Chart Of The Day: The Truth About Vehicle Fires Edition

Edward Niedermeyer
by Edward Niedermeyer

I’ve suggested in these pages that the several documented fires involving Chevrolet Volts suggest some kind of pattern, as no other major-manufacturer EVs have been involved in any reported fires. But, as Ronnie Schreiber at Cars In Depth points out, even that pattern seems to pale in comparison to the National Fire Protection Association’s tally of highway vehicle fires in the US each year. Though the number of highway vehicle fires has decreased significantly since 1980, 2009 still saw 190,500 fires. And between 2003 and 2007,

On average, 31 highway vehicle fires were reported per hour. These fires killed one person a day.

Of course, if we’re talking about 200k fires (roughly) in 2008, a year in which there were 256 million registered vehicles (roughly) on the road, we’re still talking about less than one tenth of one percent of all vehicles on the road bursting into flame (.078%). On the other hand, with just over 10,000 Volts built and some 5,000 delivered, three fires could be either relatively insignificant (.03%) or comparable to the rest of the cars on the road (.06%), depending on whether you base it on production or deliveries. And because vehicles must be delivered before they can be used in normal circumstances, it seems that thus far the Volt is delivering a slightly lower percentage of fire incidents than the general vehicle population… which is estimated to be over 9 years old on average (whereas Volts are all a year old or less). So, while the evidence suggests that EVs as a class are just as fire-safe as any other car, the Volt still seems to be something of a statistical question mark.

Edward Niedermeyer
Edward Niedermeyer

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  • John Horner John Horner on Nov 14, 2011

    The graph, by the way, shows the positive effect of tighter regulations and agressive suing by injured parties. Older vehicle designs were much more likely to catch fire than are today's vehicles, and the manufacturers didn't make the changes they have had to make purely out of the goodness of their hearts.

  • Niky Niky on Nov 14, 2011

    Under-seat tanks aren't a big deal... otherwise Honda wouldn't sell hundreds of thousands of Honda Fits (and associated variants) with them. I actually like the Fit's tank placement. Dead center in the vehicle... as far away from any crush zone as humanly possible.

  • Obbop Obbop on Nov 15, 2011

    Smokey Bear says only you can prevent Ford fires.

  • Eldard Eldard on Nov 15, 2011

    No tally by brand? I'm sure Ford would dominate. Followed by anything Italian.

    • Pete Zaitcev Pete Zaitcev on Nov 15, 2011

      I'm not quite sure. Pintos were loooong time ago. But the first thing I got for my jeep was a fire extinguisher on a quick-release mount. Just about everyone who went anywhere far has a story of jeep going up in flames. Kinda sucks on the trail 50 miles from the nearest human settlement.