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Tesla battery fires: what happened and what cars are affected?

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Elon Musk’s EV firm releases free update to ‘further protect the battery’

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Thursday, May 16, 2019 - 12:01pm

A series of vehicle fires has led Tesla to update the battery software on some of its electric cars. 

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CCTV footage caught a Tesla Model S bursting into flames “seemingly on its own” while parked in a garage in Shanghai last month, says electric car news site Electrek.

Another Model S fire was reported in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the same month and resulted in the owner’s garage burning down, the website says. 

A third Model S fire occurred in Hong Kong on Tuesday, some 30 minutes after the owner parked the vehicle in a shopping centre, Reuters reports.

A Tesla spokesperson said the company “was onsite” shortly after the fire broke out in Hong Kong “to offer support to our customer and establish the facts of this incident”.

What caused the fires?

There have been a number of reports of Tesla cars catching fire in the past, most of which followed an impact that ruptured the vehicle’s lithium-ion battery, Digital Trends reports. 

However, the recent accidents in Asia and the US occurred when the seemingly undamaged cars were parked.

It’s not yet known what caused the fires, but Tesla said its investigation into the incidents is ongoing.

The company, however, said its early findings suggest that “only a few battery modules were affected and the majority of the battery pack is undamaged”.

Tesla added that its battery packs are “engineered with a state-of-the-art design so that in the very rare instance a fire does occur, it spreads very slowly and vents heat away from the cabin, alerting occupants that there is an issue and giving them enough time to exit the vehicle”.

Elon Musk’s company is also adamant that its cars are “ten times less likely to experience a fire than a petrol-powered car”, the Financial Times reports. 

Which cars are affected?

The update applies to Tesla’s Model S saloon and the Model X SUV. 

“We are revising charge and thermal management settings on Model S and Model X vehicles via an over-the-air software update that will begin rolling out today, to help further protect the battery and improve battery longevity,” a Tesla spokesperson said.

“Although fire incidents involving Tesla vehicles are already extremely rare,” the spokesperson added that the company believes “the right number of incidents to aspire to is zero”.

Tesla’s newest and cheapest car, the Model 3, does not appear to be affected by the battery issue. 

How do you update a Tesla?

Model S and X owners don’t need to visit a Tesla service centre to update their vehicle. The software tweak will be beamed to the car and is free to download. 

Updates are applied automatically, provided your car is connected to Wi-Fi. Drivers will be alerted that an update is available, as well as how long it will take to apply, via the Tesla smartphone app.

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