Why do cars catch fire while driving and what to do

In addition to the technical parts, so to speak, a modern car has a lot of circuits and implicitly electric cables. Every day, a lot of out of the blue fires are reported on different cars worldwide, whether they are older or even new. So, in order to answer the question in the title, we must first know some important things regarding car fires.

Why do cars catch fire?

Well, here we are not talking about cases where the fire is intentional, but about pure accidents. Also from the beginning, it should be mentioned that only cars with factory defects, or those where very poor maintenance work was done, especially on electrical problems, can catch fire.

According to US Fire Administration a very high percentage of car fires, about 70%, have no connection with the fuel leak, as we think in most cases. The main cause of car fires is due to the inadequate isolation of the wires.

For different reasons, whether we are talking about an overloaded cable or we are talking about poorly placed wires in areas with high friction, the insulation will deteriorate and at one point, and they will short-circuit.

Most of the time, in the case of a short-circuit, the fusses give up and that’s about it. But there are also cases where all the conditions for a fire are fulfilled, and then the nightmare begins. For example, many fires start from the carpet and the plastic on the board. The cable is short-circuited, it is extremely hot and the fine fibers of the carpet are lit. Or, in the case of the onboard electrical installation, due to the excessive heat, the insulation, the insulating tape or the soundproof sponge, but also the adhesive are ignited.

However, why not fuel leaks?

Because every pipe, fuel tank, pump and so on, are strictly controlled before the car leaves the production line, and above that, are made of durable materials.

Most of the time, the gasoline ignites due to the use of cracked hoses, or the pump cap in the tank is not tightened, or a collar has been forgotten or the hoses have been pulled without being isolated in the friction zones with the metal parts. In time, the hoses, if not properly set, from the movement, begin to wear out. It’s enough to have a small hole, a leak, a fuel leak near the pump, so we have some unpleasant surprises.

Also, the driver immediately realizes that he has a fuel leak, either after a puddle found under the car, but especially the driver would detect the unmistakable smell of the fuel.

How do we recognize a car fire?

I think the answer to this question is quite logical: after the smoke, the smell, and the flames. But it would be best to recognize it before you see the flames. However, in reality, it doesn’t happen like in movies, where you see the car explode spectacularly. In the real world, everything happens slowly, in time, just like a forest fire.

From a small spark a plastic, a rubber ignites, and if not observed in time it will extend to the whole car.

While driving, the first signs of fire are felt, they will not be seen. We will sense the smell of burning, as in the house with the sockets, even if space under the hood begins to burn, it will be felt in the car interior. If, however, some elements begin to burn behind the body, it will hard to notice this, eventually, other drivers will warn us that something is wrong with our car.

Where does the car fire come from?

Even if we cannot indicate a particular place, most of the time this happens in the front of the car: under the dash, in the dashboard, under the hood or in the area where the air heater and the wipers assembly are.

There were also cases where the fire started from the passenger compartment, from under the seat or from the trunk.

What to do if our car is on fire?

  • In this case, at the first signs, we immediately stop the vehicle, remove the key from contact, we make sure that all the passengers have left the car, after which we take the extinguisher provided. We identify the problem and spray the contents of the extinguisher. If the flames have already started to appear, we spray them at their base, not at the top.
  • While the driver takes the above steps, if he is with another passenger, he must signal to other traffic participants to stop and give their own fire extinguishers, as most drivers have only low capacity fire extinguishers on them, just so as not to be fined for the lack of the mandatory legislative set, therefore more such devices are needed to extinguish flames, even small ones.
  • If we have the necessary mood, we do not lose our temper and especially if the situation allows us, it is advisable to disconnect the battery.
  • If the fire has reached some proportions and can no longer be controlled, then we have nothing left to do but to call 911, we will try to take our stuff from the inside and move away from the car, advisable far away from the car, in case of an eventual explosion of the fuel tank.
  • In order not to get in such situations, repair the car only to authorized mechanics and periodically check the electrical installations or the supply circuit, make sure you have the additional insurance for fire situations, buy a large fire extinguisher and install it in the passenger compartment to reach it faster in case of fire, and as I said, if you can’t control the fire anymore, step away from the car and call the firefighters.
  • if you manage to control the fire in the first moments since it appeared, you can save the car from total damage, therefore, it is recommended to act at the first signs of fire, even if it is only odor or little smoke, we must be prepared and have a good fire extinguisher, we must know exactly what to do and how to eliminate the flames, if, after 3 minutes, the flames have not been extinguished, and they grow, we can say goodbye to the car until the firefighters will arrive, there will be no great thing left to save.

Do cars explode due to fire?

  1. If the fire is located in the front, it is impossible to have an explosion;
  2. If the fire is located under the engine hood, nothing will explode; the fire will be maintained by everything that means plastic, rubber, hose or soundproofing insulation of the bonnet and will not extend in the interior, extinguishing by itself if the small extinguishers do not cope. In addition, once the ignition key has been removed, gasoline no longer comes to the engine, nor can the fire reach from the engine just behind the tank.
  3. If the fire is located in the passenger compartment or in the tank area, there is a chance that it will explode; new cars have plastic tanks, even if the fire does not reach it directly, due to the high heat, the tank can melt, all you need is a small hole to drain the fuel to get the fire there and ignite the entire contents of the tank, and suddenly the explosion will take place;
  4. Many people are frightened by LPG systems, believing they are a bomb. An LPG cylinder, however, is made of thick steel and has valves that do not allow the sudden discharge of a large quantity of gas; therefore, an LPG bottle will never explode, eventually, if the rubber gasket is melted at the supply hose, the flue gas will burn, like an industrial burner.

How to prevent a car fire?

  • the fuel system must not leak fuel when connecting pipes or fittings;
  • the pipe between the filter and the carburetor should be fixed by with the clamp to prevent its breakage due to the shaking
  • the fuel pumps should not be damaged and the fuel filtration screens should be clean;
  • the fuel tank should be provided with a well-secured lid and secured with a lock so that it does not open during driving, and the brackets for fixing the tank should not have cracks. Attachment of a second fuel tank to the vehicle, unforeseen by the construction, is prohibited;
  • the electrical installation does not have improvised connections, non-insulated cables, which can generate short circuits;
  • the voltage regulating relays should be tightly regulated and isolated from the outside to avoid short circuits;
  • the fuses of the panel must be standard (dimensioned);
  • the battery pack should be securely fastened, with lids on the elements and a suitable protective cover for the housing;
  • it is forbidden to leave textile materials (cotton, cloths) soaked with petroleum products on the battery;
    it is forbidden to leave the tools in the board lot above the battery, or in its compartment, which may cause a short circuit;
  • the exhaust pipe shall be in good condition, without defective cracks or gaskets (burned) and provided, as the case may be, with a site in use;
  • to supervise that all the installations of the vehicle are functioning normally and to intervene for the immediate repair if their faults have appeared;
  • to prohibit passengers from smoking in the vehicle;
  • do not transport in regular cars pressurized gas cylinders, combustible liquids, flammable, toxic or explosive substances;
  • not to leave the vehicle with the engine running and uninsured;
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