Third Tesla Model S Fire: The Owner’s Story

4 years ago by Jay Cole 30

Firemen Respond To Tesla Model S Fire After 70 mph Collision With A Tow Hitch On Wednesday

Firemen Respond To Tesla Model S Fire After 70 mph Collision With A Tow Hitch On Wednesday

Tesla Model S Owner Reports Vehicle Gave Him Plenty Of Warning Before Fire To Safely Exit The Vehicle (picture via Instagram User Davanh)

Tesla Model S Owner Reports Vehicle Gave Him Plenty Of Warning Before Fire To Safely Exit The Vehicle (picture via Instagram User Davanh)

On Wednesday, November 6th, Tesla experienced its third Model S fire after a road collision in just over 5 weeks near Smyrna, Tennessee.

And while in both of the first two incidents saw Tesla’s electric sedan ultimately cleared of any manufacturer defect, this most recent fire has once again opened up both the car and the company to some intense media scrutiny.

So much so that the NHSTA is considering getting involved.

Here is how the most recent accident was first reported by the Tennessee Highway Patrol:

“The driver, identified as Juris Shibayama, struck a tow hitch that was in the middle of a lane, which damaged the car’s undercarriage and caused the fire.”

Now Mr. Shibayama (38) of Murfreesboro, TN tells us himself what went down during his accident:

From a Model S owner in Tennessee

By Juris Shibayama, MD

There Is Always Someone Around To Catch A Shot Of An Accident (via Instagram - DavanH)

There Is Always Someone Around To Catch A Shot Of An Accident (via Instagram – DavanH)

I was driving home from work on the interstate in the right lane at approximately 70 miles per hour, following a truck. In the middle of the lane, there was a rusty three-pronged trailer hitch that was sticking up with the ball up in the air. The truck in front of me cleared the object. I did not have enough time to swerve to avoid the hitch, and it went below my car. I felt a firm “thud” as the hitch struck the bottom of the car, and it felt as though it even lifted the car up in the air. My assistant later found a gouge in the tarmac where the item scraped into the road. Somewhat shaken, I continued to drive.

About 30-45 seconds later, there was a warning on the dashboard display saying, “Car needs service. Car may not restart.” I continued to drive, hoping to get home. About one minute later, the message on the dashboard display read, “Please pull over safely. Car is shutting down.” I was able to fully control the car the entire time and safely pulled off the left shoulder on the side of the road. I got out of the car, and started to get all my belongings out. About 5-10 seconds after getting out of the car, smoke started to come from the front underbody of the car. I walked away from the vehicle to a distance of about 100 yards. More smoke started to come out of the bottom of the car, and about two minutes after I walked away, the front of the car caught on fire.

Aftermath Of Tesla Fire (via Tennessee Highway Patrol)

Aftermath Of Tesla Fire (via Tennessee Highway Patrol)

I am thankful to God that I was totally uninjured in any way from this impact. Had I not been in a Tesla, that object could have punched through the floor and caused me serious harm. From the time of impact of the object until the time the car caught fire was about five minutes. During this time, the car warned me that it was damaged and instructed me to pull over. I never felt as though I was in any imminent danger. While driving after I hit the object until I pulled over, the car performed perfectly, and it was a totally controlled situation. There was never a point at which I was anywhere even close to any flames.

The firemen arrived promptly and applied water to the flames. They were about to pry open the doors, so I pressed my key button and the handles presented and everything worked even though the front of the car was on fire. No flames ever reached the cabin, and nothing inside was damaged. I was even able to get my papers and pens out of the glove compartment.

This experience does not in any way make me think that the Tesla Model S is an unsafe car. I would buy another one in a heartbeat.

Juris Shibayama, MD

via Tesla Motors blog

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30 responses to "Third Tesla Model S Fire: The Owner’s Story"

  1. GeorgeS says:

    sounds like a coached confession to me.

    and I’m a Tesla fan.

    1. TomH says:

      Yes, I have to agree.

      Just like after the first fire, the PR spin is more important than actually investigating and correcting the soft underbelly of the Model S.

    2. Chris O says:

      Coached confession…..I really don’t see what Mr. Shibayama has to gain by extolling the virtues of the car on behalf of Tesla. Sounds to me like a guy who just loved his ride and doesn’t want to hear a bad word about it.

