Home fire using a 120V Trickle Charger

Here is a post I made on the MyNissanLeaf. at the time of the Fire and just recently posted an update:

I am a happy Leaf owner, but wanted to warn other owners of the potential for fire at home. Purchased leaf 3 months ago and using the Nissan supplied trickle 110 V cable to charge daily. One night in January I awoke at 3am to smell something in the house, found the outlet used to supply the charge was melted out. The 2*4 studs either side of the outlet charred through. The affected garage wall is a shared wall with my dining room. When I inspected the wall after finding the initial burning, the paint on the wall was just starting to bubble up. Fire department got there quickly and damage was limited, but it could have burned my house down.

The circuit breaker did trip. Either the cable got too hot from the high amps it was drawing or a loose connection in the socket was to blame.

I ordered a level 2 charger and will install that on a dedicated circuit.

I called Nissan to see if they needed to check my car or trickle unit; they were very defensive and said its my house not the car and they didn’t need to see it. I am not sure if I can repair the trickle cable it is a little melted at the plug but otherwise fine.

Follow up…the rest of the story…

I thought I would post a follow up on how things turned out. All State insurance was great. Contractor has completed all repairs and we are about back to normal. Total cost around $10k. Cost to me was the deductible and time off work and general disruption. Now have a dedicated 240V circuit to the garage supplying a Clipper Creek HSC-40 charging station $550 + $200 for installation.

Nissan contacted me after picking up my initial posting on these boards; they inspected my Leaf, the trickle charging unit as well as the damage at my house. They concluded that there was nothing wrong with the car or charging unit and did not comment on the house wiring. As I posted initially when I called Nissan after in the incident they were not interested.

The electrician repairing my home confirmed that the wiring was to code, the circuit was a 12/3 wire, GFI outlet circuit with a 15A breaker. Connections at the outlet were screwed and not press fit. At the time of the fire the Leaf was the only item connected to the circuit. So the cause of the fire not really known but possible suspect, no evidence to suggest either is a loose wire nut or tight staple. I did not have a certified electrician check the outlet prior to using it to charge my Leaf – my mistake. It worked without issue for three months prior to the fire. Granted hearsay but the fire department officer who attended my fire said it wasn’t the first fire they have attended to resulting from an electric vehicle being charged.

When I bought the Leaf I had full intention of buying a 240V charger, however after a few days charging with the trickle charger we found that it met our charging needs and decided to stick with that alone. I know of two the Leaf owners – both aware of my fire still charging with the trickle chargers. I consider myself average consumer with average awareness; I live in an average house with average construction. I felt with the warnings and anything I may have heard during the purchase (I don’t believe I was told anything – I don’t remember either way) or on the Nissan paperwork did not represent significant risk.

Fundamentally I believe there are some issues that Nissan and other electrical car companies need to address.

• The portable trickle charging unit, and its handy case in the trunk, seems to me to be a portable device in case you need a charge maybe when visiting family on the other side of town or taking a trip outside the return distance and needing a top up while you are there. Well if it is, is the expectation that you have an electrician check every place you might need to plug into is impractical.
• It seems that the 12A draw over a long period of time is too close to the limit of home circuits. 12A is required to make the reasonable charging time, reducing it a safer 10A would make the charging time impractical and would not help sell the vehicles.
• Finally as an average user, I sort of read everything, but still did not really understand the risk, and I don’t feel I was properly informed. Manufacturers need to place larger more significant signage on the trickle units as well as specific instruction of the hazards in writing as well as dealer warnings. I cannot prove now but I believe that the warning label was wound tightly around the cable with an elastic band around it; so not obvious at all.

I am not looking to blame anyone for my fire, but I would like to make the hazard more public to that this doesn’t happen to anyone else. I think manufacturers should make some effort to communicate the hazard.

The standard 110volt outlet has a life of just so many disconnect/connect cycles. As it starts to wear the connection grows less tight. At some point in time it gets loose enough that good contact is lost and the connection gets hot. 12 AMPS is a heavy load for the average outlet. Replacing the outlet when it’s grip gets even slightly loose is good preventive maintenance.

Most of us have golf cart chargers and your experience should be noted.