Sensor in carpark explodes just like a bomb

Rachael Walker and her daughter Susanne Walker, 12, beside the parking sensor that exploded underneath their car in Strandon.
Rachael Walker and her daughter Susanne Walker, 12, beside the parking sensor that exploded underneath their car in Strandon.

A dodgy lithium battery has been blamed after a parking sensor exploded underneath a woman's car yesterday.

The dome-shaped sensor blew up at about 2pm in Strandon, New Plymouth, sending smoke streaming down Nobs Line and screams ringing in the air.

Car owner Rachael Walker was in a dairy at the time of the explosion. She thought a bomb had gone off.

"Then smoke started coming out from under my car.

"It was terrifying," she said.

The blast was caused by an exploding lithium battery, New Plymouth District Council customer and regulatory manager Mary-Anne Priest said.

"It's very rare batteries explode and we are all very shocked by it," she said.

About 1600 dome-shaped sensors were installed in parking spaces in New Plymouth last year, with the system costing the council more than $1.2 million.

The sensors detect a vehicle arriving in a parking space and send a message to council parking officers if the vehicle overstays or the owner doesn't pay.

Amanda Bryant, owner of Fish N Chicks in Strandon, thinks the whole system should be removed.

She also thought the exploding sensor was a bomb and rushed to hide from the blast.

"I shut all my customers in my shop when I saw the smoke.

"I'm too scared to park in a space with a sensor now," she said.

Lloyd Garrick, who was crossing the street at the time of the incident, said pieces of the sensor were strewn across the road.

"The car lifted off the ground with the pressure. It's lucky it didn't pierce her gas tank and explode her vehicle," he said.

Mrs Walker's 12-year-old daughter, Susanne, who was in the dairy with her mum, said she was thankful no one was walking across the parking space when it exploded.

"It could have killed a little kid," she said.

Council representatives called a tow-truck for the car, which was taken to a mechanic.

The car did not need any repair work.

When the parking system went live last year it attracted controversy, with people claiming it was difficult to use.

Since then more than $110,000 had been spent on maintenance for the system.

Ms Priest said the company that made the sensors, Smart Parking Technology, had about 50,000 of these devices, all using lithium batteries, around New Zealand, and they were only aware of one other similar incident.

The company had been contacted about the explosion and had offered to pay for any costs associated with the issue, including the towing of Mrs Walker's car.

"Battery failure is very, very rare and something we have no control over," she said.