Why would a battery burst into flame?

In several crash tests, the battery on a Chevy Volt began to heat up or burst into flame. The battery problems happened a few days or weeks after the impact and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is investigating. (One potential factor: NHTSA testers didn't drain the batteries of juice after the crash, which is recommended. As a comparison, it's standard practice to drain a gas tank after a similar collision. So this could be an issue of new technology learning curve.) If you want to better understand why a battery that's been through a car accident could burst into flame, I'd recommend reading this piece by the Midwest Energy News. It's a nice summary of how lithium-ion batteries work, and how they respond to damage.


  1. One wonders whether reports of cell phone and laptop batteries catching fire is a delayed result of their having been dropped.

    1. Such wisdom from an Old Brown Squirrel…

      That thought never crossed my mind as its been a while since I’ve heard those stories.

  2. Aren’t the Tesla cars powered by gazillions of small laptop batteries?
    How could that procedure possibly be applied to them?

    By the way; submarines had issues with concussion of battery packs during WW2 as well (when depth charges exploded nearby). Battery leaks and the combination with water were a major hazard during that time.

  3. The dangers of lithium-ion batteries are the reason Toyota used nickle-metal-hydride in my first-generation Prius.

    Tesla motors, on the other claw, said “let’s see – is it as dangerous as gasoline?  No?  Fuck it then, build that sucker.”

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