Q & A From Identifying & Securing Hybrid Vehicles Webinar

Recently Fire Rescue Magazine contributor Doug Cincurak, spent an hour discussing the ins and outs of Hybrid Vehicles in a FirefighterNation.com webinar entitled "Identifying & Securing Hybrid Vehicles."

During the course of the live event, Doug did his best at answering many of the more popular questions, however, he was not able to answer them all. Wanting to have all of the important questions answered, Doug spent a few more hours of his time going over the questions he was unable to answer during the live event and providing a written response which are included below.

If you would like to view the archived webinar please click here.

1) How long do the batteries stay charged after the car is shut off?
The battery that operates the electric motor will stay charged for a long time (multiple days). It is difficult to give an exact time as it is different for all vehicles.

2) Does the emergency disconnect trim piece have any markings to identify it?
No, the trim piece is near the front seats if the vehicle is going to have one.

3) So the inertia switch acts like a fuel sensor, disabling the flow of fuel in the event of a collision? Also, if bystanders are present with a fob other than the car’s fob, will it affect that car?
You are correct in your thoughts regarding the inertia switch, and no, another person’s key fob will not affect the car that has been involved in the accident.

4) Does the drain time of the capacitors change with models? I know different model conventional cars have different drain times for their capacitors.
Yes, the drain times can be very different, even from model year to model year of the same vehicle.

5) Also, are the airbag capacitors connected to the hybrid portion or the 12-V battery?
Airbags are powered by the 12-V system.

6) Is there any talk of coming up with a standardized logo for the disconnect?
I have been preaching for years about standards on all safety systems. There are no standard locations or anything for airbags, seatbelt pretensioners, etc.

7) What is the "B" on PRNDB?
The "B" stands for regenerative braking. When driving, you can select the "B" and this in turn spins the electric motor in reverse to act as a charging system for the hybrid electric motor NiMH battery.

8) I take it if you can’t hear the vehicle, then you won’t be able to feel it running as well?
You are correct.

9) The vent for the battery compartment is only for heat? Not for hydrogen gas from the batteries?
These vents are designed to dissipate heat from the battery compartment. I will have to check to see if hydrogen gases can be venting through these.

10) Once you take the electrical power away, does the gasoline engine still have power?
Yes, the gasoline engine can still be powered, but you will be able to hear this and know that the car is running.

11) When did they start putting the emergency disconnects in these vehicles? Or have they always been there?
It has only been a few years since they started this.

12) Do manufacturers all locate disconnects in the same place, for example, all Ford hybrids or all Toyota hybrids have the same disconnect location?
Unfortunately for us, they do not.

13) Do you need to unplug you cell phone or other piece of equipment to make sure all power is off to the vehicle? Also, are the dealers helping fire departments with these hybrid vehicles, with videos and other such information?
You can find information from the dealers, but I have found that you probably already know more than they do about hybrid safety. The best way to get information is from the manufacturer.

14) If this type of vehicle has so much damage from a wreck, can the orange or blue cables be damaged enough to short themselves out?

15) Will you send us your PowerPoints on the workings of the motor?
Please e-mail me with your address and I can send you a CD.

16) Where is the most common location of the Smart Key Fob? Dash, driver’s pocket, etc.? Are the key and fob together or can one or other be in the victim’s pocket?
There are more smart keys out there than you may imagine and not just for hybrid vehicles. If the person is driving the car and has the key in the slot, it will be in the key fob slot on the dash board.

17) Is there a standard place for the push-to-start buttons on these cars?
It is located on the dash board, very near to the key fob slot.

18) Are there any significant environmental concerns--chemical or hazmat risks--from these high-voltage battery systems in the event of MVA, fire or immersion?
We could hold a whole separate class on this. There are concerns involving everything you mentioned in your question. The best thing to do is obtain an MSDS sheet on NiMH batteries. Most hybrid manufacturers state you should call a battery recovery specialist if you have concerns regarding the battery.

19) Does the inertia switch trip automatically in an accident?
That is what it’s supposed to do, however we do not want to rely on this because not every vehicle has this feature, and we really don’t know if it worked or not when we approach a vehicle.

21) What's the risk if one of the power cables is exposed?
It all depends on whether there’s electricity running through the cable. There is no way for us to tell if there is or not, so, we treat all cables as if there’s electricity running through them, and we never even go near any orange or blue cables on a hybrid.

22) When the plug is removed, can the plug be replaced or does it have to go to the dealership?
I don’t know the answer to this question; I have never been asked that before. I will check on this for you.

23) Is there a safety fuse/plug for the Chevy Tahoe hybrid?
The safety fuse you saw in the Web cast was from a GM vehicle.

24) If we disable the emergency shut off/disconnect, are we still at risk for getting shocked if we come in contact with the bright orange/blue wiring?
Technically speaking no, but how do you really know if the electric has been shut down? This is why we say never touch or come in contact with any orange or blue cables on a hybrid.

25) On a Prius, what is the best way to kill the power if we can't find the FOB?
Disconnect the 12-V battery system.

26) Will the vehicle jump wheel chocks?
I guess it would depend on what you are using for wheel chocks. The vehicle should not jump any substantial wheel chock, such as the type used on fire trucks.