      1. sven says:

        Maybe Mr. Shibayama owns a large amount of Tesla stock and wants to stop the slide in Tesla’s stock price.

    3. Gary H says:

      Oh please.

    4. krona2k says:

      Hope your tin foil hat is well maintained.

  2. Ocean Railroader says:

    If you hit something that big at 70 miles on hour at freeway speeds in any car you are going to lose your car. I remembered I once saw a later in the middle of the freeway and I had to jump around it in the car in that it sure would have killed my car.

    1. NuclearOperator says:

      “If you hit something that big at 70 miles on hour at freeway speeds in any car you are going to lose your car.”

      That isn’t true.

      What is true is that there are only about 19,000 model S Teslas on the road so far, that the average age of one is still only about half a year, and that already two have been effectively totalled because they encountered road debris. There are many more Nissan Leafs and Chevy Volts on the road, but none of them have caught fire. Perhaps the model S is particularly vulnerable to this type of incident? Maybe so. With each event like this it appears more likely. Time will tell.

      1. Rick says:

        Not true my Tesla is the number 23241, so there are more than 24000 at this time

        1. Jay Cole says:

          That is always a tricky one…VINs are not sequential at Tesla, but allocated in blocks at times, there are many VINs much lower than yours of which there is no car on the road for.

          Tesla has reported right around 18,200 sold through Q3 (September 2013), and another likely 2k have gone out since…would make for just over 20K if you were looking for an ‘up to the today’ estimate.

          1. Koz says:

            Do you mean not assigned sequentially or they don’t necessarily build in the same or as the VINs. I think the latter is what they do. Sequential VINs but not equally sequential builds.

            1. Jay Cole says:

              I’ve read your paragraph a couple times Koz and still don’t know what you are asking, hehe.

              As an example) VIN 18707 could be built and delivered before VIN 13503 – perhaps this lower VIN range is saved for a region in Euro in a configuration that Tesla was not prepared to build and ship at the moment it was designated, whereas the higher number was a current US order being delivered across the road in a batch that was headed into production.

              I’m sure the numbers are assigned out in order by Tesla ie) they didn’t just skip 14000-15000 for no reason.

              Easy to see a US order that Tesla says they can go from order to delivery in as little as 4 weeks is going to get to get really high VIN, but also be put out into the universe a lot quicker than an older 60 kWh Euro order and delivery.

              1. Koz says:

                Your thinking along same lines as I. Was responding to your statement “VINs are not assigned sequentially at Tesla…” but we are on the same page. I think they are still batching for color and other options. They are likely assigned when the BOM is completed and logged in their ERP system.

      2. krona2k says:

        Very likely to just be randomness. If this was an ICE car even with the same number of cars on the road it wouldn’t have made a single headline.

  3. Foo says:

    Who drives over something at 70 mph on the freeway that makes a “thud” and “lifts the car” and carries on driving “hoping to get home”? Freekin stop the car — any car — if something like that just happened. You really have no idea if the car is safe to drive any longer. Okay, perhaps if you’re alone you can take the risk, but what if you had passengers? Maybe a brake line was cut, maybe coolant is leaking, maybe an axle was damaged and will quickly fail.

    Geesh… some people have more money than sense.

    1. sven says:

      Another reason to stop the car would be to call 911 and report that there is a trailer hitch in the middle of the highway, because someone else might hit it or cause an accident by swerving to try and avoid hitting it. It’s bad enough that he hit the trailer hitch, but he did nothing to prevent someone else from hitting it until his own car started burning and he had to call 911. Thanks for looking out for your fellow man Dr. Shibayama. :-/

  4. Anon says:

    I don’t have a problem with the owner’s letter / account of the accident. Seems pretty factual and straightforward to me.

    But it is odd that after a significant collision that lifted his car, he didn’t pull over immediately to inspect for any damage? How the Model S informs the driver and warns them,and continues to function while the pack is burning, impresses me to end.

  5. Koz says:

    Letter gives me the impression of an owner that understands the potential ramifications of his incident for Tesla and perhaps EVs as a whole. He is likely one that cares about EV adoption and/or Tesla’s success beyond his personal consumption. It certainly is not beyond the realm of speculation that he had some “assistance” in preparing this letter but does that matter? It is pretty straightforward and as long as the events are conveyed factually, I’m OK with it overall. The only area I may question is the implied risk of this event for ICE vehicles. I think the anecdotal record reflects that this is a much less harmful or even harmless event for an ICE.

