6 reasons why cars catch on fire, and how to avoid them

Arif · Jan 17, 2021 09:50 AM

A car catching on fire is an absolute nightmare because there is usually zero hope of saving the car. The car cremates itself to car Valhalla and no amount of money can bring it back to life.

Cars catch on fire for several reasons and most of them are avoidable. To help you avoid this terrible situation, we’ve listed out six reasons that cause cars to catch fire in the first place, and how you could avoid them.

1. Fuel Leaks

Gasoline is highly flammable. All it takes to start a fire is a little spark. Sources of fuel leaks include loose connections in the fuel system, old hoses, faulty seals, or just broken parts.

Q: How to avoid fires caused by fuel leaks?

A: Brand new cars should not have this issue, but always pay attention to the strong smell of gasoline

A dangerous leak from a fuel pump. Combine that with an electrical spark and you get fire. Photo: Oz Mechanics

If you suspect a fuel leak, the best thing to do is to stop your car at a safe place and to not drive it anymore. Tow it to a service centre to get the leak checked and fixed.

2. Overheating

Pay attention to the water temperature gauge. Photo: Your Mechanic

Petroleum gasoline auto-ignites at approximately 300°C, Brake fluid auto-ignites at approximately 280°C, and ATF auto-ignites at about 320°C. This means they can catch on fire spontaneously without a spark. 

In the event of severe overheating, those temperatures are very achievable. Combine that with leaking fluids, and a fire starts.

Causes of overheating include a faulty relay, a faulty radiator fan, a leaking radiator, or a faulty water pump.

In the event of overheating, allow your car to cool down first. It's not worth risking a fire. 

Q: How to avoid fires caused by overheating?

A: Make sure the cooling system is in good condition and pay attention to the water temperature gauge in your car.

In the event of overheating, stop your car at a safe place and let the car cool down first. Continuing to drive with an overheated engine will risk your car catching on fire.

3. Bad wiring jobs

Photo

Bad wiring jobs are a fire hazard. They can burn down houses and they can burn down cars. 

One way that a bad wiring job can cause a fire is a spark from a loose connection. Loose wires start fires.

Another way bad wiring jobs can cause fires is through current overload. Sometimes, when a fuse keeps blowing, a poorly executed solution is to replace it with a fuse of a higher Amp rating.

This causes current overload, which could melt the wire insulation and become a fire hazard.

Current overloads can cause fires

Q: How to avoid fires from bad wiring jobs?

A: A simple answer is to not tamper with your wiring system at all. Make sure there are no loose connections in the system and replace the fuses according to spec.

Use fuses with correct ratings

3. Poorly installed accessories

Taste is subjective, but poor installation of accessories can cause fires

Adding on to bad wiring, poorly installed accessories are also a fire hazard. The accesory itself is harmless but poor wire routing, bypassing fuses, and pulling too much current is where the problem begins. Stay safe while modifying your cars.

Q: How to avoid fires caused by poorly installed accessories?

A: Route the wires properly. Wires that rub against metal or hot parts will wear out the insulation and become easily compromised.

4. Engine oil leaks

Yes, engine oil does not easily burn. In most cases of engine oil leak, it only causes oil spots on the ground, and you lose oil.

However, when engine oil leaks onto the extremely hot exhaust manifold, it burns and could lead to a bigger fire.

Engine oil that leaks onto the exhaust manifold could start a fire

Q: How to avoid fires from engine oil leak?

A: Check for engine oil leaks. They are usually obvious.

5. Accidents

Some car accidents can cause fires. Photo

In the case of severe accidents, the fuel lines (or worse, the fuel tank) could be compromised and cause a fire.

Although modern cars are designed with this in mind and have very well-protected fuel systems, older cars may be at higher risk of catching on fire in the event of an accident.

Q: How to avoid fires from accidents?

A: Drive safely.

6. Bad design and build quality

The fuel tank of the Ford Pinto was easily damaged in a rear-end collision. Photo

As unfortunate as this may seem, some cars are just poorly built or designed from the factory and easily catch on fire. 

Famous cases are the Pontiac Fiero and Ford Pinto. The Pontiac Fiero leaked oil onto the exhaust manifold while the Ford Pinto’s fuel tank was easily compromised in a rear-end collision. The result is fire.

Q: How to avoid fires from poorly built cars?

A: Don’t buy the wrong car.

Summary

So, there you have it. Those are the 6 reasons why cars can catch on fire in the first place. They are mostly avoidable with the help of regular inspection and maintenance and being an alert driver.

There won't be much left after a fire

Unlike damage by flood and regular accidents, damage by fire is a lot harder to repair. As an added safety measure, you could also keep a fire extinguisher on standby in your car.

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