You may not have thought about this before, but is there a difference between a crash involving a conventional car and a crash with an electric car? There’s more to it than you might think.
After recently attending a Technical Working Group meeting at Euro NCAP, the discussion turned to the ins and outs of crash testing electric vehicles. If you didn’t know, Which? was a founding member of Euro NCAP, an independent crash test body established in 1997 – its aim is to make cars safer for all of us.
With more and more manufacturers wanting a slice of the electric pie, Euro NCAP has to consider how well electric cars will protect in a crash.
When I saw the agenda, my first thought was that an electric car’s weight distribution is likely to differ greatly from a conventional car, with concentrations around the engine and battery pack possibly also affecting ride and handling.
But there are far more significant hazards to consider, that most of us wouldn’t have thought of.
The potential dangers of an electric car
In a conventional car there’s a need to make sure that the un-fused electrical circuit (the main cable from the battery to the starter motor) doesn’t short out, as otherwise it could potentially create a fire hazard. And there’s a need to contain fuel for the same reason.
In an electrical car the short circuit problem could be much exaggerated. The Nissan Leaf, for example, runs at 400V instead of the 12V used by conventional cars. So if that shorts, it won’t just be sparks that fly – if you become part of the circuit, you’ll certainly know about it!
But that isn’t the end of it. Those lithium-iron batteries offer a good deal of power when they’re neatly tucked under the floor. But in a crash, if the batteries are damaged, any fluid spilled is highly flammable. And, according to the labs that run the Euro NCAP tests, a fire in these circumstances is pretty much unstoppable.
So it would seem an on-site fire tender and a well thought through evacuation plan might be the order of the day when we start testing electric cars.
Our faith is with the crash testers
I’ve no doubt the manufacturers have thought this through – after all, Nissan is controlled by car safety champions Renault. Plus, all the labs assured us at the meeting that all their staff have been appropriately trained, and that they’ve installed appropriate equipment for crash testing electric cars.
But it does make me wonder if the public (and the emergency services) are quite prepared for what happens if one is involved in a pile-up.