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What to do if your car catches fire

person putting out car fire

Drivers have several fears and phobias while on the road. Some worry a sneeze could trigger a pileup on the highway, while others cope with the mental and emotional damage leftover from a previous accident. One such terrifying scenario would be driving along when, all of a sudden, your car catches fire. 

What would you do in this situation? Drivers Ed hasn’t prepared you for it, and it’s likely that no one else has either. Don’t let this scenario instill fear, though. There are a few simple steps to take that will keep you and anyone in your car safe. Here’s what you need to know. 

Stopping the Problem Before It Starts

Regular maintenance is the best way to ensure that your car will not catch on fire. Since maintenance can be expensive, it also helps to know what warning signs to look for so you can get your car to the shop instead of letting them slide. These include:

  • Regularly blown fuses
  • Oil and other fluids leaking
  • Loose wiring or exposed wiring
  • Loud sounds from the exhaust
  • Sudden changes in fuel and oil levels
  • Sudden changes in engine temperature
  • Missing caps (oil, gas, and other fluid tanks)
  • Broken hoses

While these parts may not cause a fire, they are likely to cause an accident as systems begin to malfunction. Several pedestrians and drivers have been injured in a motor vehicle accident as a result of these issues in another vehicle. Any wreck also makes it more likely that a fire will start. 

If a Fire Starts

It’s easier said than done, but don’t panic and never try to put the fire out. If you see flames from the engine, rearview, or coming out of your vents, pull over and stop the car immediately. Turn the car off, taking the keys out of the ignition, then proceed to get everyone out of the vehicle. 

Take everyone and stand as far away as possible, preferably 100 feet, from the vehicle to avoid inhaling toxic fumes. Never let anyone run back for personal items. Remember, insurance can replace items but it cannot bring back a life. You should also encourage bystanders to stay away.

Once everyone is safe, call 911 and alert them to the situation. After the call, warn oncoming traffic of the danger ahead.  The fire department and police will show up on the scene, putting the car out and creating an incident report. After the report is made, call your insurance company to let them know what happened. 

Dealing With the Aftermath

If you can, get a rental car while through your insurance company while they handle the accident. It’s also vital that you find out what caused the fire, which your insurance’s investigators can help you accomplish. Various states have lemon laws protecting drivers against defects and their aftermath. If you’re in California, then study your rights under the California Lemon Law and pursue action if need be. 

Most fires lead to a total loss, which your insurance will determine. Combined with lemon laws, you could find yourself the owner of a brand-new vehicle. However, you will simply have to wait until your insurance company determines the cause of the fire.