If someone asked me this a year ago, I’d probably have the best laugh of the day and then invite him over for a beer. Cut to the present and I’d take him for a walk and proudly show him the fire extinguishers that are hiding in my car waiting to spring into action at the slightest hint of a fire.

That’s because I know that car fires are for real.

And it took one to get me out of my self-created stupor that believed that car fires only happened on TV.

That’s wishful thinking folks.

Take a quick look at this statistic.

According to the NFPA, 31 vehicle fires are reported every hour in the United States alone. On an average, 1 person dies every day in a vehicle fire.

So, what are you doing to save your life or that of your loved ones?

Are you aware of what needs to be done if your car suddenly catches fire while you are driving in the middle of nowhere?

Knowing these simple things may help you to save your life and also help others in an emergency situation.

Here’s what you need to do.


Watch out for the signs

Car fires do not necessarily originate under the hood all the time. Every part of your car that is in contact with a combustible substance or has an electrical wire running through it can catch fire. On most occasions, people are unaware of the signs that the car is on fire and by the time they detect it, it’s too late to save the car from extensive damage.

So, if you are driving, here are some of the signs that you’d want to watch out for.

  1. Smoke belching from the hood. This may very well be an overheated engine or a damaged fan belt but that does not mean that you do not pull over to the side safely and investigate it. Smoke from any part of the car is bad news.

  3. Smell of rubber or plastic burning. Like I said earlier, almost every single part of your car can catch fire. If the fire originates near the tire or under the dashboard, then one of the first signs will be the smell of  burning plastic or rubber. Do not wait or hesitate for a moment. Pull over to the side and quickly peep under the car to confirm.

  5. A loud noise from any part of the car should not be ignored. But if it’s emanating from the tailpipe, it could be a damaged catalytic converter. That’s the perfect recipe for a vehicle fire by the way.

  7. A sizzling sound under the hood may be leaking fluids that include fuel or a coolant. While it may not usually end up in a vehicle fire, you’d want to get that checked as soon as possible. If it comes into contact with frayed wiring, it can result in a fire.


Dousing the fire

One of the challenges of dousing a car fire is that there are different types of fires and not everyone can be doused with water or CO2. And to top it off, your heart is racing and panic is setting in. You don’t have a clue what to do and you may in the heat of the moment make a costly mistake.

The first and most important thing to do is shut off the engine. You will immediately kill the fuel supply and if the fire has been triggered due to a malfunction in the fuel system, then this will help contain the fire.

Get the car off the road and get out of the car yourself and help your co passengers exit the car safely. Do not try to retrieve your personal belongings at this point of time. Just get away from the car as soon as possible.

Experts suggest that you wait for help. But if you have a fire extinguisher in your car, then you can attempt to control the fire. This becomes all the more important if fire is not covered by your auto insurance policy.

For under hood fires, try to crank the hood up a tad and spray the fire extinguisher inside from a safe distance only. Opening the hood suddenly can amplify the fire due to the sudden increase in oxygen supply.

On the other hand, if the fire is close to the fuel tank of the car, then get away to a safe distance (at least 150 feet) and call for help. Do not attempt to douse the fire even if you have an extinguisher.

You’d want to signal to any oncoming vehicles about the fire and also keep any unwanted onlookers or passerby away.

After the fire has been doused by firefighters, you’d want to take photos of the car, collect names and telephone numbers of any witnesses to the incident.


Before you attempt to douse it

Having a fire extinguisher in the car is only half the battle won. You need to know how to use it correctly. Read the instruction manual carefully. If it’s a pressured device, then check the pressure gauge from time to time to know whether it has depressurized due to prolonged storage.

Further, being aware of the different types of fires (class A, B, C) will allow you to choose the right fire extinguisher for your car.

For example, fires caused due to combustible liquids like gasoline can only be doused with CO2, dry chemical and clean agent extinguishers. If you have a ‘foam and water’ extinguisher, it will only help the fire spread faster and quickly turn into a huge uncontrollable blaze.

Install the fire extinguisher where you can reach it immediately in case of an emergency. For obvious reasons, the trunk is not the best choice. But I have my backup extinguisher in the trunk. The primary one is installed under my seat.

With timely maintenance and a few simple methods, almost every car fire can be prevented. A car fire extinguisher can also prove to be the difference between a completely charred car and one with a few minor burns.