Going Up In a Puff of Smoke.....
words of advice from the ACT Fire Commissioner, Jim Dance
One of those cool, crisp, clear winter days. A perfect day to take the
Caddy for a cruise. The motor is smooth and quiet and the road is clear and
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
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 carburettor 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, especially on cars that have had left to right
There are a number of actions which can minimise 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 boot 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-bonnet
fire. It is also not recommended to lift the bonnet 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 bonnet
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.
It is possible to install automatic fire extinguishing systems in cars but
the cost, complexity and weight of these systems usually makes such an
installation prohibitive for cars used under normal, non racing conditions.
A car fire, particularly one fuelled by petrol 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
Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, many cars are lost as the result of
garage fires. Normal precautions within your garage can minimise 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 minimise the risk.
Remember, all the worst fires have three causes - men, women and children.
ACT Fire Commissioner and MG Car Club Canberra Member
Our thanks go to Ruth at NRMA for supplying this valuable piece of
information for Caddy Club members and owners.
Addendum: One of our readers has advised (from experience) that in an emergency situation where no fire extinguishers are available, a 2 litre bottle of soft drink shaken hard with the cap removed and a thumb over the hole can do a pretty good job!