27) If you disconnect the safety switch, is there still power anywhere else in the vehicle?
The 12V system is separate from the NiMH motor battery. Even if you shut down power to the NiMH battery the 12V system will still be operational.

28) Is there any explosion risk with a high-voltage battery?
There is risk involved with the NiMH battery. The MSDS sheet for NiMH batteries can further help you with this.

29) In a fire, can the capacitor blow up?
I will never say this can’t happen, but I have never heard of this happening on any vehicle.

30) How do you know a key is a "smart key"?
The key fits inside a "key fob" so you won’t see the key, as the key fits in the fob.

31) Also, you say the 12-V aux battery can be disconnected, but what about the main 12V battery?
This is the same thing.

FYI: Do not dismiss the SUV size vehicles. Toyota Highlander is a full SUV with a hybrid power system.

32) I assume we would want to shift the gear to park prior to removing the key/fob?
Yes, you are correct. The key fob is similar to a key.

33) When the disconnect feature is used on hybrid vehicles, does this disable the vehicle’s regular electronic components (i.e.: airbags) the same as disconnecting the 12-V battery would in a normal vehicle?
The 12-V system is separate from the NiMH motor battery. Even if you shut down power to the NiMH battery, the 12-V system will still be operational.

34) Can the smart key be disabled by removing the real key from the key fob?
You need to move the key fob at least 25 feet from the vehicle. If the key fob is removed from the vehicle, this will solve all of your problems.

35) How are you supposed to cut the battery cables without getting in front of the car?
Hopefully by the time you get to this point in the rescue, you have taken steps to chock the wheels so the car won’t move.

36) Based on an example you used, if patient is on backboard and out of vehicle with fob in pocket, car can still operate and therefore move. What happens when the car moves beyond the 16-foot distance from the point? Does it simply deactivate and stop?
The car can’t move if the key fob is out of the slot, but all other components of the car can still work, such as door locks, etc.

37) If we get to the point that we have to remove fuses to disable the electrical system on the vehicle, are there multiple fuse boxes as are found in conventional vehicles? If we remove all of the fuses from one fuse box, will this disable the vehicle, or will we have to search for other fuse boxes, i.e., in the passenger compartment?
To disable the high-voltage system, to my knowledge, the fuse box under the hood is where these fuses are located.

38) I’ve heard that in older models of hybrid vehicles, that cables colors are not orange and blue. Is this true? And are the colors now standard across all brands?
I have not heard of this, but I won’t say it isn’t true. Cables on early-model, all-electric cars could fall into this category.

39) Also, if the vehicle is in Park, will it still move?

40) If an orange cable breaks loose after a crash and becomes in contact with the body of the car, is the car energized?
I have been told by several manufacturers that this will never happen.

41) Are the airbags set off the same way as a standard car?

42) Can we see the pictures of the strut injuries?
Yes, I can e-mail these to you.

43) Is there a voltage detector we can use?
I am not aware of anything the fire service can use. But I am not an electrical guru, so there may be detectors available.

44) In general, where are the inertia switches located?
These switches are located in different locations on different vehicles.

45) Also, if one of the orange cables is damaged and insulation is cut, can the car be energized and what is the safest way to de-energize the vehicle?
I have been told by several manufacturers that this will never happen.

46) So vehicle fire and rescue is the same in hybrids, example approach and stabilization, the only difference is the shutting down of the vehicle and staying away from the orange wires and connections?

47) What would happen if this type of vehicle was involved in an accident where the sheet metal had stripped back the wire insulation and the wires were touching the body?
The car will not become energized.

48) Are lithium-ion batteries now used in hybrids?
I have not heard of this as of now, but anything is possible.

49) Is there a visual guide such as those used to ID ACFT available for identifying hybrid vehicles?
There are some aftermarket guides that I am looking at to see if they are of any use. I will let you know once I receive them and look at their content.

50) Isn’t it true that the key fob does not need to be in the "SLOT" for the vehicle to function?
I have been told that even if the key fob is out of the slot, some functions of the car are still active (door locks, windows, etc.) until the key fob is out of the 16-foot circle of the vehicle.

51) Are the safety precautions the same on the new hybrid trucks and SUVs?
These safety precautions can be used on all hybrid vehicles.

52) What if the SE/SS key is somewhere in the car and we cannot locate it? Is there another way to bypass this system?
The easiest way is to disconnect the 12-V system. This will stop the flow of electricity.

53) What should be considered: amps or volts?
I am not an electrical guru, so I would have to check with my electrician to answer this.

If you have a question that was not answered above, please email Doug and he will gladly assist you with getting your answer. If you would like to see the archived webcast entitled "Identifying & Securing Hybrid Vehicles" please click here to watch it now. Also, take a look at more webcasts by going to firefighternation.com/webcasts.

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Comment by lutan1 on July 29, 2009 at 7:28am
Number 6 is an intersting one- over here in Oz, and I assume throughout the world, the consumer drives so many design factors, including labelling, label positioning, label design, etc.

What the consumer wants is very different to what the FD wants- unfortunately for us!

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