As E-bikes rise in popularity, concerns over battery fires grow
Electric bikes, or e-bikes, have spiked in recent popularity, and with that popularity is a growing number of battery fires – some of them fatal.
E-bikes are causing fires right across the continent. Toronto’s Fire Department said there were twelves fires caused in the city last year from e-bike batteries. In Vancouver, there were ten fires caused by e-bike batteries with five fatalities.
“When the lithium-ion batteries used in e-bikes are poorly made, overused, overcharged, or used with the wrong charger, they can cause fires and those fires can be very violent and difficult to put out,” Ben Preston with Consumer Reports.
In December 2021, the New York City Fire Department (FDNY) said a battery from an electric bike was the cause of a fatal apartment fire in the East Village neighborhood of Manhattan. One man died and two children had to cling to an exterior pipe to escape.
A year later, the FDNY attributed an astonishing 202 fires, 142 injuries, and six deaths to electric bike or electric scooter batteries.
With very little oversight, some third-party companies that make lower-quality e-bikes and batteries are finding loopholes to sell their products on e-commerce sites like Amazon. A quick Amazon search shows dozens of e-bikes under $800.
That’s thanks to a trade law unofficially known as the “Amazon loophole,” which allows items under $800 to dodge taxes and regulations that other products might have to go through.
Amazon tells Consumer Reports, “We continuously monitor the products sold in our store for product safety concerns and, when appropriate, remove a product from the store.”
“Because there’s a lack of oversight, it’s really up to the consumer to look after their own interests,” Preston said.
If you’re shopping for an e-bike, look for one with a battery that has a UL Certified label. Then, follow the manufacturer’s instructions for charging and storage, and always use the power adapter and cord supplied by the manufacturer.
Don’t ever leave the battery charging overnight or while you’re not home. If you need a new battery, buy it from the same manufacturer as your e-bike.
If at any time the battery starts doing anything unusual, like making a hissing sound, or smells odd, you should unplug it immediately.
One other safety tip from Consumer Reports: Always keep batteries away from heat sources such as heaters and direct sunlight when you’re charging them, and make sure there’s no flammable material nearby.
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