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Top Six Causes Of Car Fires

Updated on February 11, 2016

According to the National Fire Protection Association, vehicle fires account for a substantial proportion (about 20 percent) of all reported fires. They can cause significant property damage and serious or fatal injuries. The better you understand how these fires form, the more likely you will be able to prevent them.

Common Causes Of Car Fires


Top Six Causes Of Car Fires

  1. Electrical system failures: These are commonly caused due to human errors, such as the incorrectly installed batteries, missing heat shields or loose wiring in the stereos, high voltage connections left loose, short circuits, and airbag detonators, to mention a few. Since the electrical amperage required to run these accessories is much greater than in old days, so when an electrical short circuit occurs, a huge amount of voltage is unleashed very quickly, increasing the risk of vehicle fire. A standard car battery's charging cycle can cause hydrogen gas to build up in the engine bay, and the electric current in the battery can produce sparks along the faulty or loose wiring, that can ignite any dripped fluid or leaked vapors.
  2. Spillage of Petroleum-based fluids: There are numerous flammable fluids, such as gasoline or diesel fluid, transmission fluid, engine oil, brake fluid, power steering fluid and engine coolant found in the engine, transmission, power steering and rear-end differentials. If anything happens on any of their lines, hoses or reservoirs, any of them could catch fire in a moving car. Fires of this nature are usually caused by a build-up that has been happening over a long period of time. Once an oil fire starts, it is hard to put out. As the vehicle ages, the car oil seals dry up, which often leads to small and slow but steady oil leaks. These leaks over time accumulate and coagulate on and around the engine and chassis, left unattended, they can cause damage by prematurely rotting other engine and body components, and oil becomes an excellent source of fuel for fire.
  3. Fires due to fuel: The fuel injectors and pressure regulators found at the fuel rail are under constant pressure. They have O-rings that wear out with time and from the dry heat. Once a cracked or broken O-ring starts leaking while the car is running, a fuel drip or an active fuel spray will occur. If the fuel source comes in contact with an ignition source, such as spark plug wire or an ignition coil that has deteriorated with age and is sparking, an active fire can start any moment. Some fuel leaks drip a bit and stop. And unlike with oil leaks, fuel dissipates quickly and leaves very little residue. So a fuel leak can be easily missed.
  4. Accidents: Though most vehicles have crumple zones that help the metal sheet absorb the impact of a crash, an intense blow can spark a fire. The heat generated from the collision, combined with leaking fluids, increase the chances for a car fire. In most vehicles, the passenger compartment is protected from the engine compartment fire by a firewall. In accidental auto fires, the bulk of the fire is at least initially contained in the engine compartment but can later spread.
  5. Overheating engine and exhaust system: While the vehicle's engine is not likely to heat enough to catch fire on its own, it can be hot enough to make the vehicle's oil and coolant rise to dangerous temperatures. When this happens, these fluids spread throughout the engine bay, and onto the exhaust system that encompasses pretty much the length of the vehicle, creating lots of hot spots.
  6. Design flaw: This does not cause a fire on its own, but can create favorable conditions for a fire.

Red Flags:

  • Cracked loose wires or electrical faults.
  • Oil or fluid leaks
  • Oil cap not on securely.
  • Rapid changes in fuel or fluid level or engine temperature.

What to do if you see smoke or flames, or smell burning rubber or plastic

  • Use signals and indicators to make your way to a safe location such as the breakdown lane or rest stop.
  • Turn off the engine, get everyone out and move them at least 100 feet from the burning car and well away from traffic.
  • Do not stand in front of the car, as the bumper shock mechanism may eject the bumper.
  • Do not attempt to put out the fire yourself, but notify the emergency services.

Tips to prevent fire-related mishaps:

  • Have your vehicle serviced regularly by a professionally trained mechanic.
  • Never park your car where flammables, such as grass are touching the catalytic converter.


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    • peachpurple profile image

      peachy 2 years ago from Home Sweet Home

      i had seen a few cars burning by the roadside, could be overhaul