Unsafe by Design: More and More Teslas Catch on Fire

There have been hundreds of fires claimed due to Tesla cars, as many as 300 estimated. That’s incredible in itself. For context the Ford Pinto allegedly had a tiny fraction of that number yet caused international outrage.

More to the point, there are now at least 32 recorded fatalities due to Tesla fires (Update only five months later in 2022: now 44 recorded fatalities). Ford infamously tried to argue there were as few as 23 killed by the explosive Pinto.

How many, if not all, of these Tesla tragedies were preventable and foreshadow higher future deaths (or should I say Ford-shadow)?

Why do Tesla fires keep happening so often without far more public and detailed investigations, explanations or recalls despite similarities to the Ford Pinto?

Here are some examples in the news just the last month:

May 14, 2022

Ruiz said he received a notification on his phone that the car alarm to his Tesla Model 3 was going off. He went outside to see his car covered in smoke. He opened the back door and was met with a wall of flames. The first thing to melt, he said, was his 4-month-old’s car seat.

May 16, 2022

Components: FIRERELATED
NHTSA ID Number: 11466262
Consumer Location CINCINNATI, OH
…autopilot malfunctioned, causing the vehicle to inadvertently drive off the road, hit a tree, and then catch fire… autopsy report stated that his son died as a result of intense thermal heat and smoke inhalation.

May 19, 2022

A South Jersey motorist died Thursday night when his car ran off a highway, struck several trees and caught fire, authorities said. […] Sincavage died of his injuries and a 40-year-old passenger suffered minor injuries, police said.

May 20, 2022

Driver says car shutdown and he couldn’t open windows or doors as [“serious toxic threat”] smoke poured out his vents… “I kicked through the window and climbed out” [the car he had bought just a few months earlier].

Tesla in Vancouver spontaneously catches fire and traps the driver inside. Source: Autoevolution

May 23, 2022

Three cars were damaged in a Sunday 7:30pm fire at a Miami Tesla dealership that was caught on camera. […] Firefighters had to show up here not just once, but twice [returning at 2am Monday]. Neighbors had to call 911. Investigators say there was no foul play here.

May 23, 2022

A Tesla electric car with Missouri dealer plates burned to its chassis after hitting a fire hydrant…“It was challenging. It took a couple of hours, at least, to get the fire out.” [Brooklyn Deputy Fire Chief Mike Calhoun] said crews worked from 4:30 to about 7 a.m.

Source: Belleville News-Democrat

The dealer’s Tesla hitting a fire hydrant full of water couldn’t seem to stop burning.

A fire hydrant. FIRE hydrant.

I haven’t found any mention of this absurdly sad irony in the news, but some do emphasize the common fact that a Tesla fire tends to be extremely expensive and re-ignite for hours or even days.

In 2013 the manufacturer itself officially put it like this:

If the battery is breached, [firefighters] are told to cool it with very large amounts of water. Battery fires can take up to 24 hours to fully extinguish, according to Tesla.

“Very large amounts” eight years later is an increasing disaster, like this:

“Normally a car fire you can put out with 500 to 1,000 gallons of water,” Austin Fire Department Division Chief Thayer Smith said, per The Independent, “but Tesla’s may take up to 30,000-40,000 gallons of water, maybe even more, to extinguish the battery pack once it starts burning and that was the case here.” He added that “there is not any, at this point, any easily obtainable extinguishing agent on the market to deal with these [EV] fires.”

A recurring theme for years has been that fire crews struggle to extinguish Tesla hazards or predict when they will restart, despite all the training and massive expense to tax-payers helping safety crews prepare… the market is failing.

More firefighter distraction more of the time, with ever more water being sucked up more often is now a hallmark of a Tesla rolling into a neighborhood.

Consider also for a minute being a public servant in California distracted for three hours dumping over 20,000 gallons of water (over a month of typical fire department water usage) on this single car. Priority should be fighting wildfires during a drought to save society and instead here comes a “luxury” car manufacturer to reduce chances of survival.

I can only guess the expletives that fire fighters say when they see the environmentally disastrous Tesla on their roads, or even parked.

Maybe Tesla owners should have to pay an extra “fire department” waste fee, or be billed for being a sloppy water guzzler?

