Fuel System Leaks
Leaks in the fuel system are the most common cause of vehicle fires, so that's why they take the top spot on our list [source: Chandler Law Group]. As we've already seen, any number of complicating factors can cause a fuel leak, but they're tricky because fuel leaks can also arise on their own and with very little warning. A fuel system leak is really dangerous. We've already discussed that a lot of a car's fluids have corrosive, poisonous and flammable properties, but gasoline is among the worst. Gasoline at a temperature of just 45 degrees Fahrenheit (7.2 degrees Celsius) or above can quickly catch fire from a simple spark. It happens all the time in a running car, after all, but it's contained by the engine. And gasoline that reaches 495 degrees Fahrenheit (257.2 degrees Celsius) will ignite by itself. It's easy to see how fuel dripping onto hot metal and plastic parts can cause a fast-spreading fire. The best way to reduce chances of a fuel system fire is to make sure the car is properly maintained and to keep it out of the situations we've already described. And if you ever smell gas in or around your car, find and fix the leak immediately!
Author's Note: Top 10 Causes of Car Fires
A lot of the facts about car fires seem like common sense. For example, most car fires start in the engine compartment, which shouldn't be any surprise to anyone who's ever popped the hood to have a look at what goes on in there. And if your car catches on fire, you should always try to get as far away as possible. (Instead of, say, standing around filming it, setting it to Weezer's "Say It Ain't So" and then posting it online. I saw this once in a video, back when I was a moderator on a Volkswagen forum and a well-known member's car mysteriously went up in flames. Honestly, that was all I could think about the entire time I was researching and writing this article). But maybe that's being too harsh. Vehicle fires are scary, and the movies and TV would have us all believe that any car that's on fire will immediately blow up. Just don't pull out your phone to check this list (or film the fire) until after you're a safe distance away.
- AA1Car.com. "Catalytic Converter." (Oct. 8, 2013) http://www.aa1car.com/library/converter.htm
- Chandler Law Group. "Common Causes of Car Fires." (Oct. 5, 2013) http://www.chandlerlawgroup.com/library/common-causes-of-car-fires.cfm
- Eisenstein, Paul A. "Ford finds software fix for engine fire problems." NBC News. Dec. 10, 2012. (Oct. 5, 2013) http://www.nbcnews.com/business/ford-finds-software-fix-engine-fire-problems-1C7529222
- Hirsch, Jerry. "Probe of Chevrolet Volt fires ends; safety regulators OK GM's fix." Los Angeles Times. Jan. 21, 2012. (Oct. 5, 2013) http://articles.latimes.com/2012/jan/21/business/la-fi-autos-volt-20120121
- Mobil 1. "Replacing Relays in Car Electrical Systems." (Oct. 8, 2013) http://www.mobiloil.com/USA-English/MotorOil/Car_Care/DIY/Replacing_Relays_in_Car_Electrical_Systems.aspx
- National Fire Protection Association. "Vehicles." May 2013. (Oct. 5, 2013) https://www.nfpa.org/safety-information/for-consumers/vehicles
- Panzarino, Matthew. "Elon Musk Details Cause of Tesla Model S Fire, Says It Would Have Been Worse With Gas." TechCrunch. Oct. 4, 2013. (Oct. 5, 2013) http://techcrunch.com/2013/10/04/elon-musk-details-cause-of-tesla-model-s-fire-says-would-have-been-worse-with-gas/
- Vlasic, Bill. "G.M. Recalls 475,000 Chevy Cruzes to Fix Engine Fire Hazard." The New York Times. June 22, 2012. (Oct. 5, 2013) http://www.nytimes.com/2012/06/23/automobiles/gm-recalls-475000-chevy-cruzes-to-fix-a-potential-engine-fire-hazard.html
- Walters Forensic Engineering. "Motor Vehicle Fires." (Oct. 5, 2013) http://www.waltersforensic.com/articles/fire_investigation/vol3-no1.htm
If you're a motorist you may be silently cursing the bicyclist in front of you for making you late. But a study showed the speed difference was negligible.