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What to Do If Your Car Catches on Fire

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Photo: Tim Pierce

While some might list car fires in the “unlikely occurrence” category, this type of incident is way more common than many people think. According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), 18 percent of all reported fires occur in a motor vehicle, either on a highway or road. This same organization also states that 33 reported car fires happen each hour in the U.S.

With such a high statistic, it’s wise to educate yourself on some precautions you can take to help avoid this dangerous scenario in the first place. There are also certain strategies you should take to stay safe in the event of a car fire, in case one happens despite your prevention attempts.

Common Causes

To help prevent a car fire from starting, it’s important to understand some common triggers for this circumstance. Split fuel pipes and fuel line malfunctions are two primary causes of vehicle fires. Electrical systems can also catalyze a car fire, taking the form of incorrectly installed batteries, starters, stereos, or off-road lighting. It can also take the form of loose high voltage connections. The exhaust system is also another common car zone that can cause a conflagration. For example, sometimes when exhaust systems are repaired, the owner and/or mechanic fail to also replace the heat shield on the vehicle.

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Car MaintenancePrevention Strategies

The simplest way to help reduce your vehicle’s chance for bursting into flame: keep on top of your car’s maintenance schedule. Take your car in for a tune-up at least once a year, to catch mechanical problems that you might not have detected. You’ll also want to take your car in for service if you smell something burning or experience a blown fuse while driving.

What to Do During a Car Fire

Sometimes a car fire happens, even if you regularly perform maintenance on your vehicle. If you view smoke coming from the hood and/or smell something burning, put your turn signal on and pull over to the side of the road as quickly and safely as you can. Turn off the engine—this cuts off the fuel flow, which goes a long way in helping prevent a full-blown conflagration. Next, get out of the car and make sure any other passengers exit the vehicle, as well. Move to a safe place as far from the car as you can and call 911.

Photo: minthu

On Fire Extinguishers

Some drivers suggest driving with a fire extinguisher in your vehicle, which comes in handy in certain car fire situations. If the hood is emitting smoke but no flames, you can cautiously crack open the hood (just a bit, not all the way) and use a fire extinguisher from a few feet away. However, if your vehicle’s rear is emitting smoke or fire, don’t try the fire extinguisher method—instead, get far away from your vehicle and call 911.

By implementing these strategies, you’ll be equipped to avoid a car fire incident, and (in the case that a car fire does occur) you’ll be prepared to safely navigate this dangerous situation.

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News Sources: Safety 1st Driving School, Autoblog, Sun Valley Automotive