly can result in defective batteries that have internal flaws that compromise their safety.
  • Battery misuse: Charging or discharging the battery beyond its specified limits can damage the battery’s cells and cause them to overheat or swell.
  • Extreme temperatures: Long periods of exposure to high or low temperatures can result in battery damage. (Something Canadian drivers should pay extra attention to given Canada’s extremely cold winters and hot summers.)
  • Improper storage: Storing the battery in environments with extreme temperatures, exposure to moisture, or too close to metal objects can lead to degradation or short-circuiting.

How can I prevent fires caused by lithium-ion batteries in my electric vehicles?

While lithium-ion battery fires in various modes of transportation are rare and unpredictable, there are some measures you can take to reduce the risk of them happening:

  • Buy from a reputable manufacturer that has a good track record of quality and safety.
  • Check for any recalls or complaints about your model before buying it.
  • Look for a CSA designation. CSA is the organization in Canada that thoroughly tests and approves the equipment.
  • Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for installing, charging, operating, and maintaining your battery. 
  • Use only compatible and approved chargers and accessories. 
  • Avoid overcharging or undercharging your battery.
  • Store in a cool and dry place away from direct sunlight or heat sources. 
  • Do not leave your device plugged in for long periods when not in use.
  • Remove all flammable material from around the charging area. 
  • Inspect your battery regularly for any signs of cracking, bulging or leaking.
  • Properly dispose of damaged lithium-ion batteries as soon as possible. Contact your municipality to ask about their disposal services. 

What should I do if a lithium-ion battery fire occurs in my electric vehicle?

Lithium-ion battery fires can be very dangerous and difficult to extinguish. If you encounter a car fire caused by a lithium-ion battery, you should:

  • Evacuate the area immediately and keep a safe distance from the fire.
  • Call 911 and alert the fire department.
  • Do not attempt to put out the fire yourself, as it spreads incredibly fast and is resistant to traditional fire extinguishers.
  • If the fire is inside your vehicle, do not open the doors or windows, as this may feed oxygen to the fire.
  • If you are inside your vehicle that catches fire, evacuate as quickly as possible and move away from the vehicle.
  • Make sure you know where the emergency release is in case of power failure, this information can be found in the owner’s manual. 

Are lithium-ion battery fires covered by my auto insurance?

A lithium-ion battery car fire may be covered by your auto insurance depending on your policy type and the cause of the fire. However, some insurance policies have exclusions or limitations for lithium-ion battery fires, especially if they are caused by negligence, misuse, abuse, or wear and tear. Review your insurance policy carefully and speak with your insurance broker to understand what is covered and what is not before purchasing or driving an electric vehicle.

If you’re a current Orbit policyholder and have any questions about your insurance coverage, call 877-976-7248 to review your policy or learn more about your coverage options.

If you’re shopping for car insurance and would like to request a quote, reach out to an Orbit insurance broker at 877-976-7248.