Car fires can arise due to defective car parts, poor vehicle maintenance and car accidents. If your vehicle catches on fire, you and your passengers are at great risk of suffering burn and explosion injuries. You may not always be able to prevent a car fire, but you can learn how to properly respond to one. Practicing good car fire safety, such as recognizing the signs of a car fire and knowing how to react, could save your life.
Prevent Car Fires
From 2014 to 2016, U.S. fire departments responded to about 171,500 vehicle fires per year. These fires caused an annual average of 1,300 victim injuries, 345 fatalities and $1.1 billion in property destruction. The leading cause of car fires is unintentional action, such as the neglect to repair a mechanical issue. Mechanical problems such as an overheated engine or fuel leak are behind most serious car fires and explosions. Proper vehicle maintenance can often prevent devastating car fires.
Keep up with vehicle maintenance. If a mechanic says you need to repair an issue that could potentially cause a fire, get the repair immediately or abstain from driving the vehicle until you can afford repairs. Driving a vehicle with problems under the hood can increase the odds of it igniting while parked or driving. You should also keep track of recent vehicle recalls. Defective parts have caused numerous car fires in the past despite proper vehicle maintenance. If your vehicle has a recall, take it in for professional repairs right away.
What to Do During a Car Fire
Be alert for potential signs that your vehicle has an issue that could spark a fire, such as sudden drops in your fuel or oil levels, extreme engine temperature changes, or the smells of gasoline or burning rubber. Catching signs of an issue early could help you prevent a car fire or respond to one before it gets out of control. If you notice these issues or see smoke unfurling from your hood, pull over immediately and get yourself and your passengers to safety.
- Turn off the engine. Leaving your engine running could feed the flames and create an even more dangerous situation. Pull over as soon as you can and cut the engine.
- Evacuate the vehicle. Get everyone out of the car and standing a safe distance away (at least 100 feet) in case of an explosion. Do not stop to collect any personal possessions. If you wrecked the car and the doors will not open, break a window to escape.
- Do not raise the hood. If you see smoke coming from the engine, do not lift the hood, as this could lead to more air fanning the flames and making them grow.
- Call 911. If you still have your cellphone, call the police and request emergency assistance to tend to the fire. Flag someone down to make the call if you did not grab your phone. If anyone has any crash-related or burn injuries, request paramedics.
- Be cautious with a fire extinguisher. If you have an extinguisher with you, only put out the fire if you have direct access to it. Only use a Class B or C fire extinguisher (meant for oil, gas and electrical equipment fires), as a Class A extinguisher for wood and paper might not work.
Stay far away from the car fire and wait for firefighters to respond to the scene. Keep yourself and your passengers a safe distance away from the burning vehicle – and out of traffic – until help arrives. Document your experience, whether you were in a car accident or your vehicle spontaneously caught fire. Take photographs or video, if you can, while staying safely 100 feet back. Documenting the incident and your damages could help an insurance claim and your car accident lawyer later on.