Tesla claims each fire is unique in order to avoid fixing the big underlying problem that keeps causing fires. Source: vg.no

The following news story is a good example of why all of this adds up to being a much bigger problem than Tesla ever seems to admit or take any real responsibility for…

June 12, 2022

Firefighters say the car was in a crash three weeks ago, that’s why it was parked in a junk yard in the first place. And then somehow it caught fire. Fire crews had to get creative and dig a hole to dump the car in it.

Source: NBC

Acceleration of Tesla fire risks

We’re seeing the opposite of what should be happening, despite a long runway to fix these well known and frequently reported serious fire issues.

Remember it was a year ago already that an infamous case reported a man paid $130,000 and three days after delivery his Tesla caught fire and trapped him inside fighting for his life. And that’s many years after high-profile fire during a test drive in 2016, and even longer since the string of fires among the first Teslas on the road in 2013!

Another Tesla Model S has caught fire after a crash. It’s the third widely-reported fire involving one of the all-electric plug-in luxury cars in just two months. All three fires involved some sort of accident. None of the fires occurred in undamaged vehicles, Tesla Motors pointed out.

Imagine Ford saying none of the Pinto fires occurred in undamaged vehicles. Absurd response.

Or imagine Ford saying that tragic Pinto deaths “involved some sort of accident”. No kidding.

Then ask yourself why Tesla has publicly said those things since 2013… as if the Pinto accident lessons meant nothing to Tesla management.

It displays utter contempt for human life. Like the CEO of Tesla trying to mass market (normalize) an illegal flamethrower as a toy at the same time his customers are being burned to death by fire in defective cars.

The sad fact is few people in the general public are in position to drive proper risk analysis and decisions about fire risks even in their own vehicles unless they bring some sense to a broken market (regulatory insight) as a whole. I’ve given many presentations about this going all the way back to 2016 when I correctly predicted Tesla would continue killing more and more people.

Great Disasters of Machine Learning: Predicting Titanic Events in Our Oceans of Math

Remove the incentives to overlook death tolls, add proper security analysis of the design and mitigation, and you get a clear view of danger. The risks quickly do not look “rare” as fires are preventable and far too common, which the string of news continues to prove easily.

Public over-dependence on what is ultimately very dangerous technology corrupts the process because too many are coerced into a death-trap automobile. It’s this coercive relationship, along with a no true Scotsman logical fallacy (e.g. false attempts to redefine every Tesla fire risk as unique instead of within a pattern) that the car manufacturer has peddled to avoid public scrutiny.

Ford perhaps more than anyone has proven this already, as they seemed shocked when journalists and lawyers began to convince Americans to care about fire risk and morality for a minute. Juries started to very clearly rule against the “last great unregulated business“.

Ford waited eight years because its internal “cost-benefit analysis,” which places a dollar value on human life, said it wasn’t profitable to make the changes sooner.

To be fair it wasn’t just eight years of disregarding the value of human life. Ford’s very existence hinged on well-documented extremist and hateful “cost-benefit analysis”. Nazi Germany even cited Ford as a man on their side, an inspiration to go to war against democratic government. Seriously, way back in 1925 Adolf Hitler mentioned only one American in his autobiography (Mein Kampf):

Henry Ford

The Americans serving jury duty eventually became so offended by evidence of Ford downplaying the significance of deadly vehicle fires (an obvious and odious failure of “self-regulation”) that punitive and even criminal charges were floated against the car maker.

Between 1971 and 1978, approximately fifty lawsuits were brought against Ford in connection with rear-end accidents in the Pinto. In the Richard Grimshaw case, in addition to awarding over $3 million in compensatory damages to the victims of a Pinto crash, the jury awarded a landmark $125 million in punitive damages against Ford…. On August 10, 1978, eighteen-year-old Judy Ulrich, her sixteen-year-old sister Lynn, and their eighteen-year-old cousin Donna, in their 1973 Ford Pinto, were struck from the rear by a van near Elkhart, Indiana. The gas tank of the Pinto exploded on impact. In the fire that resulted, the three teenagers were burned to death. Ford was charged with criminal homicide. The judge in the case advised jurors that Ford should be convicted if it had clearly disregarded the harm that might result from its actions, and that disregard represented a substantial deviation from acceptable standards of conduct. On March 13, 1980, the jury found Ford not guilty of criminal homicide.

