By Prof. Aditya Deshpande
School of Mechanical Engineering
KLE Technological University, Hubballi
A vehicle has become a very complex piece of equipment with elements like electrical, electronics, mechanical and chemical (fuel) working together in harmony. As with any system, there are failures, some minor and some catastrophic. One such catastrophic failure is a car fire. Recently, it has been in the news about vehicles catching fire at a petrol pump and on the road. While vehicles catching fire are generally in the news, considering the number of vehicles sold, the number of such events is relatively low.
Nonetheless, as the event can lead to fatalities and severe injuries, the automotive industry and national regulatory agencies view it very seriously. There are various safety functions and tests conducted to assess fire safety in a vehicle. But even with all preventive measures, we might have to come across a situation where we need to handle a car fire situation.
The reasons for a car fire can range from a design fault of a component to parking your car in the hot sun. There are chances of flammable materials left in the car on hot days catching fire. The most common reason for car fires is the electrical wiring followed by the engine. The use of sub-standard parts, faulty wiring connections and overuse of vehicle aftermarket accessories can lead to an electrical fire.
Meanwhile, leaking fuel/fluid pipes near hot parts like exhaust, engine, brakes are the most common mechanical cause of the fire. Modifications to the engine and the addition of an aftermarket CNG/LPG kit can result in a significant fire situation if not correctly done by an authorized centre.
As the car has a variety of systems, it might not be immediately possible to locate the source of the fire. If you smell something burning, see smoke, flames or sparking, do not panic and immediately stop the car as safely as possible. Switch off the main key (electrical) and walk away from the vehicle. Also, warn the other cars and the public about the situation and call emergency fire services.
If you can see the fire, do not try to douse it yourself unless you have a fire extinguisher and know how to operate it. If the smoke and flames are from below the bonnet from the engine or from the boot (also known as dicky) where you have a CNG/LPG kit, do not open it. This can lead to a flare-up or an explosion, so keep your distance from the vehicle. It can get quite tricky in traffic conditions as it can affect many other people and cars. Under no condition go near a car fire to take videos or selfies. Even minor explosions can throw metal, hot plastic parts or fluid from the car, leading to severe injuries and even death.