When we first wrote on this subject in May 2018 there were just 150,000 electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles on UK roads. That number reached over 495,000 at the end of March 2021 with 235,000 of those running purely on electric. Its ever more likely that repairers, recovery agents and bodyshops will come across them.
The Toyota Prius demonstrates this point perfectly. Early models first hit our roads over twenty years ago. These vehicles will have many servicing and maintenance requirements as per standard vehicles. However, many within the trade continue to avoid opportunities to attract work on electric and hybrid vehicles.
People working in the trade, whether as vehicle recovery agents, mechanics or even tyre fitters, are right to be aware of the risks and dangers. Additional hazards are present when tending to high voltage vehicles. But by ensuring technicians understand the basic threats, as well as the processes and the safety rules relating to these vehicles businesses can potentially open up fruitful new markets.
Specialist training and potentially particular tools will be needed to be able to work on electric vehicles safely. Back in 2018 very few specific qualifications were available and little regulation existed. This presented a particular challenge for independent repairers. However numerous training schemes and courses have emerged in recent years. We will provide details of a couple later in this article.
It is vitally important to remain aware of the key safety protocols relating to alternatively-fuelled vehicles. Here we look at the some of the highest profile risks and constraints associated to EPHVs for automotive professionals:
10 things you must know if you handle EVs
- Voltages are much higher than those found in traditional vehicles.
Voltages in a traditional car will typically be between 12V and 24V. In electric and hybrid vehicles, this can typically range between 350-650V. High voltage components and cabling are capable of delivering fatal electric shocks, so it is extremely important to be fully aware of the safety procedures and take the necessary precautions when working on these vehicles.
- Even when the vehicle is switched off, there is still a risk…
Some components may retain high voltage levels even when the vehicle has been switched off. Always take extra care and ensure all processes to work safely are respected.
- Car battery cells can release harmful chemicals and can explode if mishandled.
If you handle battery cells, ensure you are familiar with their various designs and correct handling procedures. Mistakes can cost you your livelihood, and even yours or your staff’s lives if batteries are damaged or incorrectly modified.
- Magnetic forces can make the car move!
Electric motors, or the vehicle itself may move unexpectedly due to magnetic forces within the motors.
- Electric Vehicles Interfering with Pacemakers
According to a recent study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, the electromagnetic fields produced by EV’s motors “don’t appear to be strong enough to interfere with implanted heart devices like pacemakers and defibrillators”. These devices are shielded, and shouldn’t be affected by external electromagnetic fields. However, there have been reports on the internet of pacemaker users experiencing issues, so it is best to check and test before starting to work on PHEVs.
- Silent Operation means Additional Danger to Workers and Clients Walking Around
Because of the absence of noise from some early EVs whilst they’re on, it is recommended to stay aware of your surroundings and take extra care while working around electric vehicles. You might not hear an oncoming vehicle, so it is important to have some rules in place to ensure that you and your workforce are aware of where the vehicles are and where they are going around the workshop. This is actually such an issue – not only to automotive workers but also road users and pedestrians, that the EU announced that from July 2019 onwards all existing EVs had to emit some kind of sound or noise, even when travelling at low speeds. Some manufacturers had already equipped their vehicles with noise emitting devices, however there isn’t a single standard for them, so different vehicles will emit different sounds, making it potentially difficult to identify what is and what isn’t an approaching car!
- There are Multiple Options Available to Engineers for Training and Qualifications
Handling electric vehicles can sound more like being a computer analyst and knowing your way through electrics components than being a wrench-jokey or a gear shaft wizard… As the industry is changing, more and more qualifications are likely to appear. There are already ways to keep on top of the trends and be able to move your knowledge from traditional vehicles to PHEVs. It’s hoped traditional mechanics won’t be intimidated as the job remains similar, only the technology is different.
A number of companies offer electric and hybrid vehicle training. The IMI details the type of accreditation and processes for those working with electric and hybrids vehicles, whether they are involved in maintenance, recovery, cosmetic or mechanical repairs.
The HSE outline four categories of work involving EV’s, each requires a varying level of knowledge and bespoke training:
- Valeting, sales and other lower risk activities
- Incident response including emergency services and vehicle recovery
- Maintenance and repair excluding high voltage electrical systems
- Working on high voltage electrical systems
- Extra Safety Protocols Required for Recovery Agents Handling PHEVs
It goes without saying that any road side response to an incident involving an EV will require additional precautions. A recent accident in which a Tesla crashed and caught fire in Texas required 3,5000 gallons of water to douse the flames. The emergency services will of course have to be called in circumstances of that nature but it does go to show the potential for seriousness consequences when working with electric vehicles.
The HSE recommends to:
- Avoid towing electric and hybrid vehicles unless it can be determined that it is safe to do so. Dangerous voltages can be generated by movement of the drive wheels.
- Have access to reliable sources of information for specific vehicle types. For example mobile data terminals used by fire and rescue services or by reference to manufacturer’s data.
- During any recovery onto a recovery vehicle, the remote operation key should be removed to a suitable distance and the standard 12/24v battery disconnected to prevent the vehicle from being activated/started.
Vehicles must be checked for:
- Any visual signs of damage to high voltage electrical components or cabling (usually coloured orange)?
- Whether the integrity of the battery been compromised?
- Shorting or loss of coolant may present ignition sources in the event of fuel spillage.
If the vehicle is damaged or faulty, and if it is safe to do so, the high voltage battery system should be isolated using the vehicle’s isolation device. The manufacturer’s instructions can be referred to for guidance.
- Your Insurance Policy Can Cover You – If you Have Appropriate Qualifications and Observe the Correct Health and Safety Precautions
If you already hold a motor trade road risk policy or motor trade combined (MTC) policy, it is strongly recommended to contact your insurance broker or your insurer to make sure that you are covered to work on PHEVs. You may also wish to upgrade your cover, or add a liability cover, for example. If you are a Plan Insurance Brokers customer or if you are looking for motor trade insurance, ring our team at 0800 542 2742 to discuss your policy (lines are open Monday to Thursday from 9am to 5.30pm and Friday 9am – 5pm).
- Handling Autonomous Vehicles
The days of an autonomous vehicle driving itself to your bodyshop to get its scheduled annual maintenance are not quite there yet. However, it is likely to become a reality in the not so distant future… The industry will see massive changes, and there will be a need to review business models to remain competitive and on top of the trends. But let’s face it, cars will always need to be maintained, and it is very unlikely that autonomous vehicles won’t ever get a scratch or need a tyre changed…
Handling Electric and Hybrid vehicles requires awareness of health and safety, specialist skillset and knowledge, as well as training and regulations. But there is an insufficient number of mechanics and automotive workers qualified to work with PHEVs in the UK. The IMI estimates that currently around only 5% of UK automotive technicians are adequately trained to work on electric vehicles. Therefore a huge opportunity exists for those willing to start a career in the future of the automotive industry, or to re-centre their business around the electric (r)evolution…