Electric cars catch fire less often than fossil-fuelled ones, study shows

STOCKHOLM: Dramatic news and media reports on electric car fires may suggest they occur more often than is really the case, according to a new study in Sweden.

The research by the Swedish Civil Contingencies Agency (MSB) concluded that electric cars catch fire less often than those running on fossil fuels.

"What we take from the survey is that electric cars burn less often than fossil-fuelled cars," Ulf Bergholm, who is behind the research, was quoted as saying by Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter.

Last year, around 3,400 passenger cars caught fire in Sweden, including those set alight deliberately. Of that number 23 were electric cars or plug-in hybrids.

This equates to about 0.004% of all electric cars and plug-in hybrids on Swedish roads. The level for fires in fossil-fuelled cars was nearly 20 times that figure at some 0.08%, including arson cases.

The number of electric car fires did however increase in 2022 from just eight in 2018, the first year the survey was carried out. The number of electric cars (including electric/plug-in hybrids) on Swedish roads increased fourfold over the same period.

In the last three years, the number of fires in electric cars has levelled off, which Ulf Bergholm sees as positive. However, he does not dare to draw any conclusions about the reason.

"MSB has noticed that many people think that a blazing electric car is more dangerous than one that runs on fossil fuels, but MSB has not seen any evidence of this."

According to Bergholm, it is above all the smoke from burning vehicles that makes a car fire dangerous to humans, regardless of fuel. "Our message is not to inhale any smoke from burning cars," he said.

Experts said it was worth noting that electric cars are still relatively young. Vehicles with combustion engines, have often been in use for much longer.

Electric cars are also harder to extinguish since the intense heat generated the batteries hampers the work of fire-fighters.

MSB said the varied fire frequency might be related to the age of the vehicles. For a more meaningful comparison, the different drive systems of cars made in similar years would have to be compared with each other.

Nevertheless, other studies from Germany have also shown that electric cars at least do not burn down more often than combustion-engined equivalents.
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