Risks of Lightning to Automotive Occupants and Electrical/Electronic Systems

Paper #:
  • 2017-01-0061

  • 2017-03-28
Lightning strikes on automobiles are usually deemed rare, though they can be fatal to occupants and hazardous to electronic control systems. Vehicle's metal bodies are normally considered to be an effective shield against lightning. Modern body designs, however, have wide opening of windows, and plastic body parts are becoming popular. Lightning can run into the cabin of vehicles through radio antennas and hit the driver, as it happened in Japan last year. As the shark-fin antenna, which has wiring above the heads of occupants, becomes more popular, it may pose an increased risk of lightning attack to the passengers. In the near future, automobiles may be integrated into the electric power grid as people ponder about the smart grid and vehicle to grid (V2G) concepts. Even today electric vehicles (EV) and plug-in hybrid vehicle (PHEV) are being charged at home or in parking lots. Then automobiles are no longer isolated from the power grid and subject to the electric surge caused by lightning on the power grid. The charging system connected to EV/PHEV should absorb the surge. Powerful lightning can overwhelm the surge protection and intrude into the electric and electronic (E/E) systems of the vehicles, as it happens in household electric equipment. In this paper we discuss the increasing risks of lightning damage to automobiles. To demonstrate the risk to vehicle occupants, artificial lightning was generated by a 3MV impulse voltage source, and supplied to a test vehicle of conventional metal body. The artificial lightning hit the vehicle ceiling, rod and shark-fin antennas, and arcing in the cabin was observed. To evaluate the impact on vehicle E/E systems, the surge voltage induced in the vehicle's metal body, which is often used as the ground return, was measured. For theoretical analysis a metal box that mimics an automotive body was also tested with an impulse voltage generator and the induced surge voltage was measured. The experimental results are not comprehensive, but should provide some insight for lightning risk management of modern automobiles.
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