While driving on the freeway a couple of months ago, traffic was at a standstill. Now, this was not your typical 5 p.m. commuter traffic...Drivers had slowed down to look at a car sitting on the side of the road with 5 foot flames raging from its open hood.
A motor vehicle fire is one of the most dangerous types of fires you can encounter. However, FEMA believes that “the dangers of motor vehicle fires are often overlooked. Each year, these fires kill over 300 people and injure 1,250 more.”
Motor vehicle fires can cause toxic gases like carbon monoxide and other hazardous substances to emit from the vehicle which, if inhaled, can cause serious health problems. Flying debris and explosions are also possible along with severe or fatal burn injuries. Flames from a car fire can even shoot out distances of ten feet or more.
Motor Vehicle Fire Safety
When I witnessed that car fire, I noticed a couple of things the driver did to keep himself safe. Many of the things he did matched up with the safety suggestions from FEMA and the National Fire Protection Agency (NFPA).
Here’s what he did—and what you can do, too, if you ever experience a car fire:
- He pulled over into the breakdown section of the freeway (you can also pull into a rest stop).
- He got out of the vehicle and was standing far away from it (the NFPA suggests to stand 100 ft. away from the vehicle).
- He called 9-1-1 and told them the location of the fire.
- He didn’t have any of his belongings with him. He didn’t try to go back to the car to retrieve any items left there.
Some additional things you can do to stay safe:
- DON’T open the hood or trunk of the car if you suspect the fire to be coming from there (our friend on the side of the road didn’t follow that guideline . . .). Opening them let’s air in and enlarges the flame. Doing this could injure you.
- Once you pull over, turn off the engine.
- If you have a fire extinguisher in your car, make sure it’s for use on class B (a fire fueled by flammable liquids) or class C (a fire caused by energized electrical objects or circuits) fires.
- Make sure to use your fire extinguisher a safe distance away (5-10 feet) from the flames so you don’t get hurt.
Preventing Motor Vehicle Fires
In a study done by the NFPA, they found that “collisions and overturns were factors in only 4% of highway vehicle fires, [but] these incidents accounted for three of every five (60%) automobile fire deaths” from 2006-2010. The fire I witnessed started because of a collision, but motor vehicle fires can happen in other ways such as improper car maintenance. To avoid maintenance-related fires:
1. Have your car serviced regularly. You should always do this, but especially if you notice leaks, or if there’s a change in the way it runs.
2. Take notice of warning signs that your car needs maintenance to avoid fires include:
- Cracked or loose wiring
- Electrical problems
- Fuse blows (more than once)
- Oil cap not on securely
- Rapid changes in fuel level or fluid level, or engine temperature
3. Never transport gasoline inside the car itself where passengers sit. If you transport gasoline in your car, make sure it is in a sealed canister and keep a window cracked for ventilation.
Keep yourself safe on the road this year by following these tips. And while you’re at it, consider buying or making a Car emergency Kit in case of an issue that leaves you stranded on the road.
What else would you suggest doing to protect yourself from a car fire? Let us know in the comments.