Vehicle on fire

Tens of thousands of lives have been lost globally in the last few decades due to car entrapment deaths. In this section we will analyse the threat of vehicle fires and provide advice on how to act in these emergencies.

Data from the United States reveals the importance of awareness about this threat to safety on the road:

  • More people die in vehicle fires than in apartment fires each year in the United States where nearly 1 out of 5 fires involve motor vehicles.
  • U.S. fire departments responded to an estimated 278,000 vehicle fires in the United States during 2006. These fires caused an estimated 490 civilian deaths and 1,200 civilian injuries.
  • Of those fires, 75 percent were caused by bad maintenance, mechanical or electrical failures or malfunctions. Collisions or overturns caused only 3% of these fires but 57% of the associated deaths.
  • Older teens and young adults are age groups at highest risk of highway vehicle fire death.
  • One-third of non-fatal vehicle fire injuries occurred when civilians attempted to fight the fire themselves.

Nature of the threat

While explosions from car fires are rare, the true danger is the toxic fumes. Motor vehicles are made of many synthetic materials that emit harmful and deadly gases when they burn. A main by-product of fires is a lethal concentration of carbon monoxide, which is odourless, colourless and tasteless gas.

Fire can cause fatal or depilating burn injuries. A vehicle fire can generate heat upwards of 1,500 F. Flames in vehicles can often shoot out distances of 10 feet or more. Parts of the vehicle can burst because of heat, shooting debris great distances.  Bumper and hatchback door unit, two-piece tire rims, magnesium wheels, drive shafts, grease seals, axle, and engine parts, all can become lethal shrapnel. Fires may also cause air bags to deploy.

Hazardous materials such as battery acid can cause injury even without burning.

Preventing Vehicle Fires

Vehicle maintenance and inspection is crucial to preventing vehicle fires. The following suggestion might prevent vehicle fires:

  • Have your vehicles inspected at least annually by a trained, professional technician.
  • Check for any malfunctioning parts and hanging electrical wirings. Do not leave them hanging. 
  • Include a check of the fuel system in your regular maintenance schedule. Electrical and fuel system or problems are the major causes of car fires.
  • Watch for fluid leaks under vehicles, cracked or blistered hoses, or wiring that is loose, has exposed metal or has cracked insulation. 
  • Have vehicles inspected and repaired as soon as possible if exhaust or emission control problems are suspected.
  • An early indication of a problem is a fuse that blows more than once. The source of the triggered fuse could be either a faulty component or a wiring problem. 
  • Check for oil leaks and always use a funnel when adding oil. Oil spilled on a hot exhaust manifold can cause a fire.
  • If a filling station attendant adds oil, double check that the cap is on securely. This sounds obvious, but better to check than end up with oil all over your engine compartment at best, or an engine fire at worst.
  • Clean the vehicle regularly – Do not allow your trash to settle in the vehicle.
  • Avoid throwing cigarette butts anywhere
  • When driving – Be alert to changes in the way your vehicle sounds when running, or to a visible plume of exhaust coming from the tailpipe. A louder than usual exhaust tone, smoke coming from the tailpipe or a backfiring exhaust could mean problems or damage to the high-temperature exhaust and emission control system on the vehicle. 
  • Observe your gauge frequently – Check if the temperature is rising. 

Read full content on 

By ArriveAlive

Image by Ah_Riz_Ko/Pixabay 

Sharing is caring!

Uownit-SA is an online publication focused on collecting and publishing valuable and informed opinions from all the people of South Africa, published on the 15th of every month. Send us your views to

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *