What to Do If Your Car Catches Fire

May 07

Car fires aren’t a common occurrence, but when they do happen it’s important to know what to do and to react quickly.

Suppose you are driving along in your car and you smell smoke.  Unless there is a fire in the area, it’s important to consider that the smell might be coming from your car.  Car fires are often much less dramatic than in the movies and start with the smoldering or melting of wires and other car material.  Of course, if you do see flames coming from your car, it’s a pretty good indication that you have a car fire on your hands!

The first thing that you need to do is pull your car over to the side of the road as quickly and safely possible without endangering yourself or other drivers.  If the fire is in the engine compartment, continuing to drive will force air into it and stoke the fire.  In addition to the engine compartment, fires can occur around your brakes and wheels, under the dashboard, and inside the vehicle.

As soon as you can pull off to the side of the road, immediately turn off the car.  Get everyone out and make sure that they are far away from your car (100 feet is recommended).  Car explosions can occur, but one of the main reasons for moving people away from the vehicle is the toxic fumes which can be emitted from burning plastics and car parts. Next call 911 and describe your situation.  If it is possible, and your car poses a danger to other vehicles, try to alert others to the problem (you can use flares in the road, but don’t go back to get them from your car if it is unsafe!).

If you do have a fire extinguisher, and the fire is not out of control, you can try to put out the flames.  However, it’s critical that you know how to use the fire extinguisher ahead of time!  When your car is burning is not the time to start reading over an instruction manual!

Your extinguisher should be a designated as “Class ABC,” which indicates that it is good to use on any fire.  Ideally, this extinguisher should be near the driver’s seat, so that you can get to it quickly in the case of a fire.

If the fire is small and in the interior of the car, you can use your extinguisher or sometimes simply close the doors to cut off the fire’s oxygen supply.  If there is smoke coming from the hood, pop it but DO NOT release or lift the hood. Doing this can give the fire more oxygen and expose you to a dangerous wave of heat.  Instead, spray your extinguisher into the small gap created when you popped the hood.  If you suspect that the fire is anywhere near the gas tank (usually located near the rear of the vehicle), it is best to back away to safety rather than risk an explosion.

The safest thing to do is any case is to simply dial 911, wait a safe distance away, and let the fire department handle the situation.

In order to prevent a car fire from happening in the first place, make sure that your car is well-maintained.  If you have a fuse that blows more than once, it is a good indication that there is something wrong with the electrical system in your car which can cause a fire.  Oil leaks and oil spilled during sloppy maintenance of your car can also cause fires.  Other problems that can lead to car fires include:  cracked wiring, broken or loose hoses, and missing gas caps.  Although dramatic things like crashes can lead to car fires, the most common causes are problems with electrical and fuel systems—problems that could have been prevented by regular maintenance.  Make sure that you take care of your car so that you can prevent a car fire from happening to you!

 

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