Catching Fire: How Safe is Tesla’s Model S

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Motor Trend’s Car of the Year Under Fire

2013 was definitely a mixed bag for Tesla’s Model S. The electric car, which won Motor Trends magazine’s Car of the Year and was awarded excellent ratings from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has been involved in three incidents in which the battery has caught fire.

Now the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration will examine the luxury car to see why the battery is having this problem.

Tesla owners must be worried about which car they own: one with fantastic crash results or a potential firebomb.

But buyers considering an electric car should not be concerned about the battery packs in those cars.

Wade Hoyt, a Toyota spokesperson, said in an email that  “all Toyota & Lexus hybrids (except the Prius Plug-in) use nickel metal hydride batteries, which use a completely different chemistry from the lithium-ion batteries used in the Tesla, cell phones, tablets & laptops.”

He added that “Toyota has more than 16 years experience with NiMH batteries and has millions of hybrid vehicles operating safely on roads around the world.”

Nissan owners can rest easy, as well. The electric Nissan Leaf uses a different type of lithium battery, one that Nissan spokesperson Brian Brockman described as ”spinel structure lithium manganese oxide.”

Brockman said in an email that “there have been no fires involving the Nissan LEAF, either through extensive and extreme testing or in the real world. During development the LEAF battery was subjected to tests that purposely damaged the battery, including puncture of the battery system, and the battery performed without incident.”

For buyers looking for other fuel efficient alternatives, a number of fuel cell hydrogen powered cars made a debut at the Los Angeles Auto Show; more about those cars here.




Judy Antell, who is's Free in 50 States editor, lives in Park Slope, Brooklyn, with her husband and... More about Judy Antell