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What Causes Vehicle Fires? Call | 732-537-8570 |

What Causes Vehicle Fires?

Millions of vehicles travel on roads, interstates, highways, and bridges across the U.S. every day, so it is no surprise that vehicle fires are prevalent. In 2020, approximately 173,000 highway vehicle fires were reported in the U.S., according to data published by the Statista Research Department.

The most common causes of vehicle fires are listed below.

Fuel System Leaks

The most common cause of vehicle fires is fuel system leaks. A fuel system leak is dangerous because gasoline is highly flammable. You should never smell gas in or around your vehicle. If you do, fix the issue immediately. The best method to prevent a fuel system fire is to ensure your car is maintained properly and correctly.

Mechanical and Electrical Failures

Often, vehicle fires result from mechanical failures or malfunctions and electrical failures, such as electrical wiring and fuel system problems. The U.S. Fire Administration (USFA) reports that mechanical failure or malfunction was reported in 45 percent of vehicle fires from 2014 to 2016, and electrical issues contributed to more than one in five fires. More than 20 percent of car fires result from electrical failure or malfunction. Now and again, pop the hood of your car and look around for leaks and frayed wires. The good news is that these fires are less likely to be fatal versus fires resulting from collisions.

Fire spreads faster when an engine runs, and the type of crash can affect the fire spread. Fires commonly start in the engine area, running gear, or wheel area. However, a small percentage of car fire deaths resulted from fires around the fuel tank, fuel line, or passenger area. Vehicle components vital to fire safety include the fuel system and tank and vehicle parts, such as the seats, dashboard, and door covers. Some vehicle materials, like seats, are a source of toxic compounds.

A good prevention tip is to have your car’s electrical systems checked at every maintenance call. According to National Fire Protection research, in 2013 to 2017, older vehicles, especially those 10 years or beyond, were more likely to catch fire due to the increased risk of mechanical or electrical failures. Highway vehicle fires were more likely to start with electrical wire or cable insulation ignition than any other specific item.


In that same time period, collisions were the top cause of vehicle fires that resulted in death. A collision causes fluid leaks, spillage, heat, and smoke, all of which create the perfect fire condition. Almost two-thirds of car fire deaths resulted from fires caused by collisions or related events.

After a car accident, sometimes fire threats are not always apparent if the driver and passengers are trapped inside the vehicle. If possible, it is safest to get away from the damaged car quickly.

Trucks, Trailers, and Buses

Top causes of truck trailer and bus fires include electrical, turbocharger, and exhaust systems, hot brakes and wheel bearings, tires, and road debris. Flat or underinflated truck tires can catch fire, as can tires that rub against hard surfaces. Brake and wheel bearing failures can also cause tire ignitions.

Electric Vehicle Fires

While hybrid and electric vehicles are growing in popularity, data shows that many fires in battery electric vehicles or plug-in hybrid electric vehicles start in the battery power system. In terms of propulsion, the battery system could be compared to gasoline capacity in internal combustion engine vehicles (ICEVs).

Electric vehicle (EV) fire risk increases with more battery usage and batteries containing more energy. In addition to trauma from impact, batteries can be stressed by temperature extremes and fluctuations, heavy rain, overcharging, or charging too quickly. Manufacturing and design issues can also play a role. As manufacturers increase the range of EVs by adding more lithium-ion batteries (LIBs), the potential heat released in a fire expands.

Know the Signs of a Potential Vehicle Fire

Here are some car fire warning signs:

  • Blown fuses.

  • Spilled oil left under the hood during an oil change.

  • Oil or fluid leaks under the vehicle.

  • Cracked or loose wiring, or wiring with exposed metal.

  • Loud sounds from the exhaust system.

  • Changes in fuel level, oil levels, or engine temperature.

  • Missing oil filler cap.

  • Broken or loose hoses.

What Should You Do if Your Car Catches Fire?

Below are ways you can respond fast if your car is on fire:

  • Pull over on the side of the road and power off the engine to halt the fuel flow.

  • Exit the car quickly and stay away from the vehicle, generally 100 to 150 feet or more, and never go back into the car to get personal property.

  • Call 911 or have another motorist contact emergency services.

  • If you have a fire extinguisher and have clear access to the source, you can put out the fire. Distance yourself from the car and only use an extinguisher approved for Class B or Class C fires.

  • You should never open the hood or trunk if you suspect a fire, as the fire will strengthen.

  • Always be aware of your surroundings, and do not stand near the roadway.

  • Contact a lawyer when possible. A lawyer will help you determine if negligence has caused your car fire.

Highland Park Car Accident Lawyers at the Law Offices of Harold J. Gerr Can Help You Find Justice After a Car Fire

If you have an injury that was caused by a car fire accident, contact one of our Highland Park car accident lawyers at the Law Offices of Harold J. Gerr. We can determine if you are eligible for compensation for your losses, including medical bills, lost salary, and pain and suffering. Call us at 732-537-8570 or contact us online to schedule a free consultation. Located in Highland Park, New Jersey, we serve clients throughout New Brunswick, Somerset, Piscataway, Edison, South River, Sayreville, Metuchen, East Brunswick, South Plainfield, Fords, Middlesex, Old Bridge, Iselin, Bound Brook, Perth Amboy, Colonia, Elizabeth, and Newark.

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