Car on Fire: Common Causes and How to Avoid It

A car is a complex machine of mechanical and electrical components. Most car components work on friction, flammable liquid, and complicated electric wiring. Because of this, one of the most common threats in a car is fire. 

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According to  2018 statistics from the Fire and Rescue Department of Malaysia on motor vehicles that caught on fire, there were a total of 2,834 cases involving all types of transportation vehicles with 1,724 involving burning cars. There are many reasons for a car fire, the main cause would be negligence in complying with the maintenance and safety aspects of a car.

7 Causes of Car Fires in Malaysia

 The maintenance and safety aspects of a car are unique to your car model and make.  If you understand the correct specifications, it can prevent and reduce the risk of your catching on fire. Here are some other factors that might lead to a car catching on fire. 

car on fire

1. Petrol Leaks

Petrol leaks are one of the most common causes of car fires in Malaysia. Fuels such as petrol or diesel are vital materials that are highly flammable. Fires can occur if there is a fuel leak, coupled with the presence of oxygen and small sparks from the car’s wiring system that are loose or damaged. Fuel-induced fires are usually caused by the following situations:

  • Damaged and unmaintained fuel lines.
  • Fuel injectors that are leaking or damaged.

2. Electrical System Failure

Electrical system failures are also a common cause of car fires. Car batteries, for example, serve to supply electrical power to starter motors and ignition systems. Despite its small size, a 12-volt car battery is capable of producing hydrogen gas during charging and has the potential to cause an explosion. In other words, batteries and starter cables are able to carry enough electricity to ignite and cause a fire.

Apart from that, a broken light bulb can also cause a fire because the filaments of the headlights can heat up and reach up to 1,400-degree Celsius. If not repaired immediately, it could potentially cause a short circuit and fire.

3. Engine Overheating

Engine overheating is a normal occurrence that happens among older cars, especially if the owner neglects its maintenance. Overheating usually occurs due to failure or damage to the radiator, fan relays, radiator leaks, or damage to the water pump. Engine overheating coupled with flammable liquids found in the engine such as black oil, automatic transmission oil, hydraulic brake fluid, and coolant is a dangerous formula that can cause a fire.

The exhaust manifold (the passage where the exhaust gas comes out from the combustion chamber into the exhaust piping system) on a hot engine can reach up to 500-degree Celsius. This temperature is high enough to ignite a fire in the event of a leak in any part of the engine.

4. Car Accessories

Installation of car accessories such as car dash cams that do not follow the correct installation guidelines can cause fires while on the road. Installation that is not done properly according to the camera specifications can cause a short circuit and in certain situations, can lead to a costly repair. So make sure your car accessories are installed by an experienced technician as amateur repairs and installations can pose unwanted hazards that can be damaging to you.

Also Read: Make Sure to Have These Items in Your Car Emergency Kit

5. Dangerous Goods

Most car owners would not think twice about items that are stored in their cars. Did you know that some of these items can be dangerous and lead to your car catching on fire? Here are some flammable items you are advised to not store in your car:

  • Aerosol Cans

Typically, cans of hair sprays, deodorants, spray paints, and other similar items would feature storage temperature recommendations on the sides of the cans. This is because such cans are extremely sensitive to any temperature changes. If the aerosol can is stored at a high-temperature location (hot or cold weather) for too long, the contents in it can expand and potentially cause an explosion that could be the cause of a fire. If your car is parked in an open area, avoid leaving these items in the car.  

  • Lighter

Despite their small size, lighters can cause fires if left exposed to high temperatures in a car. Temperatures in cars parked in open areas can reach up to 60-degree Celsius or more and this heat can indirectly cause these small plastic tubes to expand, as well as explode, potentially posing a fire risk.

Although the probability for a lighter to cause a fire is slim, it is always best to be mindful. Avoid storing flammable items or liquids in the car especially during hot weather.

  • Electronic Goods

Smartphones are one of the necessities for many nowadays. Along with the development of technology, the use of electronic goods such as power banks is also becoming more widespread as they are used to supply additional power to smartphones especially during emergencies. However, if these power banks are not stored properly, they can cause danger and injury – if it is left in the car, there are chances of it overheating and exploding.

