Part VI of the Auto Saving Series. If you missed a segment, start at the beginning.

If your engine is on fire, it is going to be expensive. Burnt engines ruin much more than your day.


According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), in 2007, 365 deaths, 1,500 injuries and more than $1 billion in property damage directly resulted from vehicle fires in the United States. The majority of vehicle fires are attributed to routine maintenance which was neglected.

A driver’s nightmare

Car on Fire

Image via Wikipedia

Driving down the highway, smoke starts rising out of the hood of the car. You pull over to the side of the road and get out. Smoke billows from the rear of the car. The paint blackens on the car. Then, you see the flames. Before the fire department can arrive, the car burns to a black cinder on the side of the road. The upside? You got out.

What causes car fires?

The NFPA says most fires are a result of electrical or mechanical malfunctions or failures. Once the fire starts, leaking flammable fluids and gases make the blaze burn out of control. The heat melts hoses and line joints for brake and transmission fluids, gasoline and power steering fluid.

Does my driving affect my chances of a car fire?

Speed Limit 9 1/2 M.P.H.Yes. How you drive changes the behavior of your car.

  1. Follow posted speed limits. They are set to account for road conditions and typical safety features of cars on the road.
  2. Follow traffic rules to prevent collisions. Collisions can start a fire.
  3. Do not smoke in the vehicle. If you must smoke, use the ashtray.
  4. Be aware of changing road conditions. Icy, oily or wet roads can be dangerous. Erratic driving can damage safety and electrical systems in your car which can start fires. Avoid driving under these conditions.

How do I prevent a vehicle fire?

Maintenance. Well, that sounds simple, but you have to ask for the right kind of maintenance. Make or print a list to bring to your mechanic when you have routine maintenance done, like oil, filters and fuse changes.

  1. Check all engine hoses for leaks, wear, damage or weakening.
  2. Check fuel lines and joints.
  3. Check electrical conduits for wear or cracking.
  4. Check electrical wiring for fraying.
  5. Check belts for wear or damage.

What else can I do?

Old car engine

Image by jsalvino via Flickr

Be aware. Know, look at and listen to your vehicle. Get your vehicle to a mechanic if you notice any of the following:

  1. Blistered or cracked hoses.
  2. Loose wiring.
  3. Wiring with cracked insulation or frayed metal.
  4. Fluid leaking under the vehicle.
  5. Change in the sound of the engine running and idling.
  6. Backfiring.
  7. Change in the tone or volume of the exhaust.
  8. Visible exhaust or smoke coming from the tailpipe.

Preventative maintenance is the best deterrent to vehicle fires. Many mechanics will perform these checks for free. Save money by preventing the kind of damage which starts a vehicle fire. Take care of your car, so it can take care of you.


Have you ever seen a car burn? Where were you, and was it yours?


(c) Ann Marie Dwyer 2011
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  1. James Parsons

     /  November 26, 2011

    You did it again hit the nail on the head. Keep up the great work Red. P.S. Once a year power wash your engine at the car wash it helps to get rid of the overflow of fluids you may have had during the year.

  2. Great idea! Yes, most people know it is important to wash the paint on the car, but never once consider cleaning the engine (or the fender wells, shudder). One word of caution: If there is fluid which routinely* overflows (or worse…leaks), you should have it checked by a professional.

    *Routinely, here, means within weeks of cleaning, it is back.


  3. bear

     /  November 26, 2011

    Here’s an added thought… if it doesn’t smell good and it’s coming from under the hood, have it checked out by a GOOD and REPUTABLE repair shop. BEAR

    • Oh, absolutely! Nothing smells worse than the burning of wire coating, well, almost nothing 😛 And you can often smell danger through your air conditioning/heater. Use your senses: Smell, sight, touch and hearing. And be careful who you let work on your vehicle. Your safety is in their hands! Thanks for stopping by to comment, Red.

  4. awarewriter

     /  November 26, 2011

    Way back in the olden times, my long haired hippie self had a job delivering dufflebags filled with the day’s printouts to every unemployment office in Phila. One night (I did all this in the wee hours of the morning) after I parked in front of the unemployment office in one of the unsavory neighborhoods in the city I noticed smoke coming out from under the hood. Holy crap! Now what do I do? No fire extinguisher, all alone in the middle of nowhere before the invention of cell phones???

    I ran down the street, pulled the nearest fire alarm, ran back to the car and amused myself pulling dufflebags out of the car while I waited for the fire department. No way was I opening that hood.

    Way cool, sirens in the night. The firemen unreeled a hose, popped the hood and put the fire out. The first thing the cop asked me when he showed up was “what did you hit.”

    “I didn’t hit anything officer, this piece of crap just caught fire is all”

    “Maintenance? We don’t need no stinkin’ maintenance.”

    With the hood closed, you knew where the carburetor was because all the paint was burnt off in a perfect circle. I called my boss (got him out of bed). We loaded the bags in his station wagon then I drove him home and finished my route in his car.

    You don’t need those kinds of adventures.

    Then there was the time I was forced to run over a load of boards some moron dumped on the expressway and had three flat tires that day (I was running a day route to the Jersey Shore).

    My scariest adventure was on the expressway when my rear axle broke on a curve with no place to pull off. That one was Ford’s fault.

    Fleet maintenance. What’s that? We don’t need no stinkin’ maintenance.

    As Red points out, preventive maintenance is the best kind and will save you heartache down the road.


    • Oh, wow! I can just see you, calm, collected, smoking a square, leant against a lamppost, awaiting the fire brigade. ROFL! Glad you were all right! Ye olde ounce of prevention, eh? Thank you for sharing! Red.

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