Model S fire?

Model S fire?

Appears to have been in an accident. Wonder what caught fire. Something flammable in the frunk?

Brian H | October 3, 2013

I think that's wrong. The fire consumed the front part of the battery, but isolation and internal features kept it from spreading. The firefighters eventually cut a hole in the casing and filled it with water to kill the fire.

sergiyz | October 3, 2013

I definitely wanna know what was that heavy metal object that cops couldn't find afterwards...

Tiebreaker | October 3, 2013

So which witch is which:

"Crews found that water seemed to intensify the fire, so they began using a dry chemical extinguisher.

After dismantling the front end of the vehicle and puncturing holes in the battery pack, responders used a circular saw to cut an access hole in the front section to apply water to the battery, according to documents. Only then was the fire extinguished."

Water or no water?

Captain_Zap | October 3, 2013

I just learned that the car that was involved in the fire was a Signature. I think this calls for a moment of silence....

...I am impressed by how the car protected the driver in this situation. I'm happier than ever with my car after seeing how this incident played out. One year ago, I was in these forums complaining about my car delivery being delayed. I was complaining because my BMW started spewing gas all over the engine. I'll never go back to that. I feel much safer in the Model S and it's a fun touring performance car without compromises. None.

chrispga | October 3, 2013

Thought I'd wrap up this discussion with a video: and a discussion thread here: Or does this video just fan the flames.

The video is a compilation of the original Tesla fire video and a discussion from the show Tech News Today from the TWiT network. Full TNT episode here:

A little about me: I'm a huge TNT and Tesla Model S fan. TNT offers some of the best commentary on tech news and the Tesla Model S is the best car period. | October 3, 2013

@Bubba2000 - My understanding is the bottom is not aluminum, but a boron steel plate. It's hard to imagine an object penetrating the base plate.

The front side is likely aluminum, and if something penetrated the entire front end, it might go through at that point.

It's also possible there was no puncture (since they couldn't get water into the battery), but perhaps the tire fire or the object itself created a high-heat situation next to the batteries that caused the internal cells to fail. The fire department cut into the battery - and no telling what that did to the batteries too!

It will be interesting if they can determine the exact set of events and what happened beyond our guessing here!

jcaspar1 | October 3, 2013

This reminds me a lot of the Volt fire that was so publicized. Car in an accident and later starts on fire. I believe the Volt fire was several days later. Lithium Ion batteries shorted will burn spectacularly so there will always be some risk. I will feel no less safe in a Tesla than in a car with gasoline.

wbrown01 | October 3, 2013

I have Brake fluid, I did read the label, no mention of it being flammable. I tried to light the brake fluid with a good flame. It did nothing. I don't think brake fluid was the cause.

ironmikeii | October 3, 2013

@Tiebreaker- see page 18 of The Tesla Mosel S Emergency Response Guide.

Sounds like copious amounts of water are needed to put out the high voltage batter fire.

wbrown01 | October 3, 2013

Maybe the metal object punctured the battery case. The coolant spilled out, so without coolant the cells were able to than overheat.

oildeathspiral | October 3, 2013


The only Volt "fire" I'm aware of and the one that triggered so much (bad) press was after a severe NHTSA crash test in which the car was then placed on it's side for some time, then upside down, then moved to a warehouse where approx 1-2 weeks later there was a fire caused by leakage of liquid from the battery pack. The battery wasn't discharged or disconnected.

In other words, you had to try really hard to make the battery catch fire and if you couldn't get out by the time it did you were probably already gone. The hyperbole over this fire without the details was inexcusable. As Bob Lutz has said, no Volt has ever caught fire on the road.

RedShift | October 3, 2013

Stock seems to be recovering already. Maybe Tesla will announce a cow catcher retrofit!

I am semi-serious. What about a deflector integrated into the front of the battery casing? Something shaped in such a way as to not snag on anything, but slide it to the side.

Or, just place the cells further back and have an empty crush/puncture zone which does no harm?

Or, how about this:

Bose electromagnetic suspension makes the LS400 LEAP over obstacles on the road :-) (at 1.54 in the video)

2050project | October 4, 2013

Please check out this article to put things into a broader context:

Distilling key points, writer Nelson Ireson nicely sums it up:

Energy Storage = Volatility

Simply put, there's no way to store large amounts of energy in a car (be it electro-chemical or hydrocarbon-based) without having a whole lot of energy in a very small space. When things outside of normal operating parameters occur, that energy can escape--sometimes in violent ways.

