Everything You Need to know About Car Fires

Car fires can threaten lives and lead to damage to your vehicle. Learn how you can prevent a car fire, how to spot the risks of a car fire occurring and how to handle one when it occurs.

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Everything You Need to know About Car Fires

You may think that a car fire would never happen to you, but according to the United States Fire Administration, more than 200,000 vehicle fires were reported in the United States in 2016 alone. In reality, a car fire can occur at any time, regardless of your vehicle's make, model, or condition. Unfortunately, vehicle fires can lead to serious injuries and even death. This is why it's so important for all drivers to be aware of some of the common causes of vehicle fires, how to prevent them, and what to do in the event of a car fire.

What Causes a Car to Catch on Fire?

There are many potential causes of vehicle fires; some of them are easily preventable, whereas others may be rather spontaneous with no warning signs.


One of the more common causes of vehicle fires is that of design flaws. These occur when the vehicle manufacturer makes a major error in the design or building of a car (often in the engine design) that can lead to a fire under the right circumstances. In many cases, a recall may be issued for the vehicle if the issue is known to cause fires—but by the time a car owner receives the recall notice, it could be too late.


Another common cause of auto fires is a general lack of maintenance. Issues such as bad electrical wiring, leaky seals, and broken parts can contribute to a vehicle fire. A bad gasket on your car's engine, for example, can lead to the leaking of flammable liquids and increase chances of a vehicle fire.


Car crashes are another unfortunate but common cause of automobile fires. When a collision happens with enough force, leakage of flammable liquids could occur. This, combined with heat and smoke following the accident, can create the perfect conditions for a fire.

How Can I Prevent a Car Fire?

While some causes of vehicle fire aren't easily avoidable, most are. The key is properly maintaining your car. At least once a year, you should bring your vehicle into a trusted mechanic to have a tune-up done. During this tune-up, your mechanic can perform an inspection and be on the lookout for signs of problems that could post a fire risk. Some "red flags" a mechanic will easily be able to detect can include:

  • fuel system leaks
  • faulty wiring
  • overheating engine​
  • catalytic converter problems

The good news is that when these issues are detected early on, they're usually pretty easy and inexpensive to fix. 


In addition to keeping your car well maintained, it's also important that you stay up-to-date on any recalls or notices that may apply to your vehicle. If your contact information (phone number or street address) has changed since you purchased your vehicle, update it with the dealership and manufacturer so they will be able to easily reach you in the event of a recall.


If you do receive a recall notice on your vehicle, have the necessary repairs made with a reputable dealership as soon as possible.

What to Do in the Event of an Automobile Fire

No matter how many protective measures you may take, there is unfortunately always a risk that you could end up involved in a vehicle fire. For example, you could end up in a serious accident that causes a fire, or your car could experience a very sudden and unpredictable mechanical problem. This is why it's so important to understand what to do and what not to do in the event of a car fire.


Any time you smell smoke or see flames coming from any part of your car, the first thing you need to do is slow down and get off the road as quickly and safely as possible. Once you are safely off the road, get yourself and any passengers out of the car immediately. Car fires can spread rapidly, so don't waste time trying to retrieve personal items. Instead, move far away from the car and call 9-1-1. 


More than likely, passing vehicles will see the flames coming from your car and will avoid the area. Soon, police should arrive and direct traffic safely around your car as the fire department responds.

Are You Covered in the Event of a Car Fire?

Hopefully, you'll never experience a car fire. If you do, however, it's important that you have the right auto insurance coverage to protect you. Check with your insurance agent to find out whether fire damage is covered as part of your coverage. Often times, it will be if the fire was caused by a covered event (such as an auto accident). However, fire damage caused by arson or other factors may not be covered unless you have comprehensive coverage, so be sure to know where you stand!