Car fires don't happen frequently, but when they do, it's a potentially deadly emergency. According to the most recent figures from the National Fire Protection Association, firefighters responded to 174,000 car fires in 2015—and car fires killed 445 people that same year.
Watch for these red flags
While some car fires occur in collisions, they are more often caused by problems with a vehicle's electrical or fuel system. Your best line of defense is to have these systems checked out at every service call. In between mechanic visits, look for these potential warning signs:
- Fuses that blow repeatedly
- Spilled oil under the hood left over from an oil change
- Oil or other fluid leaks under the vehicle
- Cracked or loose wiring, or wiring with exposed metal
- Very loud sounds from the exhaust system
- Rapid changes in fuel level, oil levels, or engine temperature
- A missing cap from the oil filler
- Broken or loose hoses
How to react
If you smell smoke or see flames coming from your car while you're driving, knowing what to do can prevent injuries or even save lives. It's important to remain calm—but act quickly.
Recognize that car fires can break out in places other than the engine compartment. They also can occur under the vehicle, near the wheels and brakes, in your dashboard, and even inside the car. In fact, interior fires can be among the most frightening because of your close proximity to the flames, fumes, and smoke.
The National Safety Council recommends following these steps if you're driving and a fire starts:
- Signal, and immediately move to the closest safe place to stop, whether that's a side lane or a median.
- Stop the car and turn off the ignition.
- Get every person out of the car, and don't allow anyone to go back to retrieve personal items.
- Move far from the burning vehicle to avoid the flames and toxic fumes—at least 100 feet—and also keep bystanders back.
- Call 911.
- Alert oncoming traffic if possible.
It's generally not recommended that you try to put out the fire yourself. Opening the hood or car doors increases the air supply and may accelerate the fire.
Once the fire has been put out, contact your insurance agent. If possible, take photos of the damage, and collect the names and phone numbers of witnesses. Ask the firefighters when and if it is safe to remove personal items from the vehicle. Have it towed to a repair shop for an inspection before attempting to operate it again.
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The information in this article was obtained from various sources not associated with State Farm. While we believe it to be reliable and accurate, we do not warrant the accuracy or reliability of the information. These suggestions are not a complete list of every loss control measure. The information is not intended to replace manuals or instructions provided by the manufacturer or the advice of a qualified professional. Nor is it intended to effect coverage under our policy. State Farm makes no guarantees of results from use of this information.