Quite a Cart!

In residential suburbia, it has become commonplace to see golf carts cruising down the streets. Many homeowners have invested in the alternative mode of transportation to conserve gasoline, save money by using less of it and be able to leave the family car at home when driving short distances.

In Florida, which should be noted has more golf courses than any state in America (1,200-plus at latest count), it has become increasingly commonplace. The trend, however, dates to the mid 2000s.

“Decades after they rolled off the links and into airport terminals, theme parks, and university campuses, golf carts and their heftier cousins, known as low-speed electric vehicles, are gaining currency as a mobility option in pockets of the United States,” states a 2015 Bloomberg article titled “More and More Towns Are Falling in Love With Golf Carts.” “Unusually, for a transportation trend, it’s older Americans who are on the cutting edge.”

A 66-year-old retiree who lives in The Villages said he owns two golf carts – one for golfing and the other for riding around town with his wife.

“We can get to all the rec centers, we can get to all the doctors, we can get to the hospitals,” Gary Search told CBS News in a 2015 article titled “Are golf carts the future of electric vehicles?” “So we prefer to cruise around in our golf carts. I take it home, plug it in, it’s ready to go the next morning. And off we go.”

When consumers “plug it in,” therein lies a hidden danger. The batteries that propel golf carts to and fro can turn into serious fire hazards and even explosion hazards if they are charged improperly. The reason? Batteries naturally release hydrogen, a highly flammable gas. The smallest concentrations of hydrogen – between four and seven percent – can cause a deadly boom.

“Golfers may not realize it but their golf carts could be ticking time bombs if they charge them inside a garage,” The Palm Beach Post reports in an article titled “‘The fire hazard no one ever expected’: The hidden, deadly dangers of residential golf carts.” “That’s because golf cart batteries, especially older ones, emit hydrogen, an odorless, colorless gas that is highly flammable.”

Palm Beach County firefighters have seen an uptick in such emergency calls, including one that destroyed a mansion in Addison Reserve Country Club. By the time responders arrived at the scene, the $1.9 million home was engulfed in flames. Fortunately, there were no injuries.

Palm Beach County Fire Marshal David DeRita told The Palm Beach Post that golf carts never should be charged in a closed garage.

“With hydrogen present, a problem could develop…by even touching the garage door switch or garage door light – all of which work off electricity,” DeRita said.

Here are tips to prevent golf cart fires:

  • Read and follow the instructions and warnings from the manufacturer
  • Only use the electrical cords and battery charger designated for the golf cart
  • Regularly check for damage to and / or leaks in the battery
  • Opt to set up a timer that controls when the battery is charged
  • Make sure a dual smoke detector / carbon monoxide detector is installed in the home

Also, the water level in the battery can play a key role in whether fires break out or explosions occur. Golf Cart Report explains:

“Some cart owners may make the mistake of overfilling or underfilling their cart’s battery with distilled water. This problem can trigger fires in a few ways. First of all, not adding enough water to your cart’s battery may make it run hotter and cause a higher production of hydrogen. And this combination may cause the battery to get hot enough to cause a fire, leading to a spread of damage throughout your cart. Overfilling the battery is not a good step, either, because this water may end up getting way too hot as a result. Others may make the mistake of adding non-distilled water to their cart’s battery. This mistake is common because owners don’t realize that non-distilled water contains trace elements of metals and other minerals. These items will cause a high level of sparking throughout your cart’s battery that may lead to damage and a high risk of fire.”

The National Golf Cart Association reminds those charging the batteries on their golf carts to 1) not smoke, 2) not charge the battery near an ignition source and 3) not charge the battery in an area without proper ventilation.

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