Well, two burnt Teslas in the same week is rather unusual, even way back when the Model S still had its teething problems. But this is not what it might seem at first glance. Carscoop’s reader Scott Huntington has the story.
Nowadays, Elon Musk’s company has gone through the pains of becoming a mass manufacturer – so you can imagine my surprise when a news article crossed my feed that a Tesla Model X had burned to a crisp on a frozen lake, just minutes from my house. What happened to cause this supposedly super-safe Tesla to burn down to rubble?
The Model X is an SUV, but without some expensive upgrades, it’s not a car that you want to take off-road. That being said, it should handle some snow and ice, and the owner of this particular example took it to the frozen Lake Champlain to try to do some ice fishing. This isn’t uncommon, as oftentimes, cars and trucks come out here when the ice is thick enough. However, these are usually pickups or older cars, and almost always have a price tag well under the $80k+ that the Model X goes for.
A Rock, or Something Else?
According to the Shelburne Police Department, the owner hit a rock sometime during his trek to his favorite ice fishing spot. The car started making some odd noises after this impact, and shortly after caught fire. I walked out to investigate and quickly realized that the middle of a frozen lake is not a place where rocks typically hang out. However, I did see something that might have been the cause of the incident.
Between the shore and the pile of wreckage, there are several small concrete and metal posts that stick out of the water anywhere between 6 and 12 inches. These are used in the warmer months to tie up the boats, and unlike the floating docks that rise and fall with the water, these are permanent and can’t be moved.
Photo Scott Huntington/Carscoops.com
They were solidly frozen into the ice and could easily do some serious damage to the underside of any car that would drive over them. Some were easy to see, while others were hidden under the snow. It would not be out of the question for these to be what caused the fire.
You Don’t Want To Mess With Lithium
While Tesla has no comment on the matter, Popular Mechanics theorized that when the car struck the rock (or concrete pole), the impact damaged the car’s lithium-ion battery pack.
Lithium is currently the metal of choice when it comes to batteries, but when it is exposed to air, it is extremely volatile. As you can see in this clip from the YouTube channel The King of Random, the host, Nate is trying to remove the lithium from an AA battery, and just the act of unrolling the compacted lithium metal is enough to make it spontaneously ignite. It’s not hard to imagine that a punctured Tesla battery pack, which contains an estimated 63 kilograms (138 pounds) of lithium, would be capable of burning a Model X to the ground in no time at all.
Photo Scott Huntington/Carscoops.com
All that’s left on the ice is a burned-out husk, making it easy to see the car’s steel reinforced cabin. The fire didn’t melt the ice enough to drop the car into the water below, but it did soften the surface layers, so the husk of this Model X is securely stuck to the surface. When I went out this morning, workers there were busy chipping away at it, using salt to melt the areas where the car was most frozen. They had propane takes out to heat up the metal, but found the salt was more efficient.
It’s a job I wouldn’t want to have. They had been there four hours by the time arrived, and still had quite a bit of work to do. Plus, the sounds of the ice cracking in the changing temperatures was unnerving to say the least. It’s great that they’re getting the majority of it out, but there also comes a point where it gets a little too risky.
It should go without saying, but if you’re going to drive an $80,000 car out on the ice… watch where you’re going.
Scott Huntington is an automotive writer and blogger living in Vermont and covering everything from the Model T to the Model 3. Say hi on Twitter @SMHuntington or check out his site, Off The Throttle.