Electric Cars & Lightning – Is It Really Safe? (Explained)

You might be toying with the idea of buying an electric car but find yourself wondering whether you’d be safe driving it in stormy, rainy weather. We wrote before about electric cars in heavy rain, but what about lightning bolts?

The good news is, that the chance of getting struck by lightning in an electric car is no greater than getting zapped in a gas-powered one.

While an enclosed building is the safest shelter from a lightning storm, enclosed vehicles, including electric cars, are safe alternatives.

Lightning Is Not a Safety Hazard For Electric Cars

An electric car’s electrical components are safely hidden away. Any exposed cables are weatherproof for safe charging even in the rain. If a bolt of lightning does strike the car, its outer metallic frame is designed to redirect the current into the ground, away from its interior, keeping you safe.

Let’s dig deeper

Can You Drive An Electric Car During A Thunderstorm?

You can drive an electric car during a thunderstorm as you would drive any gas-powered car through a thunderstorm, by following standard safety precautions.

While on the one hand, it makes little sense for an electric car manufacturer to put out a vehicle that will inevitably fail, as long as thunderstorms exist and drivers must drive in them.

On the other hand, if you’re concerned, you’re not the only one.

According to a research survey in 2018 that asked British drivers how they felt about electric cars, a significant number felt it would be risky to drive over puddles.

Others felt driving in the rain would be outright impossible. While that study was conducted several years ago, the same fears seem to be just as relevant today.

Actually, electric cars are safer than regular cars.

Many drivers are still uneasy about the idea of taking an electric car, essentially a giant hunk of metal housing high-voltage machinery, into a situation that would typically be considered a death wish.

Water and electricity aren’t supposed to mix and apparently that fact is hard to shake.

But that’s the lovely thing about electric cars that should be made clear. That is, water and electricity won’t mix. It’s designed that way.

While the thought of taking an electric car into a thunderstorm sounds counterintuitive, the reality is much more boring.

Electric cars are made to keep drivers safe. In rain, in thunder, and when exposed to lightning, an electric car will take you where you need to go and it will carry on, business as usual, even in inclement weather.

Should Electric Cars Be Unplugged During Lightning Storms?

It makes sense to wonder if lightning risks extend to electric vehicles, and to feel uncertain about whether or not to unplug your electric car during a lightning storm.

Using a smartphone in the bathtub as it’s charging, for example, is especially dangerous. But you may already be aware of such risks if you unplug your electronics and avoid showers during a lightning storm.

If lightning strikes your home while any electronics are plugged in, they’ll probably be ruined.

If lightning hits any metal on the exterior of your home, like a gutter, lightning will keep traveling and may find its way through any exposed electrical outlets in the walls of your home, travel through metal pipes, or cables.

In that case, an electric car plugged into an outdoor electrical outlet while it’s raining and lightning, looks like a disaster waiting to happen. But rest assured, an electric car is not that vulnerable.

Fortunately, electric car manufacturers have already thought about the “what ifs” and designed electric cars to withstand common situations like lightning and rain. Charging stations are insulated and an electric car’s electrical system and charging cable are weatherproof. But because the path of lightning is hard to predict, safety is not an absolute guarantee. The same can be said about electric cars.

While a power surge isn’t likely to cause any issues to an electric car while it’s charging, it still might be too new to know for sure and may reveal issues in the years ahead.

In the meantime, why chance it?

Therefore, you don’t need to unplug your electric car during a lightning storm, but while electric cars are still in their primacy, for now, it could be wise to play it safe.

Can Lightning Damage an Electric Car?

All of the electrical components are tightly tucked away and the high-voltage parts are contained within bright orange compartments that you, or anyone else, can’t miss.

Furthermore, the high-voltage parts are nearly impossible to access because they are not meant to be opened by the average consumer for any reason.

First responders are trained to get into the high-voltage parts with tools and a lot of muscle. Also, accessing those components requires special instructions that first responders must first learn to avoid electrocution.

Nobody should worry about driving over a bump in the road for fear that a lid will pop off.

In short, electric cars are built to specific standards where electrical issues and electricity-related hazards are a special focus of the design. You can safely charge your electric car in a lightning storm without injury or a power surge.

Do Electric Cars Attract Lightning Strikes?

There are three primary types of lightning, cloud to cloud, cloud to air, and cloud to ground.

