03.5 Identifying an electric vehicle
The challenges of electric vehicle identification for emergency responders
It's vital for emergency responders to recognise identifying features of an electric vehicle, as the management of an EV at an accident, impact, submersion or fire is different to that of an ICE vehicle.
However, as many emergency responders know, when attending the scene of any vehicle collision, submersion or fire, identifying features may not be easily recognisable or apparent.
Additionally, some electric vehicles look very similar to their ICE versions. To illustrate this point, the two EVs shown below are the electric Kona (left) & petrol Kona (right). The identifying differences between the two are subtle & may be difficult to distinguish at an emergency incident.
Fully electric Hyundai Kona
Petrol driven Hyundai Kona
Primary ways to identify an electric vehicle
There are four primary ways to identify an electric vehicle:
Visual size up, ask the driver
A vehicle parked near public electric vehicle charging units, whether they're plugged in to charge or not, is a strong indication you're dealing with an EV.
If you think you might be dealing with an electric vehicle, speak to the driver & passengers (if possible).
Number plate badge
In Australia, all electric vehicles - both BEV & PHEV - must display a blue triangle with the letters 'EV' on both front & rear numberplates.
Please note this badge is mandatory in Victoria, New South Wales, Queensland & South Australia, but other states & territories are yet to enforce this as standard.
External vehicle badging
Many EVs have words like 'Zero Emission', 'Electric' or 'Plug In Hybrid EV' on the sides (under wing mirrors) or rear of the vehicle.
It's important to note that not all EVs carry identifying badging. For example, Tesla Model 3, X, S & Y typically do not have external badging other than the 'T' logo on the front & rear.
HV component stickers
Electric vehicles use high voltage cabling & components in their drive train; cabling routes can be identified by the HV orange conduit & other components may be marked with a warning sticker.
This sticker is from a Tesla Model 3 & is located under the bonnet, sometimes referred to as a 'frunk'.
Secondary ways to identify an electric vehicle
Manufacturer QR codes
Some vehicle manufacturers, recognising the challenges of identification for emergency responders have developed QR code stickers that link to that vehicle's emergency response guide.
These are located on the vehicle windscreen or on the drivers door column.
No front grille
As less cooling is needed with an electric drive system, many electric vehicles do not have a front grille; as shown in the Kona images above.
Having said that, there are some EVs - like the MG ZS EV - that have a front grille, within which the charge port is hidden, making it hard for identification.
No exhaust tailpipe
Battery electric vehicles (BEV) do not require an exhaust tailpipe as there are no combustion emissions.
However, a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV) combines an electric drive system with an internal combustion engine, so does use a exhaust.
Presence of a charge port
A charge port will be present on both BEV & PHEV electric vehicles, as they both require an external power supply to charge the traction battery.
Some EVs - like the MG ZS EV - have the charge port located under a flap in the front grille or as part of a light fitting, making it hard to identify.
Fire behaviour can also assist in electric vehicle identification
Later, we look at the characteristics of lithium battery fire behaviour, to provide another way for emergency responders to effectively ascertain whether they're dealing with an electric vehicle traction battery fire, should identifying features not be visible.