Third Tesla Model S Fire Being Looking Into By The NHTSA

NOV 8 2013 BY JAY COLE 30

After a rather high profile incident on Wednesday when a Tesla Model S “struck a tow hitch that was in the middle of a lane, which damaged the car’s undercarriage and caused a fire,” (according to the Tennesse Highway Patrol), the NHSTA is now getting involved to determine if a deeper investigation is warranted than that of local authorities.

Aftermath Of Tesla Fire (via Tennessee Highway Patrol)

Aftermath Of Tesla Fire (via Tennessee Highway Patrol)

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has issued this statement:

“NHTSA will contact the local authorities who are looking into the incident to determine if there are vehicle safety implications that merit agency action.”

In all likelihood with the high media interest in this incident, coupled with the fact that this is also the third Tesla fire to hit the public’s eye since October, it seems logical there will be a deeper investigation by the NHSTA.

Such an investigation might actually be a good thing, provided it finally puts to rest if there is an issue with the defensive abilities of the Tesla Model S’ 6mm thick aluminum plate armor under the car in shielding the batteries from being damaged from road debris.

The most recent fire was caused when a Model S hit a tow hitch on the road, while the first incident was a piece of heavy road debris forcefully impaling the battery through undercarriage.  Both resulted in the cars being destroyed by fire.

The First Model S Fire Was Not "Formally" Investigated by NHTSA

The First Model S Fire Was Not “Formally” Investigated by NHTSA

News agency Bloomberg got in touch with Clarence Ditlow, who is an executive director of the Center for Auto Safety, about the incident and he said that the NHSTA “absolutely has to investigate” the accident, while noting that:

“It appears there’s inadequate shielding on the bottom of these vehicles.  Road debris is a known hazard to the undercarriage of vehicles.”

And while we will err on the side of caution before jumping to any conclusions, it might actually be a good idea for the NHSTA to get involved.

If there is no issue with the Model S regarding safety for its lithium batteries, it would be nice to get the official NHSTA seal of approval after an investigation.

Even if the Model S is determined to be A-OK for road safety (which think is the most probable outcome), if there is a simple repair or adjustment that can be made to strengthen the protective undercarriage of Tesla’s electric sedan, that effort put out by Tesla on the 19,000-odd cars on the road today would go a long way not only for current owner’s piece of mind, but the general public, and future Tesla buyers going forward.

…and that would be a good thing.

Video (below) – Amateur footage of first two Model S fires:

NHSTA, Tennessee Highway Patrol, Bloomberg

Categories: Crashed EVs, Tesla


Leave a Reply

30 Comments on "Third Tesla Model S Fire Being Looking Into By The NHTSA"

newest oldest most voted

And let the te***** stain the site in 3, 2, 1…

No we aren’t breaking the news nationally on this one, just passing along some info…we should be safe, (= We had an extra 70,000 or so visitors to the initial report.

(I confess to doing a slight ‘****’ edit on you just so the thread doesn’t have the extra potential of going off the rails though – nothing personal)

I was suffering from the IEWS (InsideEVs Withdrawal Syndrome) all day yesterday as the site was unreachable. 🙁

Sorry about that vdiv, we actually have more than enough server capacity to handle the extra traffic + more (we put that in place about 4 months ago), but we had a database problem that crippled us for about 5 hours.

Once we got that figured out, the site went back to “normal” speed. Shouldn’t happen (fingers crossed) again.

This incites negative responses.

The mexican fire is the only one that scares me. During the short video there was a BRILLIANT Huge flash, and a loud bang. I’d be very interested to know what if anything pierced the passenger cabin during those events, and exactly how many explosions were there during the entire event and was the largest of them even recorded?

Bill, That was an electrified fence arcing. The guy walked away.

Sorry , electrified fences simply do not have that much power, certainly not enough to cause an explosion. The explosion seemed to extend to the cabin. Even the poster of the video said it was the car exploding.

While this is certainly bad for Tesla long stock owners, an official investigation is probably good for the health of the company overall. First, all three of these incidents sound as if metal objects are ripping into the battery compartment to start these fires. As we all know, the same object ripping into a fuel tank would most certainly have the same consequence. By having an official government inquiry take place, and assuming being cleared of any design flaws, means some short term pain with much brighter and secure longer term gains. When everyone walks around on eggshells hoping nothing inherently bad is lurking within the car, I think it’s better now to seize the moment and encourage the investigation so you get the coveted seal of approval and can move forward more confidently. We don’t want to keep revisiting this media frenzy every time someone destroys their car…

I would buy a Model S right now if i had the money, dont give a crap about the fires. But still needs to be looked into.

