Drivers rarely ever anticipate them, but according to Consumer Reports, car fires are more prevalent than many people think.
About 3 million Hyundai and Kia models were scrutinized by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) for their potential risk of catching fire. During an investigation, more than 3,000 incidents were confirmed by the automakers, who have agreed to comply with federal regulators.
Prevalence of car fires
Tesla's electric cars have recently raised concerns among consumers and safety advocates, as well. After a slew of pictures and videos documenting fires, a company spokeswoman referenced the automaker's Vehicle Safety Report.
The report concluded that from 2012–2018, the rate of fires involving Tesla's electric cars was one for every 170 million miles traveled. In contrast, data from the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) and the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) shows that there was a car fire for every 19 million miles traveled.
From 2014-2016, an estimated 171,500 highway vehicle fires occurred across the US, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Of the fires reported, 142,000 were passenger vehicles. This accounted for an average of fewer than 400 fires each day. During that period, approximately 345 fatalities and 1,300 injuries occurred.
Only five percent of car fires during that time were caused by collisions, according to the National Fire Incident Reporting System (NFIRS). Sixty percent of fatal highway vehicle fires, however, were attributed to collisions.
The more common causes included:
- Mechanical defects — 45%
- Electrical defects — 21%
- Misuse of flammable materials — 13%
How you can be prepared
In the event your car catches fire, Consumer Reports offers a set of guidelines to follow in order to prevent a serious injury or death from occurring. These include:
- Pulling over and turning off the engine to stop fuel flow.
- Get yourself and passengers out of the car immediately and get 100-150 feet away. Retrieving personal property isn't worth your life. The value of these items may be compensated by your insurance.
- Call 911 right away. If you can't call for any reason, ask another motorist to do so on your behalf.
- Only attempt to put out the fire if you have an extinguisher approved for Class B or Class C fires and you are doing so from a safe distance. If you're unsure which class of fire your extinguisher is designed for, check the label.
- Don't open the hood or trunk if you suspect a fire. This can increase oxygen, which can strengthen the fire.
- After getting out of your car, be aware of your surroundings. Make sure you and your passengers are a safe distance away from traffic.
What are the warning signs?
In many cases, fires caused by mechanical or electrical defects will give off warning signs. According to the NFPA, watch out for:
- Burning rubber or plastic smell
- Frequently blown fuses
- Cracked or loose wires
- Leaking oil or fluids
- Loose oil cap
- Sudden changes in fuel or oil levels
- Heightened engine temperature
While some factors in car fires may be unavoidable, the Consumer Reports article suggests doing the following to reduce the likelihood of a fire occurring:
- Get your car serviced by a professional mechanic on a regular basis.
- Ensure that all damaged wires are promptly repaired.
- Ensure that your engine is operating at a normal temperature.
- Only carry small amounts of gasoline and keep a window open for ventilation.
- Don't carry large gasoline cans or propane tanks in the passenger compartment.
- Avoid parking near flammable materials.
- When parking on grass, avoid contact with your catalytic converter.
Nobody plans for their car to catch fire. In many cases, an automaker or parts manufacturer placed a defective and dangerous product on the market. When their failure to properly inspect and regulate these products results in someone being injured or killed, they should be held accountable.
The Sarasota car accident attorneys at Farrow & Pulice investigate negligent car manufacturers and fight for the rights of injured motorists. If you or a loved one was hurt in a car fire, contact our law office to discuss your legal options.