    The latter point should be under consideration at Tesla. These incidents do not appear to be a great risk to passenger safety but they are a huge PR risk for Tesla. In the Roadster pack, each cell was fused and isolated. I thought that was the case with the Model S pack as well but Resla has spoken about module isolation when these incidents have been discussed. I’m getting the impression they forwent some cell protections for module protections. If so, they should reconsider this approach for the front module in the pack. The should also consider raising the Low setting for their air suspension by 1/4 to 1/2″ and rigid element to or just front of and that same 1/4 to 1/2″ lower than the battery pack. Something replaceable that can take the brunt of these blows while protecting the pack. I’m assuming these incidents and similar ones that didn’t result in fires but resulted in damaged pack replacements have been air suspension models. They could also add this same element and protections to the coil suspension models as well, if needed.

    1. Gary H says:

      Yes, it would seem to make sense that the low suspension would make the car more susceptible to striking an object; for example, witness lowered cars bottoming out on speed bumps. I look forward to seeing what they come up with. Vacating the entire front bay of batteries (as others have suggested) seems like a waste of space.

      1. TomH says:

        Why would Tesla make any changes?

        Tesla told us after the first fire that this was a highly unlikely event.

        Just because there have been 3 fires in 5 weeks only means Tesla needs to write more press releases with new excuses on why they don’t have to do anything.

        1. Anon says:

          Do you work for Exxon or Shell Oil, TomH? You have yet to explain to me why gasoline fires / explosions / deaths, are preferable to owning a Tesla electric vehicle.

  6. Taser54 says:

    “Had I not been in a Tesla, that object could have punched through the floor and caused me serious harm.” Koolaid.

    1. TomH says:

      Yea. I had to laugh at that too.

      1. Anon says:

        Are you being paid to laugh?

    2. Foo says:

      Geesh you guys are a bunch of easily-amused ignoramuses who are obviously too lazy to spend ten seconds doing some basic research. “Yeah, everyone can just drive over trailer hitches at 70 mph… we all know it’s perfectly safe! Hahahahah… Koolaid”.

      What the Telsa owner stated in based in fact. Road debris causes 25,000 accidents, hundreds of them fatal, each year in the US. In 2011 alone, there were 800 fatal road debris-related accidents. Running over something like a trailer hitch assembly, at 70 mph, in any case, the Tesla driver was lucky to escape completely unharmed.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Road_debris
      https://www.aaafoundation.org/sites/default/files/VRRD.pdf

      1. sven says:

        What the Tesla owner stated is spin, based on fact. He put a positve spin on his accident. No cars other than a Tesla Model S were reported to have struck the trailer hitch and suffered damage before or after Dr. Shibayama struck the trailer hitch. Dr. Shibayama could have put a negative spin on the facts by stating: “Had I not been in a Tesla, I would have passed over the object and not hit it, like all the other cars.”

        1. Foo says:

          Hmm, “No other cars … were reported”. The absence of a thing isn’t proof of another. For all we know, no other cars *at all* had driven over the hitch when the Tesla hit it… perhaps the hitch had only recently fallen from some vehicle in front of the Tesla.

          From the good doctor’s account, we know a truck did “clear it” immediately before his Telsa struck it — what, an 18-wheeler, a 4WD pick-up? It would be quite plausible for such a vehicle to clear it. But, I doubt most normal passenger cars (many of which are quite low to the ground these days) could just “drive over” a trailer hitch and emerge unscathed.

          You want to try it in your car at 70 mph, with your family inside? — didn’t think so.

  7. pjwood says:

    Ladies and gents, a three pronged hitch:

    http://www.harborfreight.com/automotive-motorcycle/trailer-hitch.html

    I went over a raccoon, that a pickup in front had cleared once. What an Oh Sh!t moment that must have been.

  8. Bill Howland says:

    I too agree this seems like an Uncoached letter.. The Doctor seems impressed that the car gave him progressive messages as to what it was doing (I wish all cars would do this).

    As I say, the only one that personally worries me is the mexican collision with the explosions.

  9. Jack Leonard says:

    The man is a physician, I imagine he can craft a letter.