LG CHEM ELECTRIC CAR BATTERIES CATCHING FIRE
In the corporate rush to release new products, things are sometimes overlooked. Anyone who plays video games will be aware of the “first day patch.” This happens when, on the day of a game’s release, it doesn’t work properly, and the company releases a fix that you download off the internet. Luckily, no one’s life is at stake when their Nintendo Switch games are broken. This is not the case with vehicles. When corners have been cut or defective parts are installed, people can get hurt.
RECENT ELECTRIC CAR RECALLS
Within months, three different electric cars have been recalled. Hyundai had to fix many cars from their Kona Electric line since October of 2020. Early 2021 has seen them recall new Kona Electric cars along with cars from their Ioniq Electric brand. Chevrolet has begun recalling a huge amount of Bolt EVs, at least 51,000 individual vehicles.
All three of these models have something in common: their batteries are catching fire. Another commonality they have: these batteries are all coming from LG Chem. In 2020, Hyundai attempted to fix the battery fires with a software update, which didn’t work. They had to go back and replace batteries entirely, and they may have to do that again for the 2021 recalls. Chevrolet claims that their software update, which beings rolling out in April of 2021, will fix the battery problems. While we all hope that’s true, it remains to be seen.
Many of us know LG from our TVs, stereos, cellphones, and other home electronics. LG is, in fact, a huge corporation with many subsidiaries. Their chemical company, LG Chem, has a hand in everything from pharmaceuticals to lubricants to, yes, batteries. Investigations from within the company and from outside sources have been looking for a cause of the battery fires, and they may have found an answer.
BAD CELL SEPARATORS
The Namyang Research Institute, owned by Hyundai Motor, claims to have found the problem. In early 2021, they said that the fault lay in the batteries’ cell separators. If true, LG may be able to file a huge lawsuit against the makers of those separators, as these fires have had a devastating impact on their brand. LG has denied these claims, and it’s important to remember that. The claims, however, do seem credible, so let’s take a look at them.
First, let’s take an extremely simplified look at how these batteries are supposed to work. There are two layers within the battery. One layer has positively charged electrodes, and one layer has negatively charged electrodes. Between these layers is a separator.
The separator contains an “electrolyte,” which is a liquid that contains lithium ions. These ions pass though the separator. When the car is charging, they pass toward the negatively charged layer. When the battery is using energy, or “discharging,” the ions pass through to a positively charged layer.
When the electrolyte liquid is bad, it can form crystals. The crystals grow root-like “dendrites.” These dendrites can pierce the separator, and they can also create a short. This short can overheat the crystalline dendrites. They get hotter and hotter, causing a fire.
Namyang’s claim seems reasonable because it addresses a common problem. Crystal formation on a rechargeable battery happens regularly. When you hear a story about overheating laptops or cellphones catching fire, it’s likely from dendrites. Normally, there are preventative measures within a separator to make dendrites disintegrate, but design flaws still happen.
Dendrites sometimes form when batteries are overcharged. This is why auto companies have tried to fix the problem by updating the cars’ computer programs. The software keeps the battery from charging at or above capacity, usually stopping the charge when the battery hits about 90%. As we have seen, however, this does not always fix the problem.
In the U.S., vehicle recalls are serious business. They happen only when a car’s flaw endangers drivers and passengers. Recalls are highly regulated by the government, and failure to report safety problems can force car companies to pay fines of up to $11,000,000.
Car manufacturers are expected to pay for recall repairs for a long time. Once a new car is driven off the lot, it can be subjected to recalls for up to 15 years. Some companies offer to pay for recalls even after that deadline.
Checking your car make and model for recalls is an important safety habit. There are many websites you can use to look up recalls, and it doesn’t take a long time. If you find your car on that list, take it in for repairs immediately.
WHEN TO CALL A LAWYER
If you’ve been hurt in an electric car battery fire, or for any other vehicle defect, contact a lawyer today. You may be eligible to receive damages from the car company to cover medical bills and compensate for pain and suffering.
Also, reach out to a lawyer if your dealer won’t do a free repair on your recalled vehicle. Even if the car surpasses the 15-year expiration date, there may be legal options available to get your car working and safe.
Richardson Richardson Boudreaux, PLLC, is here to represent people who have been injured from vehicle defects. If you’ve been hurt, we can give you a free consultation. Just call us at 918-492-7674 or contact us online.