Fortunately, vehicle fires are very rare. However, this does not mean they can’t happen. Most vehicle fire incidents are incredibly hazardous and can become life-threatening, especially if you don’t know what caused the fire or how to deal with it.
Vehicle fires can happen for several reasons. Most of the time, it is caused by either human error, mechanical or electrical faults, or chemical causes. Other times it might occur due to a combination of the three. Once the car catches fire, it can quickly get mixed with the car’s fuel and electrical parts to create an explosion. Although modern vehicles are much safer, car fires continue to be a risk due to many electrical parts, batteries, and combustible fuel that make a vehicle functional.
For this reason, it is essential to study the various car problems that can set it ablaze. Below we will mention the most common warning signs and causes that can start car fires and how you can deal with them.
Vehicle Fire Warning Signs
Most modern vehicles start to show signs before the fire ignites. The most common vehicle fire warning signs include:
- Smoke and sparks from the engine
- Leaking fluid under your car
- A rapid drop in fuel or oil levels
- Rapid changes in your engines temperature
- Car fuses that blow repeatedly
- Spilled oil under the hood from an oil change
- Loud sounds coming from the vehicle’s exhaust system
Suppose you notice any of these signs while off the road, make sure you get your car checked by a mechanic ASAP. If you notice these signs while driving, you must pull over and turn off your engine immediately.
Top Causes Of Car Fires
An automobile contains many flammable materials, including combustible liquid like gasoline and oil and solid flammable materials such as electrical wiring, hose, and more. These materials can become potential ignition sources, especially when they have been in an accident or have other mechanical issues. Some of the most common causes of a car fire include:
1. Car Accidents
Most modern-day vehicles are well-designed with crumple zones that protect a car’s internal dangerous spots like its engine, battery, and gas tank in case of an accident. However, these metal sheets can only absorb a certain amount of force. When this amount exceeds, for example, a tractor-trailer hitting a small vehicle, the hit will likely damage the barrier and cause fluids to leak and spill.
Fuel leakage or spark formation in these spots combined with heat will instantly give rise to fire.
2. Electrical System Failure
Electrical system failures are the second most common cause of vehicle fires. A car’s electrical system isn’t just only present in the hood. Instead, it runs through the entire car. So, a wrong or loose wire anywhere could lead to a spark that can give rise to a terrible fire.
Moreover, the battery’s charging cycle can cause explosive hydrogen gas to build up in the engine. Any source of ignition near the battery at this time can lead to a fire. Even the current passing through the battery or starter cables can ignite hydrogen gas in the event of a fault condition.
3. Fuel System Leak
An average car contains several flammable liquids under the hood that can catch fire easily. Gasoline, for example, is the most corrosive and flammable liquid a car carries. Even a single spark near it that may have been caused due to a failed part of a car crash can make your car go up in flames.
4. Overheating Engine
This is an example of how one problem can lead to another. Car engines usually don’t overheat enough to burst into flames. However, an overheated engine can increase the temperatures of the fluids in your car like engine oil or coolant and cause it to overheat so much that they may begin to spill out of their designated tanks. Since these fluids are highly flammable, when they drizzle and spurt on various engine parts, they can land on other hot parts, where they can easily catch fire and spread.
5. Overheating Catalytic Converters
One of the hottest parts of a vehicle is the catalytic converter in its exhaust system. This converter is responsible for changing harmful exhaust gases into less harmful substances and requires a working temperature of at least 700-800°C. However, a clogged or overworked catalytic converter can quickly rise to 1000°C – hot enough to cause damage to the surrounding parts and ignite a fire.
Catalytic converters can be magnets for road debris which can burn the converter’s heat shield. A converter without a heat shield can quickly catch fire when in contact with debris such as plastic, paper bags, or tall, dry grass.
What To Do If Your Car Is On Fire
If you notice smoke or flames or a burning rubber or plastic smell from your car, you immediately need to do the following steps. These steps will help reduce your chances of becoming seriously injured or burned.
- Pullover to the side of the road as soon as possible
- Turn off the engine
- Get out of the car and evacuate all passengers
- Move back at least 100 feet away from the vehicle
- Call for roadside assistance or 911 if your vehicle catches fire