Car Fires and How To Prevent Them

We often see cars in movies burst into flames after an accident or after being shot. Even in Singapore, we see occasional reports of cars or trucks going up in smoke. It may seem that cars can go up in flames easily if the driver is not careful, or after getting involved in an accident. 

The question is how often do car crashes result in a car fire? The myth is that there can be many causes of a car fire, and we have to always be on the lookout. This may be the case in the past, but nowadays modern vehicles are more advanced, better designed and safer. 

According to ValueChampion, over the past few years, the overall average number of car fires in Singapore has hovered around 208 cases per year. Between 2011 and 2017, car fires made up 4-6% of all reported fire cases. 

This makes motor vehicle fires one of the top reported incidents of all non-building fire accidents. If the number of cars in Singapore remain around the current 7 year average of 613,000, the chances of your car catching fire in a given year would be 0.03%, which would increase to 1% over the course of 30 years.

Some of the top causes of vehicle fires include : 

1. Design Flaw

A design flaw in a vehicle usually isn't going to cause a car fire on its own, because there's no on/off switch for lighting a vehicle ablaze. Design flaws, however, can make conditions really ripe for a fire, and sometimes even create conditions in which an eventual fire is inevitable. 

Usually, the manufacturers catch on to these situations before incidents become widespread. They issue recalls to get the dangerous cars off the roads and fix the problems, because no carmaker wants to be known for combusting its customers. (*ahem* Samsung *ahem*)  

Like all automobile fires, a design flaw is only the first step leading to a blaze. Not all design flaws result in a fire, but any number of problems can make a fire a lot more likely. 

2. Poor Maintenance 

If you're sloppy about your car maintenance, your car is going to be a lot more dangerous, in general, and the increased likelihood of a car fire is just part of the greater risks you're taking. 

Forgetting or neglecting to properly take care of your car can indirectly lead to a fire. That's because if you let broken parts, leaky seals, or faulty wiring go without repairs, it'll make your car a lot more hospitable to the conditions that cause a fire (heat, fuel and oxygen). For example, Frayed wiring is more likely to spark and make contact with flammable materials.

3. Traffic Accidents

Depending on the impact site, a car crash can spark a car fire. Most vehicles' crumple zones are designed pretty well, so the sheet metal absorbs the force of a blow and protects internal, dangerous spots like the engine, the battery and even the fuel tank. 

But like most materials, an impact hard enough can cause fuel or fluid leaks and spillage, as well as heat and smoke. And, as we all know, high heat and spilled fluids create perfect conditions for a fire. 

Since it's hard for the occupants of a crashed vehicle to see the extent of the damage while they're still inside, the threat of a fire might not be immediately apparent. However, it's always best to get away from a damaged car as soon as possible. 

How to Prevent Car Fires

While there is no way to completely eliminate the probability of your car catching fire, there are steps you can take to reduce the risk. 

1. Drive Safely

Didn’t expect that this would be the first step, did you? ;) 

By not driving recklessly, you not only reduce the risk for yourself but also your co-passengers. As we mentioned earlier, car crashes can cause cars to go up in flames.

2. Be careful while installing aftermarket products

In the US, several car fires have been traced back to poorly installed aftermarket products. At the forefront are stereo systems, and we Singaporeans love a good stereo system for our cars. 

While installing a stereo system is no issue, such installations will create a network of wires that run the length and breadth of your car and even a simple crack in the wiring exposes it to potential inflammables.

Always hire a professional mechanic to assess that the installations have been completed satisfactorily, and ensure that the product you are buying are not cheap knockoffs that come from some questionable factory in China.

Also, let your insurance company know about any aftermarket products or modifications that you may have carried out to your car to ensure that your car insurance is still valid and covered.

3. Maintain your car regularly

Periodic preventive maintenance is the easiest way to avoid a mechanical or electrical car fire. Not only that, it will also help you save on expensive repairs down the road (pay close attention to the fuel lines).

So, check closely for fuel injectors gone bad or a cracked fuel line that can leech fuel into a hot engine compartment. The older your vehicles, the higher the chances of these occurring are. Along with this, check your coolant, brake fluid, engine oil, power steering fluid and coolant levels.

4. Check your car’s battery

Fuel lines or faulty wiring are not the only possible causes of a car fire. A battery that has not been maintained properly can also turn into a potential fire hazard. A spark or a ruptured battery in your engine can cause a fire.

The constant charging cycles of the battery release hydrogen which when clubbed with the inflammable liquids in your engine and the electric current of the battery can easily spark a fire. Thankfully, maintaining a battery is easy. Just ensure that there are no leaks, check for any buildup near the battery contacts and keep a battery cleaning brush handy. - 

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