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What Are the Common Causes of Vehicle Fires?

Wilmington Car Accident Lawyers at Jacobs & Crumplar, P.A. Help Accident Victims Injured in Vehicle Fires

With over 170,000 highway vehicle fires in the United States each year, resulting in over 1,300 injuries, about 600 deaths, and over $1.1 billion in property damage, it is essential to understand how they happen and what you can do to prevent them. From poor maintenance to fuel leaks, a vehicle fire is rarely caused by one fact; instead, there are likely multiple factors that caused the fire, and most are preventable.

According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), one out of every eight reported fires involves a vehicle, with about 33 car fires every hour in the country. Furthermore:

  • Over 80 percent of highway vehicle fires involve passenger-type vehicles.
  • About 40 percent of car fires on the highway are unintentionally caused, such as an accident or carelessness.
  • About 35 percent of fatal vehicle fires begin in the car’s engine, running gear, or wheel area.

Car fires usually do not remain small and can become instantly uncontrollable. If you notice your vehicle is on fire, do not worry about what caused it, and get as far away from your car as possible, preferably over 100 feet.

Understanding what causes a vehicle fire may help you prevent them from happening. Here are the most common causes of vehicle fires:

  • Fuel system leaks: The most common cause of all vehicle fires, a leak in the fuel system is extremely dangerous solely because gasoline is the most flammable. Its temperature must be 45 degrees Fahrenheit or above to be flammable, and at 495 degrees Fahrenheit, it can ignite on its own. If the fuel in the fuel tank or the engine area leaks out, either by poor maintenance, impact, or defect, it can land on the boiling exhaust system. Other metal or plastic parts can ignite the fuel, causing a fire, and fuel system fires quickly spread throughout the vehicle. If you smell fuel in or around your car, turn off your engine, and have your vehicle towed to a repair shop immediately.
  • Electrical system failure: Electrical failures are the second most common cause of vehicle fires. There are cables, wires, and all types of electrical components in a standard vehicle, not to mention the vehicle battery, which carries a strong electrical current. Something as simple as a frayed wire or loose connection can start a small fire in your vehicle.
  • Spilled fluids: A car has many hazardous fluids, such as gasoline, engine oil, power steering fluid, brake fluid, transmission fluid, and engine coolant. Any of these fluids can catch fire if they leak out, especially onto heated components. Fires can also start following an accident; depending on where the impact occurs, hazardous fluids can leak out and can ignite pretty quickly.
  • Overheating components: Many car components get incredibly hot, mainly the catalytic converter and the engine area. Granted, these vehicle parts are designed to withstand such conditions. However, they can only handle so much if certain parts overheat and reach temperatures above their specifications. This could happen because of poor maintenance or defective parts.
  • Hybrid and electric vehicle batteries: One of the main concerns consumers have about hybrid and electric vehicles is their batteries, which, in a few cases, have been known to cause a fire. Hybrid cars seem more likely to catch fire because they also run on gasoline.
  • Car accidents: Although a car’s crumple zones are designed well enough to protect flammable areas in case of an accident, some areas can still catch fire depending on where the vehicle is hit. Following an accident, it is always best to shut off the engine and get away from the car immediately, as a vehicle fire may not be apparent.
  • Vehicle maintenance: Poorly maintaining your vehicle can lead to a slew of problems. Hoses containing flammable liquid and gaskets holding parts together deteriorate over time, and if they are not replaced, they can cause a dangerous situation.
  • Design flaws: Although fewer than one percent of vehicle fires occur because of design flaws, they can still happen. However, car manufacturers are usually on top of such issues and issue recalls before the problem worsens.

Wilmington Car Accident Lawyers at Jacobs & Crumplar, P.A. Help Accident Victims Injured in Vehicle Fires

You may be entitled to compensation if you have been injured in a vehicle fire accident. Our Wilmington car accident lawyers at Jacobs & Crumplar, P.A. are here to help. Call us today at 302-656-5445 or fill out our online form for a free consultation. Located in Wilmington and Millsboro, Delaware, we serve clients in Dover, New Castle County, and Sussex County.