PLUG OK license plate
Conversion Fire: Batteries Still Intact; Investigation Continues
Mar 12, 2013 (From the CalCars-News archive)
This posting originally appeared at CalCars-News, our newsletter of breaking CalCars and plug-in hybrid news. View the original posting here.
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Here's what we've found out so far about the fire in Ron's converted Prius and how to donate. On a second topic, we're also including a pointer to a new article we co-authored to encourage environmentally-minded people to buy plug-in cars.

THANKS for all the notes of sympathy and support. Ron continues to respond to CalCars-related issues and topics (especially involving batteries); he works at an energy startup; and now he and Lynne McAllister need to recover from the major damage to their house, well beyond what insurance will pay, is a major burden.

TO CONTRIBUTE: You can go to (even if you don't have a PayPal account, you can use a credit card) and send money to gremban (at) -- many thanks in advance.

WHY IT'S "GREEN" TO BUY A NEW PLUG-IN CAR: When mass-produced plug-in cars hit the market, we expected environmentalists to be among the early adopters, given the immediate and long-term climate and energy security benefits of driving electric. We found that most were inclined to wait, thinking that was the greenest thing to do. We think if their concerns are answered, environmentalists could be charged up about getting rid of their gas-guzzlers.

We recently co-authored an article, "Good and Green Reasons to Consider an Electric Car this Year," with Max Baumhefner, Sustainable Energy Fellow and attorney at the Natural Resources Defense Council. You can read and comment at­blogs/­mbaumhefner/­good_and_green_reasons_to_cons.htm\ l and also at­good-green-reasons-electric-car-year/ and­maxbaumhefner/­195816/­good-and-green-reasons-consi\ der-electric-car-year . Please send it around!

BONUS TALKING POINTS on this subject that didn't make it into the short article:

  • You know the saying, "give away the razor, sell the blades?" In terms of energy used, that's how cars work. It's a secret for most people that the energy "embedded" in manufacturing is usually well below 25% of the total energy a car uses in its lifetime! (This is also a reason why we hope companies start, sooner, not later, to provide safe, affordable, certified conversions of gasoline-powered vehicles to EV and PHEV.)
  • If you take mass transit, bike, or walk everywhere except for a short trip once a week, you could justify keeping a clunker. But if you think you're destined to make the switch eventually, you might be smart to trade up sooner. And when you do upgrade, know that while someone else drives your old car, you're getting companies and suppliers in Michigan or Tennessee or Europe or Asia to build fewer gas-guzzlers and more plug-ins.

BACK TO RON'S CAR: WHAT HAPPENED: Here are Ron's reports about the findings so far for the fire described at­calcars-news/­1159.html . As we mentioned then, this car has been the test-bed for multiple conversions and battery projects -- so it is a considerable distance from the car as it was originally produced.

MARCH 8: I was with the fire investigator today. With a saw and crowbar, he removed the rear deck cover over the battery. We found the battery intact -- and it appeared fine. A cable still drew sparks when brushed against the vehicle's frame. There will be a more thorough analysis in a warehouse over the next two months or so.

MARCH 12: It has occurred to me that because the conversion battery was electrically isolated from the chassis, arcing to ground requires two separate faults -- and one fault would have triggered a Diagnostic Trouble Code (DTC), making the vehicle undrivable. This didn't happen before the fire. (Alternately, the arcing we saw could have come from the accessory battery with a single fault.)

OFFICIAL INVESTIGATOR: Dennis Field, certified fire inspector at Fire Cause Analysis, says, "As of this date and time the actual cause of this fire is under investigation, pending further examination of physical evidence, data, and interviews and use of the scientific method, to identify all potential ignition sources, and also the elimination of non-causes. There are currently several hypothesis which need further examination, testing and either confirmation or elimination. We simply do not have enough information at this time for any speculation."

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