Because of its potential to cause damage, cloud-to-ground lightning has been studied the most, although the first two types are more common.

For our purpose here, we’ll talk about cloud-to-ground lightning and whether it’s attracted by your electric car. It’s not.

In fact, you might be surprised to learn that lightning isn’t attracted to metal objects either. But metal is an electrical conductor and lightning is electricity, right?

Considering another definition of the word conductor can help define what it means for metal, its relationship to electricity, and whether or not your electric car has anything that might attract it.

So, another type of conductor is an orchestra conductor, someone who guides an orchestra. Orchestra conductors direct musicians, helping to shape the overall sound.

Similarly, an electrical conductor, metal in our case, can guide, or direct electricity, allowing it to travel in a straight path.

Finally, like an orchestra conductor, who can’t attract a specific sound, and only influences the musicians when in front of them, an electricity conductor like metal can’t attract electricity but may influence its path of movement when it’s close.

So, in the case of an electric car, you don’t have anything to worry about because lightning is not attracted to it.

But what about when lightning strikes in close proximity to your electric car, then what? Then the answer is maybe, but not necessarily.

According to research on lightning, an electricity-conducting object can attract lightning only when the lightning strike is at least as close to the object as the longest vertical side of said object.

So, if the tallest part of your electric car is about 6 ½ ft, lightning striking 6 ½ ft away or closer could be drawn to the metal of your car.

However, there are plenty of objects that could cause the lightning to shift its trajectory, too.

The bottom line is that lightning is attracted to the ground, not electric cars.

However, lightning’s path of movement from the very start of its formation to what path it takes to get there is less certain.

Do Electric Cars Get Struck By Lightning More Than Other Cars?

The reason why an electric car does not carry a higher risk of being struck by lightning than other cars doesn’t have as much to do with how it runs but rather with how it’s built.

An electric car is designed to protect what’s inside. As previously mentioned, if what we know about lightning is correct then whether your car is electric or gas-powered doesn’t matter.

Could the type of metal on the outside of an electric car make a difference?

Most cars are made of steel.

However, electric cars are built from a lighter material, aluminum. Aluminum is a better conductor of electricity than steel, although both are good.

If an electric car is hit directly by a lightning strike, the metal electricity conducting exterior is made to direct the path of the lightning directly into the ground. The better it’s able to do that, the safer you are in that vehicle, in theory at least. However, this is likely a very negligible factor.

Another consideration would be the antenna. If lightning tends to strike the highest points on its path toward the ground, the car’s antennae would most likely be hit first. However, vehicles today, with the exception of some trucks, don’t have antennas that stick out.

That includes electric vehicles.

Therefore, electric cars are not more likely to be struck by lightning compared to other cars.

Is It Safe To Drive An Electric Car In A Thunderstorm?

Getting struck by lightning is rare. According to the National Weather Service, storm data shows that from 1989 to 2018, 43 lightning-related deaths were reported per year.

On average, 10% of lightning strike incidents are fatal while 90% cause injuries, ranging from mild to serious.

Sadly, you’re more likely to get struck by lightning, than win the lottery.

However, the odds are still low. In a given year, your odds of getting hit by a bolt of lightning are 1 out of 1,222,000. In your lifetime, 1 out of 15, 300. An electric car is prepared for bad weather.

Still, it’s helpful to know that lightning deterrents exist on an electric car that works much like a faraday cage, essentially a metal cage, or frame, that if struck by lightning, would direct it downward.

So, you can safely drive it during a thunderstorm.

What Happens If An Electric Car Is Struck By Lightning?

A bolt of lightning is a powerful, fast electric current. O

nce it has been set into motion through natural processes in the environment, it travels through objects like metal to reach the ground. Once lightning reaches the ground it disperses. However, until it disperses completely, it may still travel through anything, or anyone, on the ground nearby.

If an electric car is struck by lightning a few things can happen.

The amount of damage that a bolt of lightning can cause may vary. Instances of cars getting struck directly, mostly report damage to tires and antennae while very few gas-powered vehicles have reported damage to the engine.

Because the parts that run electric cars are tightly covered, they would not have any contact with the electrical current from a bolt of lightning, that’s the idea.

Tempered windows are very strong too, so if struck, they might shatter.

The most crucial thing to remember if you’re stuck in an electric car (or any car) while it’s lightning, keep your hands in your lap and avoid contact with anything made of metal until the storm has passed.

Sources

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