If the Model S ran on compressed air, it could depressurize explosively. If it ran on natural gas, same story, with the bonus of ignition and flames. If it ran on distilled unicorn tears, well, it might get out OK. But this is the real world.

So everyone, please, take a step back, take a breath, whatever you need to do to pull back from this tizzy you're in, and consider that what we're all talking so excitedly about is just a car that got in a crash and then caught fire.

It happens every day.

In fact, it happens to over 150,000 cars every year:

Go_Peddle_4_me | October 4, 2013


Brake fluid is inflammable as you said. You need a chemical reaction to get it hot enough to smoke, as in bleach, added to brake fluid will make a nice smoke screen, but smells awful.

J.T. | October 4, 2013

Flammable and inflammable are the same thing.

Mathew98 | October 4, 2013
ablack2004 | October 4, 2013

How many Model S's have been sold?
How many ICE car's are sold in US...

Curious about the % of car fires for both...


Andre-nl | October 4, 2013

The Tesla burnt slowly enough to give the occupant(s) enough time to exit the vehicle. Fire safety is in large part about warning people and winning time for them to get to safety.

As 2050project worded so nicely, you probably can't create an unburnable car. Slowing things down so it doesn't ignite in a violent fireball is probably the best you can achieve as a car manufacturer. As far a I can judge Tesla succeeded in that goal.

If I am to believe the ~150,000 car fires per year figure, that works out to 1 car fire per 20 million vehicle miles traveled. Purportedly, the Model S has collectively driven 80 million miles. Even though these 150,000 are mostly older vehicles, statistics-wise I do not see a reason to worry.

mrspaghetti | October 4, 2013

@2050project +1

Good commentary.

Incidentally, using distilled unicorn tears implies making them cry somehow, which I could never condone. Even if one supposes the tears are harvested by tickling them until they cry, since that would most likely involve some kind of imprisonment. Short of such cruelty, I think it's clearly impractical to get anywhere near the necessary volume to support mass-produced vehicles. And that's not even taking into account any losses that would occur during distillation.

Of course, if Tesla were willing to take the PR hit associated with cruelty to unicorns, I bet unicorn hide seats would be really comfy and last virtually forever...

steve lapp | October 4, 2013

I think it is just a case of bad luck that a MS happened to have the type of accident that penetrated and ignited a battery pack. However, someone, somewhere, sometime was bound to have an accident where a battery caught fire. Eventually someone will be killed in a flaming MS wreck, and of course that will set the company back too, and it may well be death due to a battery fire. This is the nature of automobiles with energy storage devices that travel at high speeds.

What matters is whether the car is properly and reasonably engineered to protect against what are foreseeable events, and I think this photo of the underside of the MS after crash testing shows the front subframe has two barriers to road objects, so this kind of collision was clearly engineered for.

I think the biggest problem for Tesla is the silence from Elon Musk himself, why has he not commented at least to say all resources are working around the clock to identify the specifics of the crash to ensure there are no underlying safety issues. Silence form the management, and letting non-technical public relations people handle the media is not good for consumer confidence. Elon, we need to hear from you on the corporate action being taken to give your customers confidence they still have a vary safe car, likely one of the safest.

Best Regards

GeirT | October 4, 2013

I'd like to see what the owner of the car experienced, and also have Tesla analyse this in greater detail. It has been a devastating incident. I agree with most, so what? cars burn and ICE cars burn more violent than anything. But this horrible MS video is all over the place and the shares are taking a beating.
Hope to hear something enlightening from driver and TM on this - ASAP!

aliblessem | October 4, 2013

Tesla Motors has built the best automobile on the planet in most categories thus far. There will always be people and other companies/ corporations unhappy they didn't build an automobile that is superior to all others when compared.

The fire on the Model S was not a battery defect, but was driver inflicted. If any automobile runs over hard metal debris and drags it, the sparks will cause that vehicle to potentially catch on fire or explode.

