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What to do if you experience a car fire

May 13, 2011

According to National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) statistics, 33 car fires are reported every hour in the U.S.  Consumer Affairs reports 520 car fire fatalities in 2006 alone.  The best preventative measure for consumers is regular vehicle maintenance.  If something is going wrong with your car, get it fixed as soon as you can.  When driving your car, you usually have your mind on getting to a destination.  Stopping to deal with the smell of smoke is not on your busy agenda.  If you smell smoke however, you need to act quickly.  Don’t try getting home first to determine the problem.

The following are recommendations for how drivers should react to a car fire:

  •  Pull over immediately, and get as far off the shoulder of the road as you can.
  • Shut the vehicle off and put it in park.  Many car fires involve leaking fuel lines and shutting off the engine shuts off the fuel pump.
  • Get everyone out of the vehicle.  Remember, it may be quicker to remove the car seat with the kid than trying to remove the kid from the car seat.  Don’t worry about retrieving your CD’s, purse or cell phone, get the people out.
  • If possible close the doors once everyone is out.  With all doors and windows closed, a vehicle fire in the passenger compartment is starved for oxygen and may go out.
  • Get everyone away from the vehicle (at least 100’) and move them up-hill.  Many vehicle fluid reservoirs are made of plastic that can melt out and send burning liquids flowing down-hill.
  • Call 911
  • If you have a fire extinguisher, are trained to use it, and the fire can be safely fought, you can try using a fire extinguisher.  While gas tank explosions shown by Hollywood are rare, the hazards from fighting car fires are legion, so be careful.  Pressurized fluid reservoirs can ignite.  Shock-absorbing bumpers can explode when exposed to fire ejecting the bumper quite a distance from the vehicle.  Even gas struts for lift gates can become missiles when heated in a vehicle fire.  Err on the side of safety.
  • Do not open the hood or trunk.  You’ll only be feeding more oxygen to the fire and exposing yourself to potential burns.

Losing your vehicle to fire is bad enough.  The above list can help ensure you and your loved ones don’t get injured and make a bad situation even worse.

If you’ve got questions, give us a call at 466-4602, or e-mail the Fire Prevention Division at  You can also visit our fire prevention blog site at and leave a message there.


Tioga Fire Protection and Fire Prevention –

Consumer Affairs –

National Safety Council –

Pennsylvania Turnpike –

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