In other words the most important thing here is to not ignore any of these Tesla fires, and definitely not to falsely treat them as rare, because we have ample evidence they ARE HAPPENING MORE AND MORE GIVEN NO INTERVENTION / EXTERNAL REGULATION.

Henry Ford II, eldest grandson of Henry Ford and then head of the Ford Motor Company responded curtly. “Many of the temporary standards are unreasonable, arbitrary, and technically unfeasible,” he warned. “If we can’t meet them when they are published we’ll have to close down.” Despite these foreboding predictions, in the years since these safety measures were passed, the number of deaths from automobile accidents in the US has fallen from 5.50 per 100m vehicular miles travelled in 1966, to 3.34 in 1980. By 2015 that number was down to 1.12. Over that time, an estimated 613,000 lives have been saved. (A separate study puts the number at 3.5 million.) …well-designed regulations had the effect of helping national industries innovate and remain competitive internationally.

At the current rate the anti-regulation Tesla will perhaps end up accused of the criminal homicide that Ford escaped. Already we’ve seen Tesla owners charged with vehicular manslaughter by operating the vehicle in the manner promoted by the manufacturer, so why not bring charges for being unsafe by design?

Tesla can’t be trusted to figure this out

Here’s some speculation on why Tesla engineering is so poor and its fire problems are getting worse over time instead of better.

1. Flawed design (lack of engineering integrity)

First, the effect of the Pinto precedent on gasoline cars has been that their fires almost never tend to be due to design flaws (less than 1%). There’s tons of research on this subject already.

That very important lesson and result apparently flew out the window when product managers at Tesla dis-regulated themselves. Basic engineering principles, basic ethics, were dropped and the exact opposite happened when Tesla brought yet another electric car to market.

Since 2013 the Tesla fires ALL are going in the opposite direction of progress, and somehow seem related to design flaws, including fire from crashes (e.g. proof they ignore the Pinto precedent).

A whipsaw from 1% of tragic Pinto fires due to design flaws all the way to something approaching 100% of tragic Tesla fires due to design flaws… allegedly just because the latter car is electric should be seen as a B.F.D. in safety modeling.

Electrical fires blamed on design is a HUGE shift, a terrible indicator that something will get much worse much faster. The safety norm of designing to save lives, working since the 1980s, apparently has died in a Tesla fire. It’s like the company CEO took the exact wrong lesson from Henry Ford news.

Source: NYT

Seriously, Ford backed Hitler.

Fast forward to the allegedly racist CEO at Tesla and it’s surely no accident that Elon Musk brags “he is leaning toward backing Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R)” a mud-slinging hate-filled politician:

…has a clear, repeated pattern of making offensive and/or outright racist statements, hanging out with racists, and defending other people who are also racists.

In fact, this overtly racist DeSantis used his moment “hanging out with racists” such as Elon Musk to take a stab at Blacks by replying that a big endorsement from a white man who profited directly from apartheid South Africa was being recorded by his campaign as “welcome support from African-Americans”.

Awful.

Is there any real accountability for Tesla failing basic safety, under a manifestly unkind CEO, and moreover for failing to heed basic history and to save lives when others have shown how to do it? Many millions of vehicles these days are being recalled due to fire risks.

Take for just one obvious example GM recalling every Chevy Bolt (an excellent and very safe electric car) and then reporting a major sales boost due to transparency and regulation.

Source: NHTSA

How many within the recent explosion in Tesla recalls follow a modern industry safety pattern giving the same or even similar transparency around serious fire danger?

Source: NHTSA

Any?

Read the hundreds and hundreds of complaints against Tesla, let alone the numerous investigations, where there seems to be no transparency or response from Tesla. You’ll find things like a father’s deep soul-wrenching appeal a few days ago (NHTSA Complaint #11466262), just one of HUNDREDS of people begging regulators to do something to stop Tesla disaster after disaster:

…autopsy report stated that his son died as a result of intense thermal heat and smoke inhalation.

