March 3, 2022

What Should I Do if My Car Catches on Fire?

Car Fire

Car fires are more common than you might realize. More than 181,000 car fires were reported in 2018, which breaks down to about 33 car fires every hour.

Car fires are potentially very dangerous. If you are trapped in a burning vehicle, the potential for death is very high. Car fires can inflict highly painful and costly personal injury, cause paralysis, and may result in death.

Even if the fire does not kill, the smoke and fumes that it creates could. A passenger cabin is relatively small and very quickly could fill with smoke and fumes that overwhelm you while depriving you of oxygen.

Quick Action Could Save Lives

If any vehicle that you are driving catches fire, you need to pull over, shut off the engine, and get out. If you have passengers, you should do your best to ensure they also make it out as safely as possible.

A fire extinguisher could help to put out any fire, but most people do not carry one inside their personal vehicles. If you do have one, it is important to not open the hood to use the extinguisher.

Opening the hood could let in more oxygen and cause a small fire to become a big one. Instead, you should use the inside lever that loosens the hood and then spray the extinguisher through the small opening. You also could spray from underneath the wheel wells and the front end.

If you do not have and extinguisher, once you are outside the vehicle, you need to get far away from it. A burning vehicle could combust if the fuel in the tank catches fire.

Also, a call to 911 is in order. The local fire department can ensure the vehicle fire is put out without endangering others.

Common Causes of Vehicular Fires

Most vehicle fires are caused by mechanical problems in the engine bay. An internal combustion engine has hot exhaust manifolds, electrical wiring and systems with wires, and combustible fuel. That is a perfect recipe for vehicular fire.

A car accident could be an obvious cause of a car fire. Other than a collision, the most common causes of car fires are:

  • Bad electrical connection
  • Fuel leak
  • Leaking fluids
  • Defective part
  • Defective design

Brake fluid is highly flammable, and oil is combustible. If a bad brake line causes fluid to contact a hot brake rotor or the catalytic converter, a flash fire might occur.

An oil leak might cause motor oil to leak onto an exhaust manifold and combust. A defective fuel line could cause fuel to spray onto a hot surface or become exposed to a faulty electrical wire or connection and catch fire.

There are many potential causes for engine fires and other vehicle fires while driving. If a fire does occur, fast action could save lives.

Signs Your Vehicle Might Be Fire Prone

If you are an attentive driver, you might notice signs that indicate a vehicle is fire prone. When signs show themselves, you can address the underlying mechanical causes and greatly reduce the possibility of a vehicle fire.

If your car has fuses that continually blow, there is a short in the electrical system. That short might cause a spark or heat up and create a fire hazard. Loose, dry-rotted, or cracked electrical wiring also could cause shorts and sparks that are fire hazards.

A missing oil cap on the engine and oil pooled up after a sloppy oil change service might lead to oil leaking onto a hot surface. And any sign of an engine heating up too quickly could be cause for concern.

Insurance Might Not Cover the Damages

If your vehicle catches fire for any reason other than another motorist running into it, your auto insurance policy might not cover the damages. If you carry state minimums for legal auto insurance protection, you do not have fire protection for your car.

However, if you have comprehensive coverage, that could include insurance protection for your vehicle. Comprehensive coverage protects against damages caused by accidents that do not arise from a collision. It even covers vandalism.

However, an insurer might try to deny a valid claim for insurance coverage. An insurer might say you were negligent in maintaining the vehicle or otherwise created the conditions that led to the vehicle fire.

Potential Third-Party Liability for Vehicular Fires

If the car you are driving or riding in catches fire and causes you to suffer injuries, the vehicle’s owner could be liable for damages. So could anyone who might have worked on the vehicle and negligently created a fire hazard.

A car rental service, taxi, or ride-hailing service might use a fire-prone vehicle. If it catches fire because of negligent maintenance or repairs by the owners, the business and vehicle owner might be liable for damages.

A driver for a ride-hailing service could be liable for using a defective vehicle. The ride-hailing service also could be liable as the entity for whom the driver is providing customers with paid rides.

A faulty part or a defective vehicle design also might be subject to third-party liability. A defective part could lead to liability claims against the manufacturer, distributor, or a business that might have installed the defective part.

Possible Automaker Liability for Vehicle Fires

Sometimes, a poor design might lead to increased fire risk. The Ford Pinto infamously was prone to catching fire if rear-ended in a collision. A fuel tank placed in the rear was prone to rupturing during a collision and led to many deaths and catastrophic injuries.

Ford eventually redesigned the Pinto to correct the problem of the exposed fuel tank. But the automaker was liable for damages and successfully sued in court.

More recently, fire claims have led to widespread recalls of Kia and Hyundai SUVs and cars that some owners said suddenly caught fire. The automakers recalled almost three million vehicles to correct potential manufacturer defects that created a potential fire hazard.

Automaker recalls are strong indicators of a faulty part or design defect creating a potential fire hazard. The fire hazard often comes from fuel delivery systems with defective parts or design flaws that cause parts to fail.

Montgomery County Car Accident Lawyers at Anthony C. Gagliano III, P.C., Help Clients in Vehicle Fires

If you are injured in a vehicle fire, the Montgomery County car accident lawyers at Anthony C. Gagliano III, P.C., can help. Our experienced legal team will investigate the cause of the accident and hold liable parties accountable. Call us at 267-861-7100 or visit our website to set up a free consultation. Located in Philadelphia and King of Prussia, we serve clients in Philadelphia, Montgomery County, Delaware County, Bucks County, Chester County, and Norristown.