NEW TECHNOLOGY MEANS SPECIAL TOOLS AND MORE SAFETY
(Article published in Automotive Innovations magazine, March 2023)
By Éric Descarries
Technology moves at an even faster pace than we thought possible in the automotive world. Consequently, the advent of the all-electric or hybrid electric car (or truck), one of the most surprising technologies to evolve so rapidly, is also one of the most important factors to consider as far as safety in shops and garages is concerned.
Indeed, in the last few years, we have seen not only newer tools arriving in shops but also more stringent safety rules. Yet, the electric car is pushing these requirements even further. New technology means new and special tools and even more safety.
As far as tools are concerned, what is on the market right now is generally adequate. However, many tool manufacturers are creating insulated tools to avoid any spark or short that could cause incredible accidents when technicians are working with high-voltage electricity found in electric or hybrid-electric cars and trucks. There are several factors that can lead to risky situations. But are insulated tools the only safe solution?
Recently, McLaren Montréal, an exotic car dealership, held an open-house event where the all-new Artura hybrid-electric supercar was featured. At the same time, we were given some safety lessons concerning work on high-voltage hybrid cars.
Obviously, well before specialized tools, proper training definitely is the first item toward EV safety. McLaren Montréal’s specialized technician Chris Reeves first showed us what McLaren cars require for a safe working area, which is a safety perimeter setting off the working stall keeping away non-specially trained personnel who could come near dangerous areas.
The first thing the technician must do is to disconnect the main power to the electrical components. There is a specific switch or contact (each brand of car has its own) that the technician must deactivate before beginning any operation. This will cut those elements off from the battery and that, in many cases, will reduce the need for specially isolated tools.
On the other hand, if there is still some electrical power in the vehicle, Chris showed us specific gloves that must be changed after a certain time. These gloves come from a specialized company that keeps track of the gloves’ efficiency requiring that they be returned after a certain date to be exchanged. Also, McLaren asks its technicians to wear a hard hat with a clear shield to protect the eyes in case of a flash spark.
Working on an electric car or truck should not be, according to Chris, more dangerous than working on any other car as long as the safety rules are followed. At McLaren, those rules are dictated by the British manufacturer. Yet, accidents might still happen. And for that, the Laval-based dealership has unique tools like a large hook to grab a technician who might have been caught in an electrical accident. On the other hand, as work is being performed, Chris operates with specific warning signs to indicate if some wires or components are “live” (in this case, they would be red) or “insulated” (orange).
EV dedicated stall
At McLaren Montreal, there is a stall in the garage dedicated to maintenance on electric or hybrid cars such as the Artura. In other words, tools for that specific work are kept in a specific area not to be “contaminated.” Obviously, the new Artura, like any other hybrid-electric or all-electric car, has an easily reachable “kill switch” under the hood where firefighters can cut off power in case of an accident.
Although working on electric or hybrid vehicles would appear at first glance to be a dangerous job, that is not actually the case. It’s just that most auto manufacturers take the health and safety of their employees seriously by imposing strict rules. Eventually, all these safety notices should be applied to all automotive shops dealing with hybrid-electric or electric vehicles, even if they are not their mainstream business.