by | Apr 9, 1988

Mention the word fire in combina­ tion with cookout or fireplace and you usually think of good times and enjoy­ ment. However, mention it in combi­ nation with cars (and in our case BMWs) and our emotions run quite differently -to say the least!! Auto­ mo bile fires don’t happen very often but when they do they are sure to cause feelings of helplessness , anger and frustration.

When it’s all over, and as you sit looking at your charred  hulk of metal that was once your pride and joy, you will probably ask yourself these three questions:

  1. How did it start?
  2. How could I have avoided it?
  3. How could I put it out if it ever happens  again?

Let’s take question number 1 first­ How did the fire start?

Most auto fires are caused by 1) an electrical short that ignites material in the passenger compartment or up under­neath the dash board, 2) fuel line breaks that  allow petrol to come in contact with hot engine parts or the exhaust  system,  3)  open  flames  that come in contact with interior seats carpets, or flammable liquids.

Question number 2-How could I have avoided the fire?

  1. Keep the engine compartment spotless-metal d oesn’t burn but caked on grease/ oil burns like crazy. Buy stock in “Gunk” and use it frequently . A liberal application on the engine should be your first priority, but don’t forget underneath the car, transmi­sion and differential. Gunk works best when the engine is warm.
  2. Carefully check fuel lines and their connections . Be on the lookout for cracked, brittle hoses or ones that rub against metal and might wear a hole in the hose. Plastic ties are availa ble that can be used to keep the hoses from flopping around. Checking gas lines for leaks should be done when the engine is cold just in case you do some­ thing that would cause the gas to leak out and come in contact with the exhaust, causing a fire. (Many shops require that a fire extinguisher be within reach whenever fuel related repairs are being d one-you should d o the same!!) Needless to say, gasoline will provide you with a roaring blaze and possibly an explosion if vapors ignite rapidly.
  3. Use only recommended fuses and carry a complete set of replacements with you . Never use a higher rated fuse i n a circuit than what is called for and never replace a fuse with a wire.
  4. Adding new electrical accessories? Follow wiring instructions very care­ fully. Do not try to bypass any of the steps that are suggested or jerry-rig the wues by nor using all recommended parts in the kit. Attention should be paid to proper gauge wire, approved connectors, relays, and switches. When in doubt, ask a professional- Do Not Guess! Electrical fires can be some of te hardest to extinguish due to (1) the high level of heat they generate just to achieve ignition and (2) the confined location of wiring harnesses that make accessibility difficult.
  5. Replace hood insulation that has been soaked or caked with grease or oil. This material can really add fuel to a fire.
  6. Keep ash trays clean and free of paper and If you smoke, be careful that the cigarette you throw out the front wind ow doesn’t come back in the rear window due to air currents when at speed.
  7. Never store gasoline in a glass The gas actually permeates the glass and is still present even if you wash it out. Flammable liquid containers and soiled rags should not be stored in the trunk.

In spite of your best efforts you may still be faced with having a fire in your car. This leads to:

Question number 3-How do I put out an auto fire?

Carefully! Do not underestimate the potential power and destructive force that can be generated by ‘a fire. Eventually a fire will consume the whole car, causing toxic fumes and , in certain situations,  violent  explosions.  A  fire t hat starts in the interior when the wind ows are rolled up may cause an explosion . Heat from a fire can cause a build up of pressure in a gas tank that will lead to an explosion that will throw a gas tank 50 to 100 feet in the air. Do not try to put out a fire that is located near the fuel tank or one that has been going for some time. Your time will be much better spent looking up the phone number  of your insurance agent!

  1. Your nose knows! Stay alert for the odor of gas or smoke. If you smell either, stop the car immediately and investigate. A fuel od or indicates a cracked fuel line or loose connection. (You may notice this when first starting your car in the morning as old hoses or loose connections leak due to shrinkage of rubber hoses from t he lower night time temperatures. As the temp warms up, the hose tends to expand and seal off the leak. Electrical fires are usually preceded by smoke. In the summer the odor can be difficult to detect since we drive with windows down.
  2. Regardless of the type of fire, the first step is to turn off the ignition. This will cut off the fuel pump and limit the amount of fuel that is available to burn. If the fire is electrical in nature, turning off the ignition will eliminate the heat source.
  3. There are several things to keep in mind when trying to put out a fire in the engine The usual reaction is to fully open the hood so that you can get “a good shot” at it with a fire extinguisher. However, fully opening the hood only provides more oxygen for the fire. The best technique to use is to merely crack the hood very slightly and so spray the extinguisher into the engine area. Only after the fire has abated somewhat should the hood be opened furt her, and then only with caution and in conjunction with a continuous spraying of the extinguisher. An alternative method on some cars is to keep the hood fully closed and direct the extinguisher into the engine area underneath the car. It is also best to rehearse beforehand what you might do in the event of a fire.
  4. Electrical fires usually break out up underneath the dash and are tough to put out because of their confined Plan ahead and think of what can be pulled off or smashed in so that you can spray an extinguisher behind the dash.
  5. Some interior fires can be ren­ dered harmless by making them exte­ rior fires!!?? Carpets and after market seat coverings, for example, can be ripped out of the car in an effort to “remove” the fire from inside the

This article was originally published in the April 1988 edition of Zundfolge