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Fire SmartNotes From The Road

Fire Smart
By Debbie Murphy/

What To Do If Your Car Catches Fire -

Smoke and/or the acrid smell of burning wires—these are not sensual assaults to be ignored when you're heading down the highway. Just like in Monopoly: Do not pass go, do not collect $200. Drive directly to the shoulder of the road and turn off the ignition.

In the automotive world, smoke does not necessarily mean fire. Depending on the age of the vehicle, it could be steam from the radiator, often caused by a broken fan belt or over-heated engine. The simple fact is if your vehicle is smoking or putting off odors, something's gone wrong.
A significant percentage of smoking vehicles leads to serious consequences. According to statistics from the American Automobile Association and the National Fire Protection Association, 266,000 car fires were reported in 2004, resulting in 520 deaths. Of those fires, 75 percent were caused by bad maintenance, rather than auto accidents. So first we'll deal with avoiding fires, then what to do if that smoke does mean fire.
Fire Signs
An early indication of a problem is a fuse that blows more than once. The source of the triggered fuse could be either a faulty component or a wiring problem. Both issues can be dangerous and should be resolved.
Next, check for oil leaks and always use a funnel when adding oil. Oil spilled on a hot exhaust manifold can cause a fire.
If you have a gas station attendant add oil, double check that the cap is on securely. This sounds obvious, but better to check than end up with oil all over your engine compartment at best, or an engine fire at worst.
Also, include a check of the fuel system in your regular maintenance schedule. Electrical or fuel system problems are the major causes of car fires.
Another source of exhaust-related fires is the catalytic converter, the cylindrical unit located in the exhaust pipe, forward of the muffler (which is normally slightly larger in size). Catalytic converters are so hot they can ignite dried grass directly under the parked vehicle.

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