by Don Fredrick, The Complete Obama Timeline, ©2021 

(Dec. 5, 2021) — An acquaintance of mine who loves the idea of electric vehicles—and who believes anyone who still drives a gas-powered vehicle is a knuckle-dragging Neanderthal intentionally trying to destroy the planet and kill his fellow man—thought he caught me in a “gotcha” moment when he pointed out (with glee!) that there are far more gas-powered car fires than there are electric vehicle fires. My noting that there are far fewer electric vehicles in operation seemed not to make much difference to him. (I did not bother informing him that there are also more falls off ladders when placing a plastic Santa on the roof in December than in July.)

But, my curiosity tweaked, I did some digging about car fires. It seems there are about 150 car fires per day in the United States that involve gas-powered vehicles (GPVs). On average, there is only one car fire per week involving electric-powered vehicles (EVs). That leads to the question: how many GPVs and EVs are operating in the United States?

There are about 276 million GPVs in operation in the nation. There are about two million EVs. (Your numbers may vary, depending on which website you trust the most!)

Let’s do some math:

276,000,000 GPVs divided by 1,050 car fires per week (150 per day times seven days each week) means there is one car fire per week for every 262,857 GPVs.

2,000,000 EVs divided by one car fire per week means there is one car fire per week for every 2,000,000 EVs.

On the surface, therefore, once might conclude that GPVs are 7.6 times more likely to catch fire than EVs (2,000,000 divided by 262,857). Some might immediately argue that EVs are far safer than GPVs, at least as car fires are concerned.

But there is one important factor we must also consider: Gas-powered cars are driven many times more miles than electric vehicles are driven. GPVs are, in total, driven about 3.2 trillion miles each year in the United States. Each EV is, on average, driven only about 5,400 miles each year. The 2,000,000 EVs in this country are therefore driven a total of only 10.8 billion miles each year (2,000,000 times 5,400 = 10,800,000,000). Now do the fire-danger math on the basis of fires per miles driven:

1,050 GPV fires per week = 54,600 fires per year (1,050 times 52).

3.2 trillion GPV miles driven divided by 54,600 fires = one GPV car fire for every 58,608,000 miles driven.

1 EV fire per week = 52 EV fires per year (1 times 52).

10.8 billion EV miles divided by 52 fires = one EV car fire for every 207,692,000 miles driven.

On a miles-driven basis, therefore, GPVs are about 3.5 times more dangerous than EVs when it comes to fires.

One EV fire for every 207 million miles driven does not seem particularly excessive to me. Nor does one GPV fire for every 58 million miles driven. I would certainly not make a car-buying decision based on the likelihood of it catching fire. A far more important safety factor would be whether the vehicle has a huge blind spot that could lead to an accident, or the presence of an “automated” system that might lead the driver to be dangerously inattentive.

As time passes, manufacturers will obviously rectify many of the “bugs” in EVs and their batteries. In the long run, electric vehicles may prove to be more practical, efficient, and safer than they are today. In the short run, however, we are at the beginning of a long learning curve. I suspect we will see a lot more EV fires over the next few years, especially if the electricians installing charging units in garages are not well-trained, or if home electrical systems are inadvertently overburdened. (We may fewer car fires but more garage fires!) Even worse, one can only imagine the “creativity” of some new EV owners who might think they can get away with “homemade extension cords” to avoid paying a qualified electrician to install a proper charging device in the garage. And what some people without garages might do to charge their EVs is frightening.

There may be more than 50,000 car fires in the United States each year, but there are about 5 million car accidents. You are 100 times more likely to get in a fender-bender than see flames coming out of your vehicle. Pay attention and drive carefully. Or, as one Chicago alderman infamously said, “Keep at least two hands on the wheel at all times.”

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  1. Dear Don;

    Your editorial about car fires piqued my interest, so I did some researching on my own and discovered that an electric car is almost a googolplex more likely to have a 4-am spontaneous fire than a gas-powered vehicle that (each) has been sitting in the garage for 10 hours.

    I do not have an electric car BUT I have an electric lawnmower from which I remove the batteries to charge and never store the batteries in the mower.

    Perhaps as a safety measure, people with electric cars should remove the batteries when not in use. You say that is impossible, and I totally agree.

    I wonder if your friend realizes that it takes electricity to charge his car batteries, perhaps electricity produced by petrochemicals? And that’s like ‘you pay for it now or pay for it later’ philosophy, either way, you pay.

    Pollution in its many myriad forms will be the death of us all. A cigarette butt tossed from a window; oil poured on the ground from an oil change; COVID (worthless, like trying to stop a mosquito with a chain-link fence) masks nonchalantly discarded and plastic, plastic everywhere, from the sides roads to the middle of the oceans and China and India lead the way, out polluting us 100:1. For every plastic jug in the ocean from the United States, there’s another 100 from India and another 100 from China. We have a “Plastic pollution gap”, a take on Dr. Strangelove.

    Suffice to say, the world has its priorities askew, to say the least.

    Sincerely,

    Professor ‘Trash the masks’ Zorkophsky