Tesla is pushing out a software update to all Model S and X cars following two recent high-profile battery fires. The automaker said it’s issuing the update “out of an abundance of caution.”
The over-the-air update will change some of the settings in the cars’ battery management software related to charging and thermal controls, though the company didn’t go into further detail. (The software of Tesla’s battery management system is one of the company’s most closely guarded trade secrets.)
The software update comes after some highly publicized fires in Asia. In April, an older Model S seemingly spontaneously combusted while sitting unused in a parking structure in Shanghai. The fire was caught by security cameras, and the footage quickly went viral. Tesla sent a team to investigate the fire, but has not released any findings. Just this week, another Model S caught fire in a parking lot in Hong Kong, shortly after the owner had charged the car.
Fires involving Tesla’s batteries have gotten a lot of attention over the last few years, much to the dismay of CEO Elon Musk. He has often pointed to the frequency of fires in internal combustion engine cars, and has claimed Tesla’s cars are “over 500 percent *less* likely to catch fire.”
But what stands out about the two most recent fires is that, unlike most of the roughly 20 incidents Business Insider recently catalogued that date back to 2013, these cars were parked when they caught fire. Vehicle fires are a somewhat common occurrence following a crash, and most fires involving Teslas have happened after violent wrecks (or in a few cases, some of the cars have reignited after an initial fire). But these new incidents involving the spontaneous combustion of its cars’ batteries appear to have sparked Tesla into action.
“As we continue our investigation of the root cause, out of an abundance of caution, we are revising charge and thermal management settings on Model S and Model X vehicles via an over-the-air software update that will begin rolling out today, to help further protect the battery and improve battery longevity,” the company said in a statement.
Fires in electric cars have to be handled differently, as they can’t be put out with foam or other chemicals. Instead, they often require thousands of gallons of water to be extinguished. Tesla has worked with first responders to make sure they’re equipped with the specific knowledge required to put out battery fires.
The company has also pushed software updates to help curb fires at least twice before. In 2016, Tesla released an over-the-air update to “provide extra security during charging” after a Model S caught fire in Norway. In 2013, Tesla pushed an update that raised the Model S’s ride height when traveling at highway speeds to reduce the risk of debris puncturing the battery pack. That update came on the heels of an investigation by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration into multiple Tesla fires. The agency closed that investigation in 2014 after Tesla decided to add more physical protection to its battery packs.