Surviving Fiery Crashes in Your Vehicle

Being involved in a car accident is never a fun experience—and accidents that end with your car erupting in flames are even more terrifying. If you’re in the middle of a fiery crash, it’s important to know where to turn. Keeping your cool throughout an emergency situation is critical. Knowing how to navigate emergencies will make it easier to respond if an event does occur, and can help prevent being caught in a car fire in the first place.

What Causes Cars to Erupt in Flames?

Under normal circumstances, your car probably won’t catch on fire as a result of an accident. There are, however, several things that can contribute to the potential for flames or an explosion. Combustible materials, and a spark to light them, are both required. The major flammable material in a vehicle is gasoline; thankfully, gas is typically very well-contained in your tank. When that tank is breached, however—usually because something has punched a hole in it—you can end up with fire. A single spark is enough to set the car alight once a gas leak occurs. Several contributing factors to car fires include:

  • Poor maintenance, especially in the electrical system. In fact, shorts in wires and other problems are among the most common causes of car fires;
  • Flammable materials, including gas, carried in the car itself;
  • Downed power lines across the road, especially during or after an accident;
  • Delayed or omitted oil changes, including oil that has grown too dirty or that is inadequate for the vehicle.

Note that once a fire gets started, even modern cars burn very quickly. Upholstery, plastic components, and other elements of the car are often more flammable than drivers realize. While modern car fires are becoming increasingly rarer with the advent of new manufacturing methods, highway patrols across the United States nonetheless responded to 174,000 car fires in 2015. Sometimes, as in a recent crash in Orange County, it can be difficult to determine the exact cause of the fire.

How Can You Keep Yourself Safe?

If you’ve been involved in a car accident, it’s important to think clearly and quickly. If the car fire has already started, get out of your vehicle immediately! Remove yourself and any other passengers from the car as soon as possible, and move to a safe location far away from the vehicle. Don’t worry about personal items; instead, focus on preventing burns and other injuries. There are several other key steps you should take to keep yourself safe in the event of an accident or fire:

  • Stay at least 100 feet away. This will help decrease exposure to dangerous fumes, as well as the risk of a possible explosion. Make sure to warn bystanders, and ensure any nearby vehicles are free of passengers.
  • Don’t let anyone return to the vehicle. Once a car is aflame, it can be difficult to keep the fire from spreading. No one should return to the vehicle for any reason, including retrieving personal items.
  • Call 911 immediately. Don’t assume that other bystanders have already done so. If there’s a fire or the potential for a fire, make sure that you’ve contacted emergency personnel as soon as possible. If you need to delegate this responsibility, choose a specific individual to do it, and address them directly; people are prone to hesitation and delay 
  • Don’t touch the vehicle. Even if flames appear to be minimal, avoid touching the vehicle if at all possible. By the time flames are strong enough to notice, they’ve probably already caused significant heat—and simply touching the hood of the car can be enough to lead to burns.

Car accidents are not the only circumstances that can lead to car fires. If you notice smoke or flames coming from your vehicle during normal operation, pull over to the side of the road immediately. At this point, the goal is no longer to reach your destination: it’s to get out of the car safely! You should also pull over quickly any time you smell burning or another sudden odor coming from your car. Make sure to cut off the engine as soon as possible to help reduce the flow of fuel, and potentially prevent the fire from spreading. A fire extinguisher can be used on small flames that appear from beneath the hood; however, if you observe flames coming from the rear of the vehicle, get away from the vehicle quickly and summon emergency help.

What Equipment Can You Keep in Your Car to Help?

If you’re worried about the possibility of a car fire, make sure you have the right equipment to help protect you and your passengers. This includes:

  • A tool to help cut seat belts and car seat straps. Note that this will need to be a special tool, since seat belts are designed to be thick and difficult to cut.
  • A fire extinguisher. Remember, your car fire extinguisher won’t be enough to put out the car fire entirely, but it may be enough to help you get to safety.
  • A fire blanket, which can help put out small fires or help provide protection if you’re trying to get out of a burning vehicle

Note that in the event of a severe car fire, especially one following an accident, stopping the fire is a low priority; instead, it’s vital to get yourself, passengers, and bystanders to safety as quickly as possible. First responders will have a better idea of how to stop the flames.

Burned in a Car Accident by Someone Else’s Negligence? Call Aitken * Aitken * Cohn Today

If you were in a car accident or suffered burns as a result, contact the compassionate, experienced attorneys at Aitken * Aitken * Cohn online or at (714) 434-1424 today.