Georgia residents may be surprised to learn just how common car fires are. According to data from the National Transportation Safety Board, fire departments around the country are dispatched to extinguish more than 200,000 burning vehicles each year. Cars can catch fire because of electrical short circuits, corroded battery terminals or loose cables, but most vehicle blazes are caused by accidents.
Leaking fuel and severed wires
Modern motor vehicles are extremely complex machines, and the extreme forces they are subjected to in car or truck accidents can damage their wiring harnesses and sever wires. This can create sparks that ignite fuel vapors. Cars that crash can also become engulfed in flames when hot engine components come into contact with leaking fuel or gasoline fumes. Vehicles that burst into flames for seemingly no reason often have manufacturing defects. In recent years, more than six million cars, pickup trucks and SUVs have been recalled because of problems that were considered fire risks.
Electric vehicle fires, while statistically rare, are particularly dangerous because they grow rapidly and are very difficult to put out. The NTSB has advised firefighters to approach electric vehicle fires with great caution due to a phenomenon called thermal runaway. This happens when lithium-ion cells damaged in an accident catch fire hours or even days after the main blaze has been extinguished.
Careful driving and proper maintenance
The best way to avoid car fires is driving carefully and remaining vigilant to reduce the chances of being involved in an accident. Responding to recall notices promptly and maintaining vehicles properly also lowers the risk. When car fires do start, motorists should abandon their vehicles and call 911 immediately. Overheating lithium-ion batteries and ruptured gas tanks can turn cars into raging infernos in a matter of seconds, so there may not be any time to spare.