That fire doesn't change a thing, I still will purchase the Model X. My Model S functions perfectly, Tesla Motors only build superior automobiles. As far as technology is concerned, Tesla Motors is superior over all. A flag ship luxury car will be one of the last automobile Tesla Motors produces. The prestigious Bentley Motors, Rolls-Royce Motor Cars and others have a lot of catching up to do if they want to compete with Tesla Motors.

It is just unfortunate that assumption can bring the stock down.

Your Fellow Tesla Owner,

mjs | October 4, 2013

@mrspaghetti +1

J.T. | October 4, 2013

@mrspaghetti Simply harvest the tears from female unicorns. The female of the species has been known to burst into tears for no reason whatsoever.

Robert Hodgen | October 4, 2013

I'm not convinced that the battery was involved in a big way. Looking at the video the flames are orange and red and the smoke is black, indicating a low temperature fire and incomplete combustion. I've looked at a lot of lithium battery fires on youtube, most give off a white smoke and are very energetic. The video just looked like burning plastic.

If the Tesla's battery was fully involved I'd expect a series of explosions, like fireworks, as the individual cells pop off. There would be rapid venting of very hot gas and lots of white smoke.

If the battery was breached Tesla's design worked well to contain the damage to a small group of cells. In the end this could validate Tesla's battery design.

jeffsstuff | October 4, 2013

First, I agree totally with @2050Project. Energy is energy and when it is pent up in one place and something goes wrong, bad thing can, and often do, happen.

But the one thing I take away from all this is, and this hold for all vehicles not just EVs, is carry a dry chemical fire extinguisher in your car! There will always be a risk of fire in any vehicle (does anyone know the flammability of unicorn tears?). The story said the driver got out before the fire started. He could have potentially put out the fire before severe damage was done had he been prepared. If others were in the car and/or someone were trapped or unconscious, the extinguisher could keep a fire at bay for long enough for everyone to get out of the vehicle safely.

carlk | October 4, 2013

@jeffsstuff If you can use the fire distinguisher then you should be able to get out of the car. Just get out of the car. The car can always be replaced.

aschulz90 | October 4, 2013

Hey everybody. There seems to be alot of speculation regarding this. Jalnopik which originally reported the fire (as far as I know) also released this guide:

Personal commentary:

lithium ion batteries do not contain elemental lithium. Applying water should effectively cool the battery pack and will not react like water with metallic lithium or sodium. Containing thermal runaway requires a great deal of cooling. It is unfortunate the physics/chemistry of Li-ion batteries as they stand. It sounds like Tesla anticipated such events in the case of certain accidents and if you watch the video, the cabin looks unaffected. Fires and great heat are scary, but I'd still trust a model S in an accident.

Bubba2000 | October 4, 2013

It is going to take a while for Tesla to analyze the damaged MS and reconstruct what happened, especially after the holes that the firemen punched, fire and water damage. There is always a kink in the armor, so to speak, whether it is a M-1 Tank, Tiger Tank, or a Model S.

As TeslaTap indicated they may have used Boron Steel for the battery pack, but have have left some exposed area. Hydraulic or coolant lines, wiring, pumps, j/c boxes, etc could be vulnerable.

Tesla, especially with the held of the SpaceX engineerings has the talent and resources to find the vulnerabilities of Model S. It is better to spend the time and money to find and fix the problem than to hide and cover-up. Even if Tesla spent $100M indentifying + fixing the problem and recalls, it would benefit the company and owners. The stock market will quickly forget the incident.

Elon is maintaining his silence until he gets the facts.

ironhacker | October 4, 2013

Presently, I hope that Tesla analyzes this properly (sure they will) and uses what they learn to improve the vehicle. There is always room for improvement.

In the long term, non-volatile electrolytes or solid state electrolytes less susceptible to thermal issues will nearly eliminate fire risks.

evpro | October 4, 2013

A cow catcher on the front end will change the styling considerably (think steam locomotive). Handy for deep snow and errant deer, tho.

justineet | October 4, 2013

The challenge, in this kind of high speed collusion with the battery case, is making the case not only relatively puncture proof but also highly resistant to significant dents. The fire in the battery could have been started even without a breach to the case if the cells within it were damaged due to significant dent on the case.