The biggest decision needed by Tesla is what type of material will be used to reinforce the front of the pack. Will it be something like Tegris polypropylene (PP) composite? It would be a promising solution. The same material used for the front splitter on NASCAR Sprint Cup Cars.

I vote for a force field and a hoover conversion. 😉

In all seriousness how about looking into keeping the freaking roads clear from debris, potholes, and other types of holes? How about having stricter safety inspections, enforcement and fines?

It is a free-for-all out there.

As they say, the dragon’s weakness is its underbelly.

Though this is what I guess what happens when you don’t manufacturer your own batteries. If anyone remembers a couple of months ago, long before its release, BMW showed a video of how the i3 was developed and bragged about the R&D went into it, including impaling cells with nails.
Those were big blocks of modules with laminated cells inside of it like the LEAF’s. Tesla’s Panasonic batteries look no different from the double-As in a remote control. The only obvious solution is to thicken the Model S’ 6mm under-guard.

Bet Nissan and Chevy are feeling pretty smug right now. Andy Palmer is probably playing the Tesla fires on a loop during his lunch break.

Once again, it is all misunderstood! There were no fires, this is the new ***superheater*** feature that the Model S has to keep the occupants during the frigid winter days warm and toasty 😉

LOL. I’m sure the Tesla PR spinmeisters are working on that press release as we speak. InsideEVs will be the first to publish it with an over-the-top headline cheering Tesla’s brilliance.

Superheater !! ..hehehe. This reminds me of an analostgy Dr. Christopher Busby stated regarding the way radioactivity is measured on humans.

He said you get a certain amount of heat by sitting in front of a Coal Fireplace.

He said your body would react to more heat
by Swallowing one of the Hot Coals.


P.S. I’d accept the superheater option sooner than I would the “electrified fence”.

Maybe Tesla needs a cow catcher!

Since the Tesla’s air suspension lowers the vehicle at speed, it may be more susceptible to damage from road debris.

Some battery pack harding is probably in order.

The S sits lower to the ground than most cars. The pack appears more vulnerable because of this. Even if NHTSA don’t mandate any changes it would probably be in Tesla’s best interest to produce a retro-fit mod to provide more protection, similar to GM’s reaction for the Volt.


Downside may be you wont get that battery swap option deployed as quickly as planned…

The Car that crashed in Mexico hit like several things and must have been going 80 or 90 miles on hour driven by a drunk when it crashed a fire was going to start in that anyway you look at it.

In both fires related to hitting road debris, it’s the first section of battery cells that caught fire. Which points to the solution being to remove batteries from the front section of the battery pack, and created a crash barrier there to take the impact of road debris.

Or increase the strength/thickness of the protective barrier already in place.

But either way, Tesla better prepare for their first recall.

4 more Tesla fires

Would love to have a Tesla any day.

My other ICE car (12 years old) still has the gas tank out back, that has me way more worried about being incinerated than compared to a Tesla pierced over some massive road trash.

Standard gas tanks are made from the same materials milk bottles are made from and about as thick as Tesla’s aluminum undercarriage. Material choice and selection seem better but maybe the design does not account well enough for road debris that would damage an ICE car but not catastrophic to this Tesla. ICE cars might see the same debris hit the radiator or hoses and probably bang around on an axel or drive shaft way before it hits the tank.
I had an accident where I pulled over on the side of the road for an ambulance and debris ripped out a connection to my fuel tank. I just lost all the fuel and nothing else.

The skateboard design has been something everyone has loved for a long time. Now I think they will have to figure out how to handle these sorts of issues.
They may have to upgrade to a Kevlar/carbon fiber undercarriage to reduce this risk.

Tesla is proclaimed to be a high tech car company with innovations coming from Elon Musk. Well, I don’t think that’s an accurate assessment. The skateboard design comes from GM. I believe GM could even sue them for taking that design. Also, using thousands of laptop batteries for their battery is not what I call innovation or something to brag about..
The Tesla car is just a fad and when the rich market gets saturated and when the big auto companies make their own equivalent, you’ll see Tesla going downhill very quickly. Elon Musk did make fun of it’s competition, but the big boys will have the last laugh.

You can’t sue anyone over an idea… Only if you copy a specific design (IP). :p

It’s not hard to conclude that the Tesla car is not a safe car. There are many more Volts on the road than the Tesla and never have we seen fires from an accident like the Tesla. If the Volt had such a fire, the media would crucify GM, and the NHTSA would be deep investigating into it. It’s just to show how unfair it is.

Your “conclusion” seems a bit premature…

Dr. Kenneth Noisewater

I wonder what a titanium casing for the battery would cost these days? Probably about 10x as much as the aluminum.