Preventing and dealing with a vehicle fire

November 3, 2015

Hollywood-style car fires are rare, but when they happen it's often not because of a crash. If you want to avoid dealing with this first hand, follow these guidelines to prevent or extinguish car fires.

Preventing and dealing with a vehicle fire

1. Maintenance is the best prevention

  • Arguably, the best way to prevent a car fire is to go for regular checkups.
  • Professional mechanics can diagnose issues, such as leaking fluids, before they become major problems. They can also offer solutions and make repairs.
  • Although it may be inconvenient and costly to deal with the issues now, such foresight can avoid damage and injuries later.

2. Be careful what you carry

  • Anything that holds flammable liquids, such as lawnmowers or chainsaws, can potentially cause a blaze, so be extra careful when carrying such items in your vehicle.
  • If you must transport gasoline, such as for emergencies, make sure it's in a certified gas can that is sealed. Put the container in the trunk and never inside the car.
  • To prevent noxious fumes from filling your car interior, always open a window for ventilation.

3. Carry a fire extinguisher

  • A fire extinguisher can prevent a small fire from turning into a major disaster. Look for one that's compact enough to put it within easy reach in the interior.
  • Because your vehicle contains different fire hazards, such as gas, oil, wiring, and upholstery, your extinguisher must handle all of them. Look for a dry powder extinguisher that is rated for use on Class A (cloth and paper), B (flammable liquids) and C (electrical equipment) fires.

4. Check for warning signs

  • Look around your car every time you fill up. Oil and fuel leaks, electrical problems, loose wiring, fuses that blow out constantly, or quick changes in engine temperatures and fluid levels may be precursors to a fire. Have these problems dealt with immediately.

5. During a car fire

  • If your car erupts in flames, pull away from traffic to an area that's free of anything that may catch fire, such as a bare shoulder or empty parking lot.
  • Stop the car and turn off the engine. Vacate the vehicle immediately.
  • If the flame is small, try your fire extinguisher on it. Otherwise, move at least 100 feet away from the flames. Keep passing traffic away from the vehicle.
  • Call your local emergency service and wait for help to arrive.
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