When it comes to the safety of electric cars and trucks, one of the most commonly asked questions is whether bad weather makes it unsafe to recharge an electric vehicle. Now, if you always have a dry and cozy garage with a dedicated charging outlet at your disposal, maybe this has never crossed your mind.
- There is no such thing as a dumb question when it comes to automotive safety.
- Many people assume plugging in an electric car can be dangerous when it’s raining.
- Don’t worry, EVs and recharging stations are built to handle bad weather.
- Some of the only things more waterproof than an electric car include submersibles, buoys, or similar oceanic equipment.
For anyone who has been caught out by inclement weather as the battery reading trickles toward zero – and the only option is to use an outdoor charging station – the dilemma of rain-meets-recharging has a way of suddenly coming to the forefront of your mind. This is especially true as EVs gain wider acceptance and public charging stations become a more integral part of everyday driving.
To answer this question once and for all, we spoke with Jonathon Ratliff, Nissan
North America’s senior manager for zero emission technology development. Based at Nissan’s tech center in Farmington Hills, Michigan, Ratliff has been dedicated to zero emission vehicles since taking his current role back in 2012. With the Leaf hatchback, Nissan itself was one of the first automakers to bring an affordable and mainstream electric vehicle to market. To date, Nissan has sold more than 400,000 Leafs around the world.
OK, so is it safe to recharge your EV outdoors when it’s raining?
Jonathon Ratliff says this is a question he’s heard “many, many times” while spending years working on zero emission vehicles. “Absolutely, it’s safe to charge in nearly any weather condition,” he says, matter-of-factly. That’s because electric vehicles are purposefully engineered to withstand rain and water intrusion, not to mention pesky dust particles that could wreak havoc on an electric system.
Ratliff says an electric car or truck, such as the Nissan Leaf, has an “IP rating of 67.” OK, minus any engineers reading this story, we realize we’ve totally lost the crowd at this point. Keep reading, the explanation is simple and straightforward.
This number system is known as the Ingress Protection Rating, and it’s applied to a wide number of items used in daily life. This could include the smartphone in your pocket, to wall outlets, kitchen appliances and, yes, even the electric car parked in your garage or driveway.
The first of the two numbers relates to small foreign objects, like dust particles or dirt. The second number (the 7 in that IP 67 rating) relates to protection against water and liquids. Ratliff explains the rating scale extends from 1-6 for dust/solid object protection, with 6 being the best protection. In terms of liquids, the scale ranges from 1-8, again with the highest number equaling the best protection. So what the heck scores higher than an electric car when it comes to water intrusion?
Ratliff says an IP rating of 8 for water intrusion is reserved for highly specialized items. “A rating of 8 would be a submersible and oceanic equipment…something underwater for a long, long time. Buoys are typically what you get in an 8 rating.” With this in mind, Ratliff offers a simple formula to explain how waterproof the high voltage components of an electric vehicle are using this IP rating.
Using the Nissan Leaf as an example, Ratliff says the IP 67 rating is equivalent “to submerging any component of our vehicle in water at 1 meter for 30 minutes…this applies to electrical components.” This means the battery and electric motors are built to withstand this level of time and depth of submersion. In other words, the rating more than exceeds anything you’d encounter when plugging your EV into a charging station in the rain.
Ratliff offers additional peace of mind when it comes to worries about inadvertently accessing electrical parts, and the interaction between a charger and vehicle. “There is no physical way for customers to touch certain components…we have many different sensor technologies that can detect isolation, or any basic change in our strict tolerances, that’s when all the high voltage components turn off.”
Ratliff says this could include someone tinkering on an electric car, or accidentally disconnecting vital cables and cords. It also relates to how an EV shuts itself down after an accident, to ensure there is no discharge of electricity.
When it comes to charging stations, Ratliff explains Level 2 chargers most commonly come with an IP 44 rating. This offers protection from solid objects, like dirt and dust, that are larger than 1 millimeter. It also protects against water splash, such as rain coming for every direction. Ratliff says creating a charging station that meets the IP 67 rating would simply be engineering “overkill” and not necessary. “With Level 2 charging…the device acts as a big safety switch,” Ratliff explains. “When you plug the car in, it starts communication with the device. It does measurements to determine everything is safe and only then will it begin the flow of energy.”
So, even if something is wrong, the car and charging outlet will recognize the problem before anything more serious occurs. And for those times when you experience brain drain versus battery drain, your EV is there to pick up the slack. Want to try driving off in a plugged-in EV? Forget about it.
“The vehicle will recognize a charger is connected to it and will not move out of park with the device connected to it,” says Ratliff. In other words, unlike gas-fed cars and trucks that will happily let you zoom away with a fuel hose connected to the tank, your EV is smart enough not to let you make the same embarrassing and extremely dangerous mistake. This holds true, rain or shine.
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This story originally ran on Autotrader.com.