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The rise of electric vehicles could lead to more parking garage collapses like the one earlier this week.
Structural engineers and regulators in the United States and Europe are calling on builders to improve the structural integrity of parking garages because of electric cars. The massive batteries that power them dramatically increase the weight of cars, and older structures are not built to hold them up. The complaints come just days after a garage collapse in New York City.
“I don’t want to be too alarmist, but there definitely is the potential for some of the early car parks in poor condition to collapse,” Chris Whapples, a structural engineer and consultant in the U.K. who authored new guidance on increasing weight limits for car parks, told the U.K. Telegraph. “Operators need to be aware of electric vehicle weights, and get their car parks assessed from a strength point of view, and decide if they need to limit weight.”
Whapples and British Parking Association structures group chairman Russell Simmons drew up new guidance for multi-story car parks in Britain that would recommend higher load bearing weights for the concrete floors of parking structures. “We have done quite a few inspections of car parks over the last six months, and some prove that the buildings couldn’t withstand the new EV weights,” Simmons said.
Electric cars are significantly heavier than their internal combustion counterparts. According to The New York Post, the battery of the new all-electric GMC Hummer alone weighs 2,900 pounds, roughly the same weight as a Honda Civic; the Audi E-tron SUV weighs more than 5,700 pounds, more than 1,000 pounds heavier than a comparable Ford Explorer.
The Telegraph report came just 10 days before a parking garage collapsed in New York City, killing one person and injuring five others. New York City Emergency Management Commissioner Zach Iscol noted that the garage had more than half of its cars on the roof. He also noted that electric cars complicate the cleanup operation. “There’s over 50 cars on the roof,” Iscol said, via The New York Post. “The building is not structurally sound, you think about hazardous materials that are in the garage, right gas tanks, fluids, further complicated by the fact that there are possibly some electric vehicles in that garage,” Iscol said.
The parking garage itself was built in 1925, and certified for occupancy in 1926, NBC News reported. It was certified again to allow “more than five” motor vehicles in the basement and first three stories; at the time, the roof was only certified for passenger vehicles. But the building had faced multiple building code violations in the 2000s because of cracked and defective concrete. Local news outlet ABC7 also reported that parking garages were required to undergo structural inspections and file reports by the end of the year, but the owners of the garage had not yet complied.
Whapples told The Telegraph that he foresees some car parks in the U.K. introducing weight limits. “We have height restrictions in car parks, why not weight,” he said. NCP, one of the largest operators in Britain, has already said it is making adjustments in line with the new rules, including placing EV chargers on the bottom floor, and making parking spaces wider to spread the load.