Car fires: Dos and don’ts

Fire is a very real threat when you’re driving a car. There have been many incidents reported in the past few year, across car brands, where many have been trapped in burning cars and not survived. The thing is, it is quite easy to ensure your car doesn’t catch fire accidentally, but in the unfortunate event that it does, we’ll give you some tips to ensure your safety.

Causes of car fires

While some car fires could be caused due to unforeseen circumstances like an accident of some sort, most of the primary causes of car fires are internal – related to the car itself. Here are some things that you need to ensure to prevent a fire in a car.

Here is a checklist of things to prevent a car fire in the first place:

  • Do ensure regular checks and proper service of the car so that there are no loose connections or exposed wiring in the car, especially around the battery.
  • Do check the proper functioning of the cigarette lighter (if equipped) in your car, as in many cases these push-in lighters get jammed, overheat and start a fire in the car.
  • Don’t smoke! Well, that’s an obvious fire hazard. But if you are a smoker ensure you keep the lighter or match boxes safely out of the way and avoid lighting up when you are driving.
  • Don’t get unauthorized accessories installed. All accessories such as additional lights, music systems and central locking mechanisms should be installed by authorized personnel and with the use of proper plug-in, snap-fit connectors. Cutting and splicing wires and doing a shoddy job of insulating them with tape is an obvious fire hazard.
  • Do not carry inflammable material in the car like a spare can of petrol or domestic LPG cylinders in the car
  • Do not keep spray cans in a car that’s parked in the sun. Many of these cans of lubricant, dashboard polish or even deodorants have inflammable material in them and are under pressure. When kept in the hot sun, these cans can explode and start a fire in a parked car.
  • When a car is being repaired or if you are making electrical connections, it is best to ensure that the battery is first disconnected, as sparks in the engine bay could ignite petrol fumes.
  • Also check for fuel leaks in the engine, near the fuel pump, injectors and along the fuel lines and don’t ignore them.
  • If you drive a CNG- or LPG-powered car do ensure the cylinder meets all compliance norms and is regularly checked.
  • Stay alert. Most times, there’s always smoke before a fire. Pull up and check the moment you get any kind of burning smell.

What to do if your car catches fire?

Sometimes even the best precautions may not be able to prevent a fire. In the unfortunate event you do have a car fire, here’s what you should do.

  • Your first concern should be occupant safety. Your car is covered by insurance so don’t worry too much about it, and while your life too may be covered by insurance, you won’t be the one collecting it!
  • Keep a fire extinguisher handy. These days you get spray-can fire extinguishers filled with halon gas that can fight multiple types of fires – oil fires and electrical fires.
  • Keep a life hammer in the car. A life hammer is a tool that has a pointed hammer at one end to break glass and a seat belt cutter at the other end to quickly free trapped occupants.
  • In many cases of fire, people have perished ostensibly because the central locking system jammed – and it’s quite possible that could happen in a panic situation. Also with many door handles being made of plastic, a fire will quickly melt them, rendering them useless. In such cases, bashing out the windows is the only way out.
  • If you don’t have a life hammer, keep the wheel spanner or similar heavy tool right next to the driver’s seat or in the door pocket.
  • To extinguish a small fire, you can use a regular fire extinguisher. If it is an electrical fire, you could douse the flames with sand or water. But if it is an oil fire, water will make it worse and spread the fire. In such cases, sand would be better. However, if the fire is raging out of control, don’t try saving the car, save yourself!

Do share any experiences you’ve had with a car catching fire and any more tips you have for the community. Also read: Brake failure! How to stop a car with no brakes