What to Do (and Not DO) if Your Car Catches Fire

June 11, 2021

Car fires are not that frequent, to be sure, but you still have to be prepared for anything on the road when you have signed up to be a driver.

There were about 181,500 reported highway fires in 2018, according to Statista. That is low or high, depending on how you want to look at it. But knowing what to do should it happen can save lives or at least prevent injuries.

Being alert while driving can help you arrest the situation before it is too late because you smell something burning and react in time even before you see the fire itself. A car catching fire on the road is almost the same as a car breaking down as you drive.

What Causes Car Fires?

Some car fires result from collisions, but most of the fires are caused by technical problems associated with the car’s electrical wiring, problems with the fuel system or, in some odd cases, a cigarette left burning in the car.

If your car catches fire, do not conclude too quickly that’s it’s from the engine. Fire can start even from under your car, close to the brakes and wheels. Fire can start in your dashboard. Fires starting inside the car are most dangerous because of your closeness to the flames, smoke, or fumes.

Car fires are generally preventable if you practice the laid down safety measures. It would help if you always practiced safe driving and regularly service your car.

Who Is More Likely To Experience A Car Fire?

A new driver fresh from the driving school is more likely to experience car fire than an experienced driver. These inexperienced drivers are mostly teenagers, although even older people are at risk of experiencing the same.

How Can You Tell Your Car May Catch Fire?

There are clear potential fire warning signs to watch for. These include:

  • Loose wiring or any wiring with exposed metal.
  • Fuses that blow often.
  • Loose or broken hoses.
  • Unusually loud sound from the exhaust system.
  • Oil spillage under the car hood.
  • Unusual changes in engine temperature or oil levels.

So, What Do You Do When Your Car Catches Fire?

Should your car catch fire, remain calm. Why? If you are driving and the sight of the fire should shock you out of your wits, you are likely to end up with a bigger problem: causing a fatal accident. Trying to be calm is the only safe starting point.

Your car catching fire and starting to burn can be terrifying; seeing smoke and flames rolling out of the hood is something we should only see in the movies.

However, you still have to act quickly in your calmness:

  • Turn on the signal to alert other road users that you are in danger.
  • Move the car to a safe place closest to you outside the traffic, then stop. Turn off the ignition. With the engine off, there will be no more oil flow to accelerate the fire.
  • Get out of the car together with all the passengers. Ensure the children and the elderly are especially helped out as fast and as carefully as possible. Once everyone is out, allow none of them to return to the car to retrieve personal items. Order everyone to stand at least 150 feet from the car.

Why should you stand far away when your car is burning? It’s because the danger is not just the fire but also the accompanying fumes or toxic smoke that is harmful when excessively inhaled. The car may also explode, and the impact could be devastating.

  • It would be best if you stood where it is safe. In the confusion of trying to get away from the burning car, you or one of your passengers might end up standing on the roadway and get hit by a passing vehicle.
  • If it’s a fire you can contain, use a fire extinguisher. You should only try stopping the fire if you have been able to pinpoint the source and you are confident you can SAFELY stop it before it escalates.
  • Call 911. Do not inform the police and rely on them to call the fire brigade. Do both by yourself to prevent delays.

Things You Should NOT Do When Your Car Catches Fire:

  • It is best not to try putting out the fire by yourself if it’s out of control.
  • Do not open the hood if it’s the engine fire. Opening the hood will increase the oxygen supply that will strengthen the fire.

However, if you have a fire extinguisher, you may slightly open the hood and spray the fire extinguisher while standing from a safe distance.

  • If it’s a fire inside the car, do not leave the car doors open once you are out of the car for the same reason you are not to open the hood.
  • If the fire is from the car’s rear, do not attempt to extinguish it; just get as far away from the car as possible and call 911.
  • Do not try to operate the car before it’s inspected by a mechanic or your insurance company, depending on the magnitude of the damage.

Things To Do After The Car Fire Has Been Put Out:

  • Find out if your car insurance policy covers even a car fire.
  • If it does, you should contact your insurance agent.
  • Take the names and contacts of witnesses.
  • Take photos or even videos of the car. These will come in handy when you are to file a claim.
  • Check with the firefighters if it’s safe now to retrieve your personal belongings from the car.
  • Arrange with your insurance company for the car to be towed for inspection.

Wrapping It Up

When your car catches fire, your priority is your and the passengers’ safety. While you should do all you can to see if you can contain the fire, do not put yourself at high risk because a burning car can explode when you least expect it to.

While your insurance company will compensate you for the car losses if you have a comprehensive car insurance policy, the policy cannot recover lost lives or severe fire burns. That’s why you should aim to protect what is hard to recover if lost or seriously damaged: lives.

Pierre Paul Driving School is located in Brooklyn, New York. You can join us if you want to learn to drive.