When Your Car Becomes a Fire Hazard: Why Keep a Damaged Auto Away

A car is a major convenience and necessity for many households, so you’d usually find one or two in each home. Old or new, they save time and increase comfort or give prestige and status symbol, particularly to enthusiasts and collectors.

If you love cars and are rather up-to-date with maintenance, you most likely know at all times whether your car is in good shape to be driven or not. You’re quick to spot signs of wear, hear odd noises, and sense all other warnings of damage. On the other hand, if auto maintenance is too bothersome and complicated of a task for you, then you might not notice right away that you need to take it to a repair shop until it’s too late.

While we don’t always want to assume the worst, a damaged auto can be a fire hazard in your home. Once your engine catches fire, it’ll hardly be unstoppable, given that you won’t notice it immediately because it’s kept in your garage. So think again before brushing off an oil leak; touching it alone can already burn you, so how much more will the damage be if it gets in contact with your other flammables?

The Dangers of Vehicle Fires

Vehicle fires emit toxic gases. The synthetic materials that make up a vehicle can release deadly gases when burned. Worse, carbon monoxide, the main lethal byproduct of fires, is odorless, colorless, and tasteless, so there’s no way for you to know how much of it have you inhaled when you’re near a burning car.

When a car ignites, the heat can stretch upward and reach 1,500 °F (816 °C). Note that the boiling point is only 212 °F (100 °C), and most foods are cooked at no less than 500 °F (260 °C). So imagine the extent of the heat damage a burning car will leave. And the flames can shoot out distances of 10 ft. or more.

Suffice to say, you may not be able to save any of your belongings when a car burns in your garage. You can use a fire extinguisher, but when the flames already reached the other parts of your home, it’ll spread quickly, and you’d need to vacate immediately. Plus, it’s not only the fire that can cause injuries, but also the shrapnel from the car’s broken parts.

Although relatively rare, gas tanks can rupture and spill flammable fuel. And in even rarer cases, the gas tank can explode and cause injuries without burning, such as when the battery acid spills.

In general, though, vehicle fires are fairly common. According to the U.S. Fire Administration (USFA) and the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), nearly one in seven fires involves automobiles, and vehicle fires account for 20% of all reported fires. One out of ten fire deaths are from vehicles, and an estimated 300 civilians die of it yearly, while 1,250 are injured.

Top Causes of Vehicle Fires

car on fire concept

1. Design Flaws

A design flaw in itself doesn’t cause a fire but could create conditions ripe for a fire or conditions in which a fire would be inevitable. Thankfully, manufacturers spot this quick and issue recalls, but it’s worth noting that every major automaker has recalled a vehicle already because of a fire hazard.

2. Poor Maintenance

Being lazy in maintaining your auto won’t automatically cause it to be a fire hazard, but like a design flaw, a poorly-maintained vehicle may also raise fire risk. Oil leaks and faulty wires are issues that need an urgent repair, or else the car will be a lot more accommodating to fire hazards. So inspect your engine regularly, especially the gasket. A blown gasket can cause the coolant to get into your cylinders and mix with the engine oils, disrupting the oil’s lubricating function. Total engine failure may occur as a result.

The coolant may also leak externally, making your car susceptible to overheating. And since the coolant is hot, trying to mend its issue without a professional could burn you or your auto, so entrust a head gasket replacement only to a pro.

3. Hybrid and Electric Vehicles (EV)

Although vehicle fires are almost always related to its fluids and gases, hybrids and EVs turn out to be a potential fire hazard as well. Shortly after the Tesla Model S was awarded the “safest car ever,” that very vehicle caught fire in 2013. Tesla took a pretty bad hit, especially because they’ve implied multiple times that the Model S was immune to battery-related issues common in older hybrids and EVs. But just because of a piece of debris that had hit the Model S’s battery while it was running at high speed, it had caught fire, just like any battery would.

Preventing vehicle fires mostly boils down to maintenance. Accidents can happen, but you can minimize its impact by diligently caring for your car and always prioritizing your safety. Once you suspect damage, enlist help immediately instead of waiting for matters to get worse.

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