Currently, a Model S has a 1 in 2.5 million chance of burning down while charging at a Tesla Supercharger but that’s really not something Tesla owners need to worry about. This statistic is simply based on the fact that Superchargers have been used 2.5 million times with only one report of a fire earlier this year in Norway. Though it was quite a significant fire, burning the car to the ground, no one fortunately was injured.
We have been following the investigations, which have not been very fruitful – likely due to the condition of the vehicle, but the authorities believe that the fire originated “inside the vehicle” and not from the Supercharger itself.
Today Tesla revealed that it concluded its own investigation and confirms that the cause of the fire was a short-circuit in the car and though the automaker doesn’t know why the short-circuit happened, and again the odds of another fire are extremely low, it will nonetheless push a software update to its fleet to “provide extra security during charging”.
TL;DR/Takeaway: Tesla determined that the fire started due to a short-circuit in the distribution box in the car. The automaker will push a OTA update to its fleet to make charging even safer in a few weeks.
A quick chronology of the events that led to today’s news:
January 1, 2016: A 1-year-old used Model S caught fire while charging at a Supercharger in Gjerstad, Norway. No one was injured, but the Model S was completely burned down. Tesla launches a full investigation.
January 6, 2016: Police can’t find a problem with the charger and “released” it, but it’s still offline.
January 14, 2016: the ‘Accident Investigation Board’ (AIBN) is shutting down the investigation and report indications that the fire might have originated in the car.
Which brings us to today, when Tesla’s communication manager in Norway issued the following statement to local news (translated to English):
“In January, it was an isolated incident where a Model S caught fire while using a Supercharger. The cause was a short-circuit in the distribution box in the car. Superchargers were turned off immediately when the short-circuit was discovered. No one was injured in the fire. Our investigation confirmed that this was an isolated incident, but due to the damage to the car, we could not definitely identify the exact cause of the short-circuit.”
Norwegian authorities confirmed being satisfied with Tesla’s explanation, which is probably the best they will get considering the state of what remain of the vehicle.
Tesla confirmed that the next over-the-air software update will provide “extra security during charging” and will include a “diagnostic solution to identify potential short-circuit”.
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So this is the first actual case of a fire caused by a failure in the electrical system of a Tesla. That’s a very good record — better than the record for home electrical wiring, and much better than the record of fires for gasoline cars.
If that makes for slower Supercharging, the owners won’t be happy.
It wasn’t the Supercharger; it was an internal short-circuit in the car’s wiring. So it shouldn’t affect the behavior of the car unless you’ve got a defective car… I assume the software changes are to attempt to detect short circuits.
I single incident causes Tesla to update software on the ENTIRE fleet. What other OEM responds like this? Oh yeah, and no one got hurt. How many times have other OEMs not done anything in situations where issues with the cars caused injuries and even deaths?
I wonder if the car would have detected the problem as it was starting and warned the occupants if someone was still inside.
It doesn’t make sense that change software will make car safer than before.
Not sure why you think it makes no sense that a software change doesn’t make sense to make the car safer.
The car is in constant communication with the charger and is equipped with many sensors so if a temperature or current sensor detects an excess of either it can reduce the charge current or stop charging altogether. A software update can change those settings so that the too high temperature detected occurs at a lower temperature than it did, similarly with too high charging current detected.
It kinda does make sense. Heating at a bad contact in the HVJB is accompanied by a voltage drop; that’s something detectable. A slower current ramp-up and more sensitive triggers for a charging abort could make this less likely.
Sure, it makes perfect sense, and Tesla has done this at least once before. For example, previously, you would set your car to charge at a fixed number of amps (say, 40 amps when plugged into a NEMA 14-50 plug). However, if there was a wiring issue in the home (many older homes may not be prepared for a multi-hour charge consistently at 40 amps), there could be an issue that melted the plug and/or potentially caused a fire. Tesla could have taken the approach that home wiring was none of their concern, but instead they pushed an updates to cars that would lower the amps being pulled until voltage spikes were no longer seen, thus preventing potential fires. If the car consistently lowers the amps it pulls at a given location, you might call an electrician to examine the line to find out what that is happening. This distribution box fix is likely to be similar. The software is likely to check status more often, and if anomalies are seen, SuperCharging will likely be terminated.
The software response to the house wiring issue was junk. It has a lot of false positives (on perfectly good house wiring) and it is also prone to false negatives. They can’t actually detect whether the house wiring is overheating.
They can, however, detect whether the internals of the car are overheating, because they know a lot more about them. So this will have a much more sensible software fix.
The house wiring update wasn’t junk. Sure, maybe there were some false positives, but avoiding fires at the expense of slowing down a few owners seems like a decent trade-off. And it is always something that that Tesla can modify in the future (like a ‘are you really sure you want to turn off this feature’ button). There are a lot of strange scenarios out there–cases where upstream transformers were struggling with the load or neighbors had items coming on that triggered the amp decrease.