Ready or Not–Electric Vehicles (EVs) are Coming. Here are some Things to Know for Car Detailers, and other Service Providers

It’s pretty obvious the electric vehicles or EVs are charging into the market place. A lot of media space is dedicated to EV’s and their impact on today’s automobile market. A lot of misinformation surrounds EV’s, which adds to the concerns and apprehensions. Some of the misinformation is based on real issues and problems, it’s just been mis-interpreted.

As far as detailing the exterior or interior of an EV, it’s safe and no extra steps are required.  However, if unsure or in doubt consult the owner’s manual or contact the manufacture’s customer service dept.

Don’t take a risk!

Electric Vehicle Rumors and Concerns

In the case of an electric vehicle collision, the local utility company needs to arrive on scene to assist first responders.  

I can’t find anything to support this rumor. However, certain precautions should be observed according to the National Transportation Safety Board:

  • NTSB criticized OEM first responders’ guides for lacking enough information to protect first responders like firefighters and “second responders” like towing companies.
  • Thermal runaway and multiple battery re-ignition after initial fire suppression are safety risks in high-voltage lithium-ion battery fires” reported by the NTSB, Jan 2021.
  • Towing companies should be aware of the NTSB’s recommendations to the towing industry.
  • SAE J2990 recommends two barrier methods for an EV during storage after a collision: (1) separate vehicle from combustible and structures by 50 feet, or (2) create a barrier of earth, steel, concrete, or solid masonry around the vehicle.
  • According to the NTSB, damaged lithium-ion batteries pose two main risks. Electric shock and thermal runaway (short circuiting).

Electric cars shouldn’t be pushed into a repair bay for service.
This is not completely accurate.

SAE J2990 recommends towing a damaged electric vehicle on a flatbed to avoid generating voltage from the turning wheels. If pushed, do not exceed 5 mph.

All key fobs should be secured and placed in a safe area to prevent accidentally starting an EV.

Good best practice and putting the key fob is a safe place should be observed for all vehicle types.

Electric cars are quiet and referred to as the “silent killer”.
EV’s emit very little noise at low speeds. Pedestrians and bicyclists are quite vulnerable with the noise issue while on the street. Usually the only noise generated is from the tires. Because of the safety issue, new models today require an enhanced noise system when travelling at low speeds.

In a shop environment, special precautions should be observed such as an escort walking beside the car, turn on emergency flashers, and tap the horn when moving the vehicle.

EV Batteries Catch on Fire
This rumor is true, unfortunately, but EVs still catch on fire less than gas-powered vehicles.

Lithium-ion batteries are now the predominate rechargeable battery for every EV on the road. Like with any automobile collision, certain precautions should be observed. The gas powered car has a tank with a highly flammable liquid. This is a hazard but fortunately fire fighters have years of experience fighting a gasoline or diesel fire and they regularly train for gas engined vehicle fires.

The collision of an electric vehicle requires a different approach, however, and not all first responders are trained yet in how to fight them.

Be aware—a Lithium–ion battery can short circuit if the battery cell is punctured. These batteries have been known to combust even after a crash has taken place.

EV’s are required to withstand impacts just as traditional internal combustion engines (ICE). In the case of damage to the EV battery system, the obvious may not be so obvious. In a worst case scenario, when the battery catches fire, it becomes an electro-chemical fire and can generate over 100 different toxins.

Electro-chemical fires require a tremendous amount of water to extinguish.  The runoff water from extinguishing an EV battery fire needs to be captured and retained or diverted away from water intakes or bodies of water supporting marine life since it is toxic.

For example, in April 2021, an EV powered by a lithium-ion battery car crashed in Houston, Texas. It took firefighters more than four hours and 30,000 gallons of water to extinguish the blaze. This opens up a whole new conversation concerning liability and potential environmental damage/mitigation.

Chevy Bolts are currently under recall because some batteries have been known to spontaneously combust when parked. GM is quickly trying to fix the problem. Other EV automakers, BMW, Chrysler, Ford, Hyundai, Mitsubishi, and Tesla have also issued battery fire related recalls. Experts maintain that fires in EVs occur at lower levels than gas-powered cars.

As a detail shop, these are issues you likely will not run into (since detailers don’t work on wrecks, for example) but everyone should be aware of the hazard. Please share this information with employees, co-workers, friends or first and second responders in case they encounter an EV.

EV’s are coming and its best to understand and be aware of potential problems and issues.

Be alert and stay safe.

If you’ve heard of a rumor concerning EV’s and would like more information on whether it is true or not, leave comments below and I will try to find out the information.

Here are some other articles of interest about EVs:

Jim Jeffrey is the publisher of World of Shine; a digital newsletter providing useful, practical and educational information to detail industry and for those interested in maintaining their cars appearance. Jim is not a detailer, but a car enthusiast that enjoys sharing information and encourages discussions. If you have an idea for an article or car care question for Jim, contact him at [email protected].

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