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EV Hazards: How to Assess the Risk of Battery Fire Inside a Vehicle

Micah O'Shaughnessy, CSP, ASP

EV Hazards: How to Assess the Risk of Battery Fire Inside a Vehicle

Assessing high-voltage lithium-ion EV batteries isn’t the easiest task, but we’re here to break it down for you. In a previous article, we discussed how a battery is constructed, let’s talk about how to assess its condition.

The first type we’ll talk about is a battery that’s housed inside the vehicle. 

Visual observation of a battery inside a vehicle may be limited, and therefore, the risk of fire is greater than with a battery that has been removed.

Follow the steps we’ve outlined below to assess whether a battery inside a vehicle is a critical risk, a high risk, or an average risk. 

And, of course, follow your dealership’s standard operating protocols for handling critical-risk and high-risk EV batteries. 

Critical Risk

Confirm that there is no critical risk to the battery before performing a more detailed assessment.

  1. Is the battery emitting smoke or flames?
  2. Are there visible sparks or arcing coming from the battery or other components?
  3. Are you able to get a voltage reading from non-energized parts of the vehicle?

The answer to all of those questions should be a definitive, “No.”

Any “yes” answer is an indicator that the battery is a critical risk. If it is not, move on to the assessment of thermal codes, loss of isolation, and physical damage to determine if the battery is high risk or average risk.

Thermal Codes

Depending on the manufacturer of the vehicle/battery, you may be able to use the battery management system to run diagnostic tests. The purpose of these tests is to determine if the cells are generating heat when they should not be.

The critical question here is: Are the battery temperature logs recording temperatures of 122°F (50°C) or higher? If so, let the vehicle rest for one hour and then retest. If temps remain high, the battery is at high risk of fire.

Loss of Isolation

Electrical faults don’t always manifest as heat. Diagnostic tests may return high-risk energy codes, such as:

  • High-voltage codes
  • Over-voltage codes
  • State of charge codes

The presence of ANY of these code types means the battery is high risk.

Physical Damage

The casing for high-voltage batteries is designed to protect the fragile and volatile internal components, but it’s not foolproof. It’s best to conduct a visual assessment.

  1. Is there evidence of prior fire?
  2. Is there evidence of rupture, puncture, or high impact?
  3. Is there evidence of incorrect disassembly or assembly?
  4. Is there evidence of leakage, either electrolyte or coolant?
  5. Is there evidence of damage to high-voltage components around the battery?
  6. Is there evidence of damage to the vehicle near the battery?
  7. Is there evidence of a collision that could have impacted the battery or its components?
  8. Is there evidence of environmental damage (e.g., water, soil, flora)?

A “yes” answer means the battery is considered high risk.

Performing these basic assessments on each battery will allow you to classify each battery as critical risk, high risk, or average risk. By doing so, you will significantly reduce the risk of an EV battery fire in your dealership. 

Next week we’ll teach you the steps you need to take when inspecting and assessing

  • A battery that’s ready to be installed; and
  • A battery that needs to be packaged and shipped offsite.

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Stay on top of EV requirements with KPA, the nation’s leader in automotive compliance solutions.

KPA has an EV compliance solution designed to help you prepare your facility, educate your staff, and document/maintain OSHA compliance.

In addition to addressing general awareness about EVs, KPA is developing a monthly series of self-directed training programs for supervisors to train their staff. Topics will range from EV battery hazards, including fire risks and proper storage, electrical hazards, personal protective equipment, de-energization, stranded energy, and more. These tools, along with on-site consulting and additional EV compliance content, will comprise KPA’s comprehensive EV Compliance Solution, available this fall.

Micah O'Shaughnessy, CSP, ASP

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