Classic Car Club of America


Oregon Region


Technical Articles

Oregon Region Classic Car Club of America - all rights reserved.


  Going Up In a Puff of Smoke.....

One of those cool, crisp, clear winter days. A perfect day to take the Classic for a cruise. The motor is smooth and quiet and the road is clear and straight. Your lateral vision picks up a wisp of something drifting from beneath the bonnet. Before you have time to react, the wisp becomes an ominous black cloud. You pull over to the side of the road and notice the smoke from beneath the bonnet is now pouring from every aperture. Your pride and joy is quickly engulfed in flames. Beyond salvage, you can only regret that you didnít double check that little wiring job you had done a week before. Perhaps a fire extinguisher might have been a better investment than the new radio.

Cars, particularly older cars, are susceptible to fire. The electrical systems, whilst well protected with fuses, are the most frequent cause of fire, usually because the basic precautions have not been taken. Correct fuses, checks to ensure the integrity of insulation and protection where wiring is prone to movement or abrasion, all assist in ensuring electrical systems continue to function. Is the battery held securely in place in your car? Are the cover plates likely to short across battery terminals? All these factors can lead to a car fire.

What about your fuel system? Does it leak? Are all the fuel lines in good condition and all connections tight and sealed? Is the carburetor prone to backfire and/or leakage? Exhaust systems are the other major cause of vehicle fires. Is the exhaust sealed, firmly attached to the vehicle and with adequate space between the exhaust and bodywork to ensure cooling and reduce transmission of heat? Is it clear of cables and wires.

There are a number of actions which can minimize the likelihood and impact of fire in a car. First and foremost every vehicle should be fitted with a fire extinguisher. The most suitable extinguisher for your vehicle is a dry chemical powder extinguisher. This extinguisher is suited to fires in flammable liquids and electrical fires, and is considered to be the best lightweight general purpose extinguisher. It should be located in a position which makes it readily accessible in the event of a vehicle fire. Most extinguishers are mounted and firmly affixed to the body inside the cockpit. The trunk provides a satisfactory alternative. One in both places is ideal.

An extinguisher installed in the engine compartment will not be accessible in the event of a beneath-hood fire. It is also not recommended to lift the hood in the event of a fire in the engine compartment. The inflow of air will only accelerate the fire and make it more difficult to extinguish. If smoke is seen coming from the engine compartment of your car, the hood should be released and only raised to a level which allows accurate operation of the extinguisher on the seat of the fire. This ensures maximum effectiveness of the available extinguishing agent.

In all vehicles, a battery isolation switch which is conveniently located will ensure rapid isolation of current from faulty wires or burning electrical equipment. In older vehicles this isolator switch is essential due to the likelihood of wiring deterioration. Fuses should be checked and correct fuses installed for the designed purpose. Higher calibration fuses should not be installed, so that circuits do not overload causing heat and deterioration of wiring.

A car fire, particularly one fuelled by gas will be difficult to extinguish by the contents of a single extinguisher. It is essential that the fire be extinguished. In the event of a critical situation and without the appropriate extinguisher, a garden hose is an excellent backup. Quite large fires can be extinguished by utilizing the spray function on your garden hose. Water damage will always be less than the results of an uncontrolled fire.

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, many cars are lost as the result of garage fires. Normal precautions within your garage can minimize the risk of fire particularly the use of solvents, fuels and chemicals which may result in fire. Faulty electrical systems can also lead to fire as can grinding, welding and other activities carried out in rebuilding, modifying or maintaining your car. Install smoke alarms in your garage, a fire extinguisher and a fire blanket and you minimize the risk.