Too good to be true? It probably is. Brigade issues Black Friday e-bike warning

Firefighters in London are urging people to think twice before picking up a bargain this Black Friday, following a record-breaking year of e-bike fires.

E-bikes and e-scooters are the capital’s fastest-growing fire trend. So far this year, London Fire Brigade has attended 142 e-bike fires along with 28 blazes involving e-scooters. This is 47% more than the whole of 2022, which was also a record-breaking year. Sadly, this year has also seen 3 deaths and around 60 injuries caused by such fires.

The Brigade believes many of these fires are being caused by faulty or counterfeit products which are purchased from online marketplaces. This includes chargers, batteries and conversion kits for e-bikes and e-scooters.

‘If a deal looks too good to be true, it probably is’

Ahead of Black Friday (24 November) and Cyber Monday (27 November), the Brigade is concerned that consumers will be enticed by cheap deals, opening up the risk of more dangerous and unregulated products bought online ending up in people’s homes and on our streets.  

Assistant Commissioner for Fire Safety, Charlie Pugsley, said: “E-bikes and e-scooters are a significant fire risk and we’ve had more fires involving these vehicles in 2023 than any other year. They have destroyed homes and families have sadly lost loved ones in these fires.

“From our investigations, we know many of the fires we’ve attended have involved second-hand vehicles or the bike has been modified using parts bought online.

“At this time, there is not the same level of regulation of products for e-bikes and e-scooters sold via online marketplaces or auction sites when compared to high street shops, so we cannot be confident that products meet the correct safety standard. We understand that people are trying to save money, but if you spot a deal this week that looks too be good to be true, it probably is.”

The Brigade is urging people to buy their e-bike or e-scooter, the batteries, chargers or conversion kits from a reputable seller. It is extremely important to use the correct charger for the vehicle and to get an e-bike conversion carried out by a professional/competent person. Consumers buying any product can check that the item displays a UKCA or CE mark that ensures that the products meet UK and EU safety, health or environmental requirements. 

Lucky escape

Hayley O’Keefe and her family are still recovering after an e-bike caught fire at their home in Tulse Hill in August. The e-bike had purchased second-hand from an online marketplace.

Hayley said: “I don’t think any of these products should be sold online until regulation has been introduced. There are just no safety measures and anyone can sell anything.

We had a really lucky escape from this fire. We certainly wouldn’t have bought the e-bike from the online marketplace if we’d been aware of the risksUnless you know you’re buying from a verified or reputable seller and you can be sure it’s been put together properly, then it’s just not worth the risk.”

Phil Jenkins, Product Safety Lead Officer at London Trading Standards, said: “We advise to buy from physical retailers rather than online as it is safer. Products like e-bikes that are sold in shops should be accompanied by a declaration of conformity certificate.

“If an online offer online for chargers, batteries or conversion kits is too tempting, understand that you could be breaking the law by providing your e-bike with too much power.

“If you are buying online, only make purchases with businesses and manufacturers based in the UK.”

The need for online marketplace regulation

The Brigade believes that product innovation as seen in e-scooters and e-bikes has come ahead of proper safety standards. In a response to a consultation last month, the Brigade called for the Office for Product Safety and Standards to undertake urgent research into conversion kits for e-bikes to understand the safety of the product, and whether any specific standards need to be introduced. Along with conversion kits, batteries and chargers also require much-needed legislation to ensure these products are more strictly regulated.

Next week, as part of the Brigade’s #ChargeSafe safety awareness campaign, Deputy Commissioner Dom Ellis is due to be joined by firefighters and the Deputy Mayor for Fire & Resilience, Baroness Fiona Twycross, at the Houses of Parliament where the emerging issue will be discussed with MPs.

They will be given key safety messaging advice for those who own an e-bike or e-scooter. This includes using the correct charger and never storing or charging the vehicle on an escape route. The Brigade has also been highlighting the dangers of charging an e-bike or e-scooter unattended or whilst you are asleep.

Safety tips for e-bike and e-scooter users to follow  

  • Never block your escape route with anything, including e-bikes and e-scooters. Store them somewhere away from a main through route. Our advice is to store these items in a safe external location if possible, such as a garage or a shed. 
  • Do not attempt to modify or tamper with your battery. Always follow the manufacturer’s instructions.  
  • Converting pedal bikes into e-bikes using DIY kits bought online can be very dangerous. They pose a higher risk of fire. Get a professional to carry out the conversion and make sure to buy a battery from a reputable seller and that it is not second-hand.  
  • Check your battery and charger meets UK safety standards.  We have particular concern where batteries have been purchased from online marketplaces and when they’ve been sourced on the internet, which may not meet the correct safety standards.  
  • Watch out for signs that the battery or charger aren’t working as they should – e.g. if the battery is hot to the touch or has changed shape.  
  • Always use the correct charger and buy an official one from a reputable seller.  
  • Let the battery cool before charging. Batteries can get warm during their use and it is advisable to allow them to cool down before attempting to re-charge as they could be more susceptible to failure if overheated. If you are charging batteries indoors, please follow our advice on safe charging. 
  • Unplug your charger once it’s finished charging. Always follow manufacturers’ instructions when charging and we would advise not to leave it unattended or while people are asleep.
  • Fit alarms where you charge. Ensure you have smoke alarms fitted in areas where e-bikes or e-scooters are being charged and make sure they are tested regularly. You can quickly and easily check your home by visiting our free online home fire safety checker tool

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