Fire extinguishers are ubiquitous. From your home to your neighborhood to your workplace to your car, they are everywhere.

The caveat is that like most people, you are not trained to used one, let alone in a real life scenario.

Like most people, you assumed that they are pretty easy to use.

So, let’s picture this.

Some psychotic arsonist decides to torch your car one day. But little does he know that you are prepared for the situation. You make a dash for the car aka Usain bolt and out comes the fire extinguisher from its hiding place.

You lift it up, stare at it for a while and then, you realize that the contraption is more difficult to use than what you’d imagined. You try to read the instructions printed on it but your eyes are watering from the radiating heat.

You decide to skip reading instructions and pull on something that you are sure is the safety pin but it doesn’t budge from its position.

‘How the hell do they do that on TV’???

If you don’t want to be caught with an extinguisher that you cannot use, then here’s a simple guide to help you with the basics.


The Extinguisher anatomy

While it is not mandatory to be an expert at fire extinguishers to be able to use one, being aware of the various parts will help you understand if the extinguisher has malfunctioned. That’s a sign that you need to drop it and skedaddle.

Considering that most car fire extinguishers are compact versions of a conventional one, let’s look at the parts of the most commonly used variety.

There will be a cylinder that contains the extinguishing agent and a carrying handle on top. This carrying handle will be connected to the discharge lever. It looks like a spring collar that can be squeezed. The discharge handle is locked using a safety pin which prevents it from getting discharged accidentally while you are driving.

On the front of the extinguisher, you have the discharge nozzle. Some types of extinguishers have a pressure gauge too which indicates whether it is pressurized and ready for use or depressurized.

Some types of car fire extinguishers are a lot easier to use. They are designed like a large spray can and you can just aim and squeeze the nozzle to spray.


Preventing a malfunction

With some periodic checks and basic maintenance, you can prevent your fire extinguisher from becoming a dud in an emergency situation.

Make it a part of your car maintenance routine to check the extinguisher for signs of damage. There should be no physical damage on the unit. Look for cracks on the discharge nozzle and hose in particular. Other than this, some models are prone to fractures near the base. You’d want to rule that out as well.

If it has a pressure gauge, then the pressure must be in the green zone. If the pressure gauge indicates that the unit has depressurized then head over to the company to get it refilled. You can only refill an extinguisher with a metallic valve. Ones with plastic valves are disposable and cannot be reused.


Using the extinguisher

Most experts recommend that you memorize the PASS acronym to ensure that you can use it easily and you don’t fiddle with the car fire extinguisher.

P – Pull out the safety Pin:  The Safety Pin is attached to the extinguisher to prevent it from accidentally discharging due to a fender bender or an unexpected bump. But it should come off at a slight pull. If the safety pin is jammed or stuck, then you may have to cut it to remove it. Not the best of situations to be stuck in. But it is a possibility that you need to be prepared for. Hope you have that EDC fixed blade handy.

A – Aim: A rookie mistake is to aim the extinguisher at the flames. Never ever do that. Always aim at the base or the origin of the flames. If the extinguisher has a hose, then aim the hose in the direction of the base of the flame. Also, you must be at least six to eight feet away. Most fire extinguishers have a discharge range in excess of 10 feet. So, there’s no need to really sneak up to the fire to use the extinguisher.

S – Squeeze: The difficult part is now done. It’s time to squeeze the handle. This should discharge the extinguishing agent.

S – Sweep: Sweep the extinguisher in a side to side movement which allows you to spray the agent evenly on the fire.

That’s it folks. You are now trained to use a car fire extinguisher.


Things that you must know

Before you use a fire extinguisher to douse a car fire, ensure that the extinguisher is compatible to be used for that fire type. There are three main types of fires that you may encounter in a car. That’s class A, B & C. The good news is that most car fire extinguishers and ones intended for home use are Class A, B, C compatible.

Always read the instructions carefully when you buy a fire extinguisher. Different brands and types of extinguishers have different safety instructions and operating distances.

Your local fire department may be a good starting point of reference. Most of them provide short courses that train you in using a fire extinguisher. Even if they don’t, they can point you in the right direction where you can get some hands-on training.

If you feel that the flames are not getting contained with the car fire extinguisher or if the flames are spreading towards the gas tank, then quickly move away to a safe distance and do not attempt to douse the fire. The same holds true for an extinguisher that does not work or malfunctions. Do not attempt to restore it or repair it.

Last but not the least; unless you have a disposable fire extinguisher, get it refilled and recharged again. If it’s a disposable one, get a replacement.