Sad and tragic, like a Ford Pinto. But it gets worse because Tesla dealers are watching multiple cars on their lot go up in flames just sitting there. That is pretty much the total opposite of what recall safety expectations are supposed to be for design flaws. If the dealer itself can’t even predict, detect or prevent a serious Tesla fire in a Tesla parking lot… then nobody can.

2. Liar, liar, car is on fire (lack of management integrity)

Tesla management very intentionally lies about safety. They had to close their PR department after everyone quit in protest — it was obvious unwanted criminal liability to hire career professionals yet force them to lie all the time. Who can forget ethics canaries like this one?

Elon Musk demanded that Tesla stop testing brakes on June 26. Doug Field, chief engineer, resigned on June 27. Is this a coincidence? Of course not—Doug Field doesn’t want to be responsible for killing people.

Lack of integrity is inherent to the company culture, constantly coming from the CEO. Plain and simple you can’t trust a word they say, but who gets held accountable?

Shortly after Tesla called its cars in 2013 the safest ever a Model S caught fire and there were fatalities from “veering” into opposite lane.

Another high-profile example of this is their fraudulent “autopilot”. The company often attempts to say autopilot wasn’t at fault in crashes when they know it failed. That’s because they’re gaslighting, bending truth to the point we might as well just go ahead and label them liars. There’s a persistent failure to grasp safety issues that regulators are only just starting to hone in on.

“On average in these crashes, Autopilot aborted vehicle control less than one second prior to the first impact,” the NHTSA said.

Aborting control less than a second before impact is a serious safety design flaw. Saying autopilot isn’t to blame for the impact because it aborted control is sick and twisted logic. I’ve written before about persistent lying throughout the automobile industry, as have others. Once again, the Pinto story is relevant here since Ford lied egregiously.

[Death from fire] is no news to Ford. Internal company documents in our possession show that Ford has crash-tested the Pinto at a top-secret site more than 40 times and that every test made at over 25 mph without special structural alteration of the car has resulted in a ruptured fuel tank. Despite this, Ford officials denied under oath having crash-tested the Pinto.

3. Car fires always were electric (lack of social media integrity — vague safety regulation)

Third, fires in gasoline cars are often due to electrical systems.

It’s odd to hear electric car companies socialize the idea that gasoline cars catch fire, without disclosing that they’re still talking about electrical system fires. In fact, the data show electrical fires to be the second most common cause of fires.

So if you take maintenance-related fuel leaks out of the equation, electrical fires already are a HUGE problem, foreshadowing the critical need to NOT ignore Tesla’s Pinto-like design failures or treat them as rare.

Every time someone from Tesla tries to cite rate of fires in gasoline automobiles you immediately should educate them with “electrical systems are a top cause of fires in cars already yes — even gas ones — but at least some electrical design processes prioritize safety unlike yours“.

In conclusion, if electrical systems are already basically the top cause of vehicle fires and then you add in an anti-regulation company like Tesla that removes the most important lessons of the Pinto (negligently opens the flood-gates to design-related electrical system flaws and fires) how is this not a predictable disaster with preventable deaths?

Nobody should drive a Tesla.

Nobody should ride in a Tesla.

This car manufacturer poses constant unnecessary danger to the public. By comparison I’d say a company like Mercedes has showed everyone how to do the right thing with a massive fleet-wide stop order to 300,000 owners.

However, even such a bold move wouldn’t be safe enough for anyone near a Tesla because its design flaws remain a threat even standing still — catch on fire while parked doing nothing.

Teslas are so unsafe by design they need to be picked up (on something that can contain a toxic re-igniting fire in transit) and returned to a place that can afford to put out incredibly resource-intensive fires en masse.

This is obviously some of the worst engineering in history if not the absolute worst. A car designed to fail.

And on that note I’m happy to drive an electric car. I’m even ok driving a gasoline car that has electric systems in it. But I do not and will not (since 2016, when my own tests proved it completely unsafe) drive or ride in something as poorly designed as a Tesla.

2 thoughts on “Unsafe by Design: More and More Teslas Catch on Fire”

  1. post has a ton of great words. wish it had more. look at data on rate of fires per vehicle or per mile driven, comparing them to other cars. tesla is worst by far.

    …in nearly 400 crashes involving cars with driver-assist systems reported by automakers between July 2021 and this past May, more Teslas were involved than all other manufacturers combined.

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