Tesla’s first crash-induced inferno sparks questions about battery safety [Updated]

daimler wants more cooperation with tesla motors model s red on road
Tesla stock dropped 6.2 percent after stories of its first car fire surfaced.

The inevitable has happened. A Tesla Model S has caught fire.

While we right away reported a rough account of the incident, we now know – thanks to Tesla Founder and CEO Elon Musk – what exactly happened, why, and how the Model S performed given the unfortunate circumstances.

A release written by Musk himself explains the cause of the damage: “A curved section that fell off a semi-trailer was recovered from the roadway near where the accident occurred and, according to the road crew that was on the scene, appears to be the culprit. The geometry of the object caused a powerful lever action as it went under the car, punching upward and impaling the Model S with a peak force on the order of 25 tons. Only a force of this magnitude would be strong enough to punch a 3 inch diameter hole through the quarter inch armor plate protecting the base of the vehicle.”

Luckily, the driver was able to exit the car before any injuries were sustained, according to Yahoo Autos.

Firefighters report a blaze so resilient that they had to use a dry chemical extinguisher to finally put out the blaze. And when they thought they had stamped it out, they removed the front of the car to find a battery still smoldering.

According to Musk, the firefighters were following protocol. In the case of the Model S, however, Musk contends the firefighters caused more damage than was required to extinguish the fire: “When the fire department arrived, they observed standard procedure, which was to gain access to the source of the fire by puncturing holes in the top of the battery’s protective metal plate and applying water. For the Model S lithium-ion battery, it was correct to apply water (vs. dry chemical extinguisher), but not to puncture the metal firewall, as the newly created holes allowed the flames to then vent upwards into the front trunk section of the Model S.”

Tesla Model S fire

As you can see in the video below – let me warn our more sensitive readers of foul language used by the amateur videographer – that the flames never move past the mostly empty, carpeted front section of the car.

This is good news, as even if passengers had for some reason remained in the cabin, they wouldn’t have been directly at risk.

Around 150,000 cars catch fire each year on American roads, so scenes such as this are no surprise. This is, however, the first such fire for Tesla. Musk is quick to emphasize that, statistically, drivers are far safer in a Tesla than in a gasoline-powered car.

“Americans drive about 3 trillion miles per year according to the Department of Transportation. That equates to 1 vehicle fire for every 20 million miles driven, compared to 1 fire in over 100 million miles for Tesla. This means you are 5 times more likely to experience a fire in a conventional gasoline car than a Tesla!”

The car isn’t the only victim of this fire. After the story of the EV fire spread, Tesla stock dropped 6.2 percent, according to USA Today.

Tesla Founder and CEO Elon Musk recently offered advice via Twitter to Boeing when it was experiencing fire issues with lithium-ion batteries onboard its 787 Dreamliner. No word yet on which genius billionaire will tweet unsolicited advice to Musk now that one of his babies has succumb to flames.

Updated: Since the first report of this story, we have updated facts and added official quotes and insight from Tesla CEO Elon Musk.

Cars

From salt flats to sand dunes, adventuring off-grid in Audi’s electric E-Tron

Digital Trends traveled to the Namibian desert to get an early taste of the all-electric 2019 Audi e-tron. We drove prototypes on a variety of terrains, including dunes and a salt pan.
Emerging Tech

Here’s all the best gear and gadgetry you can snag for $100 or less

A $100 bill can get you further than you might think -- so long as you know where to look. Check out our picks for the best tech under $100, whether you're in the market for headphones or a virtual-reality headset.
Cars

Tesla’s referral program lets owners send laser-etched photos into space

Tesla has a referral program that provides its loyal owners who recommend the company's cars to others with rewards. The latest offer: Tesla will laser-etch a photo of the owner's choosing and shoot it into space.
Cars

Tread lightly in Bollinger’s ruggedly cool electric pickup truck

New York-based Bollinger Motors has unveiled an electric pickup truck rugged enough for work or play. Named B2, it's a boxy beast with unusual specifications. It has 520 horsepower yet it can tow 7,500 pounds or haul 5,000 pounds.
Cars

Ford hatches a software update to fix a fiery problem with its GT supercar

Ford warns 200 examples of the GT supercar built between December 2016 and July 2018 can catch fire if hydraulic fluid leaks from the rear wing onto the hot exhaust. It will fix the problem with a software update.
Cars

Can't see in front of you? Here's how to change your windshield wipers

If you can't see out of the front of your car, it's time for a new set of wiper blades. Thankfully, changing your car's windshield wipers is quick and painless if you know what you're doing. Here's what you need to know.
Cars

Watch this driverless Range Rover tackle one of U.K.’s ‘most challenging roads’

Jaguar Land Rover just sent its autonomous Range Rover Sport vehicle onto one of the U.K.'s "most challenging road layouts," and the automaker has posted a video online showing exactly how it fared.
Cars

GPS units aren't dead! Our favorite models still do things your phone can't

Love hitting the open road but hate having to rely solely on your phone for getting around? Thankfully, the best in-car GPS systems will allow you to navigate and capitalize on a range of features sans your cellular network. Here are our…
Cars

A public/private autonomous driving institute blooms under the Arizona sun

Arizona Governor Doug Ducey announced the Institute for Automated Mobility (IAM), partnering government, academic, and private organizations to develop self-driving tech and safety standards. Intel is the first private-sector member.
Cars

Ford imagines a future without traffic lights or stop signs

Ford is using vehicle-to-vehicle communication (V2V) tech to allow cars to pass through intersections without stopping. The experimental "Intersection Priority Management" system basically acts as air traffic control for cars.
Cars

The supersized BMW X7 is coming with a grille you can park a 2 Series on

BMW will soon expand its lineup with a new range-topping SUV named the X7. The first-ever BMW X7 is shaping up to be the 7 Series of the SUV world in terms of size, price, and image.
Cars

Can't see all of a sudden? Our quick guide on defogging your car windows

Did you suddenly lose exterior visibility while driving because of foggy windows? Don't panic! Here's our quick guide on defogging your car windows in a safe manner while on the go, and a few steps on how to prevent them.
Product Review

The 2019 Volvo V60 proves it's still cool to drive a station wagon

With the 2019 V60, Volvo argues the station wagon segment isn't as moribund as most other automakers say it is. The company goes as far as arguing we're on the cusp of a wagon revival, and the V60 is poised to lead the charge.
Product Review

Volvo’s redesigned 2019 S60 sedan is the best kind of remix

The 2019 Volvo S60 borrows almost everything from other recent Volvo models, but that’s not a problem. From its infotainment system to an available plug-in hybrid powertrain, the S60 takes the best bits from a lineup of great cars.