Avoid leaving a power bank or any other electronic gadgets including mobile phones, tablets, cameras, electronic cigarettes (vape), or any items containing batteries in the car as high temperatures can pose a risk of fire.

6. Smoking While Driving

The act of smoking while driving is a common sight in Malaysia. However, smoking in a car may cause a fire. You can probably imagine the scenario of a truck driver throwing cigarette butts out through a window but there is a possibility that cigarette butts thrown out of the window enter another vehicle which may collide with flammable objects and cause a  fire. Therefore, avoid driving while smoking especially if you carry flammable items with you.

7. Accidents

Most vehicles today are equipped with a crush zone that protects important vehicle interiors such as fuel tanks, car engines, batteries, and other risky components in the event of an accident.  However, depending on the impact of the collision and the situation during the accident, the crush zone also has the potential to suffer damage. Car components such as batteries and alternators are damaged due to an accident. For example, it may emit sparks and hit certain parts that contain flammable liquids that might have leaked and cause other car components to burn.

What Should You Do If Your Car  Catches Fire?

Car fires can spread quickly especially if the car is moving because of the wind that supplies oxygen for faster combustion.  If this unfortunately happens to you while on the road,  take the following safety measures:

  • Slow down and stop your car on the road shoulder.
  • Turn off the car engine and pull the handbrake before you get out of your car – the engine combustion system would still be running if the engine is not turned off, thus causing the fire to spread rapidly.
  • Remove the seat belt. If the seat belt cannot be removed, cut the seat belt using a multifunctional hammer.
  • Exit the car immediately or unlock car doors or windows for the rescue team or others to help you out.
  • If your car door or window cannot be opened, kick or break the windshield to get out of the car.
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a lid or cloth (if any) to prevent you from inhaling harmful fumes.
  • Once you’ve successfully exited, make sure everyone is at least 30 meters from the burning car.
  • Never go back to the car to get personal items.
  • Call the emergency line (999) for further assistance.
  • The act of trying to control or extinguish the fire yourself can be difficult especially if you are unable to locate the source of the fire. So, avoid trying to fan out the flames for your safety.
  • However, if you can locate the source of the fire and have a fire extinguisher in your car, stand at a safe distance to use the fire extinguisher.
  • Do not open the bonnet or boot if the source of the fire is there. The presence of additional oxygen can cause the fire to become more intense.

How to Avoid Your Car from Catching Fire?

Here is the roundup of safety tips and guidelines that can prevent your car from catching fire:

  •  Turn off the engine while refueling.
  • Avoid smoking while carrying flammable items in the car.
  • Do not leave flammable items or electrical items, such as power banks and electronic cigarettes, in the car especially if the car is parked in the open.
  • Avoid installing additional car accessories that do not follow permitted specifications.
  • Perform car maintenance according to schedule to replace worn and damaged car components.
  • The public, especially car owners, are also advised to keep fire extinguishers in their vehicles as a precautionary measure to prevent such fire incidents from happening.

How to Use a Fire Extinguisher

alat pemadam api untuk kereta / fire extinguisher for a carThe best way to use a fire extinguisher is as follows:

  • The fire extinguisher barrel must be used in an upright position.
  • Make sure you stand at least 1.5 meters from the source of the fire and not against the wind direction.
  • Avoid standing too close – the high air pressure in the barrel allows spraying of this powder to be done safely from a distance of 1.5 meters.
  • Remove the pin on the handle.
  • Aim the nozzle towards the fire.
  • Press the lever at the top.
  • Swipe the nozzle left and right repeatedly until the flame is extinguished.

Your Life Matters Most in Case of a Fire

There are many reasons why a car catches fire but in the end, your safety and the safety of those in the car matters the most. If you are not unsure of what to do in the event of a fire, make sure to leave your car as fast as possible. Do not try to reach for any belongings as that might slow you down. Remember that apart from your life, everything else is replaceable.

Also Read: How to Protect Your Car From The Sun

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