SarahsDad | October 4, 2013

Just amazing how this one incident has percolated into the mainstream so quickly and with so few facts. Five separate coworkers came up to me today (everyone knows I drive a Tesla) and expressed concerns about such a major problem that my car must have.

Never underestimate the power of the public to jump to conclusions with little or no data.

First fire in 20-25,000 cars. Not too shabby.

WayneH | October 4, 2013

@Bubba2000 and others
Do you think this fire would delay the launch of Model X or Gen3?

oildeathspiral | October 4, 2013

Interesting perspective on NHTSA investigating the Model S crash from CNBC's Phil Lebeau. Last sentence is main point:

"phil, people are still talking about the fire we saw on the tesla earlier this week. there was some talk about the fact that perhaps the national transportation safety board would be able to investigate this but was actually shut down right now so we're not getting a lot of information. keep in mind that nhtsa, which does all vehicle investigations, all of those investigations start with a consumer complaint. so if you have a problem say with your chevy malibu, kelly, you would file a complaint with nhtsa. if there are enough complaints and it's warranted as serious enough, they'll open a case and may lead to a recall. if this person who owns this tesla, if they doesn't file a complaint, it may never get to nhtsa."

carlk | October 4, 2013

@WayneH There are 250,000 car fires in US each year. Did that stop any auto companies to introduce new models?

Bighorn | October 4, 2013

I've noticed Wayne is kind of a Debbie Downer.

JPPTM | October 4, 2013

OK--here is the official word from Elon:

NKYTA | October 4, 2013

Just got an email from TM with the contents of the blog post. Well written.

Brian H | October 5, 2013

The energy (electric) stored in the battery had little to do with the fire, except perhaps ignition. The contents of the cells would burn with far more heat release than shorting the cells. TM's battery case chemical and physical fire inhibitors are the real story here: they were very effective.

fbramble | October 5, 2013

Wow! I got an email from Tesla Motors explaining the cause of the fire. I realy like how they respond to problems at Tesla..

fbramble | October 5, 2013

Dick Van Dykes Jaguar Fire:

flyfr8 | October 5, 2013

since batteries are vulnerable to about a fire suppressant system to control it similar to the ones that aircraft have installed

Kleist | October 5, 2013

The Tesla battery has a suppresant system build in. If you read the blog it notes that the firemen followed their standard procedure trying to get to the source of the fire. By doing so they breached the firewall, which defeated the system. This is learning... the firefighter instructional video needs to be updated. Probably it would have been better just to cool down the battery with water. I am sure Tesla will run some tests to determine what is the best course of action for this scenario for the fire crews.

Captain_Zap | October 5, 2013

We have a Fire Chief and a Firefighter-turned-Paramedic in our family. Both work in major metropolitan areas.

We have been forwarding all the emergency response information regarding Tesla to them since last year.
Yesterday we forwarded Elon's blog to them as well.

nomoDinos | October 5, 2013

Kleist and Captain_Zap - yeah, that will be especially important as more of these "freak accident" events start to happen with more and more Teslas being driven. It is dangerous for the firefighters as well if they attempt to use their standard operating protocol on these high powered battery casings.

Kleist | October 5, 2013

Learning at $100k material damage, no injuries and no casualties is a bargain basement price.

Pungoteague_Dave | October 5, 2013

Kleist, the S does not have a fire suppressant system. It has a fire barrier system, plus under-car steel cladding. That's passive, while suppressant systems are active. Many boats have these. One of my power boats has an active suppressant system that uses halon gas to smother an active fire in the engine room. Halon is heavy and finds the low areas where fire tends to source. The problem with halon is that it is toxic to breathe, and damages the ozone layer. More recently FM-200 systems are replacing halon.

It appears that the car's passive fire safety systems worked as designed and proved the thesis. An active suppressor would be heavy, require plumbing and storage, and in my opinion isn't warranted.

Kleist | October 5, 2013

P_D - I did not say active, but yes the cells blast into a passive supressive system.

Kleist | October 5, 2013

When I saw the fire fighter instructional video some time ago there was how to safely remove people from a wreck, but not how to approach a battery fire. I think that section needs to be added.
A freak accident shows us battery fires can happen - how do we need to approach it.
By the way this incident makes me even more confident about the safety of our MS. And I am more determined then before to replace our second ICE fire monster as soon as possible.