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Tips and tricks for breakdowns with hybrid vehicles

For some years now, electric and hybrid cars have been causing a seismic shift in the automotive market, with enormous amounts of money being poured into their development. Nevertheless, they are still in the minority and not entirely harmless if mishandled.

We spoke to Roland Pfister, Head of Motor Experts at Generali Switzerland.


To what extent are hybrid and electric cars different to diesel or petrol ones in an accident situation?

Above all, more personnel and material resources are required when it comes to rescuing/recovering new types of vehicles with alternative drive systems, but also an additional understanding of the electric drive and the dangers it presents.


What are the greatest hazards in recovering a hybrid or electric car after an accident?

The procedures adopted along the chain of rescue are very different for electric vehicles than for those with petrol or diesel engines. The first challenge facing the rescue services called to the accident scene is to recognise that they are dealing with an electric vehicle so that they can follow the right course of action. The greatest risk when an electric vehicle catches fire comes from the battery. Toxic fumes may also be released. If the battery itself catches fire it short-circuits, triggering a chain reaction that can cause the fire to constantly reignite – not only during the accident, but also immediately after it or even days later. That’s why everyone needs to be fully aware of this issue when it comes to rescuing the occupants and recovering, transporting and storing the damaged electric vehicle. At present, the battery can only be cooled down using lots of water to prevent the fire from spreading to further cells. Once a cell has caught fire, it can no longer be extinguished.


Your tips for drivers of hybrid and electric cars:

  • It makes sense to have a rescue sheet, or anything else that helps to identify that this is a hybrid or electric vehicle, on board. In Germany, for example, number plates must be specially marked to allow proper identification.
  • When calling the emergency services, it’s a good idea to tell them that this is a car with a high-voltage system and to report the make, model or rescue sheet and registration number.
  • If the vehicle starts to burn, the driver and passengers must be rescued, the emergency services called and the scene cordoned off. And, as previously mentioned, you should let people know they are dealing with a high-voltage vehicle. But please don’t try to put out the fire yourself. Leave that to the rescue services.


There are five basic rules if you are involved in or have an accident:


The golden rule for the occupants of the vehicle is to keep calm. You should then take the following action, in the following order:

  • Check yourself for injury. Check whether you can still move your toes and (gently) move your head without pain or numbness. Now gently try to move your arms. Finally, check whether you are trapped in any way.
  • Check on your passengers. If there are other people in the car, ask about their wellbeing and get them to check for injuries in the same way that you did.
  • Turn off the ignition and make sure the current has stopped. Do a quick visual check for protruding wires (do not touch!)
  • Leave the vehicle, if possible on the side where there is no traffic. Wait at a safe distance for the rescue services to arrive.
  • Inform the rescue services that you drive an electric or hybrid car so that they can follow the proper safety procedures.


If the vehicle catches fire, poisonous gases will be released. The rescue services must wear protective masks. The toxic vapours can cause chemical burns, skin irritations and other damage to health. This is the case with all burning vehicles. Electric and hybrid cars bear the additional risk of electric shocks. A fire can break out not only during or immediately after the accident, but even a few days later.


What happens if a crashed hybrid or electric car ends up in water? Can I go in and help or do I risk getting an electric shock?

Even if the car ends up in water after an accident, neither the occupants nor the rescue services are at risk from electric shocks or short circuits.


The Motor Experts at Generali Switzerland are trained in assessing hybrid and electric accident vehicles. They know to make sure that the car’s power has been shut down and how to evaluate the damage without putting themselves in danger. After undergoing training on how to deal with high-voltage systems, Generali Switzerland’s Motor Experts have internalized the measures they need to take in everyday practice to ensure their own safety and that of their colleagues.