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 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 didn’t 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 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 hand conversions?
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 uncontrolled fire.
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!