Top 10 Car Fire Causes Fires

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There’s seldom a singular reason for a particular car fire regardless of whether an investigator can trace the cause back to the event which started the fire. 

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It’s more likely that the cause was an assortment of factors: human mistakes, mechanical issues and chemical causes. They could all have combined to cause an explosion.

Also, once the vehicle is in fire there are a myriad of other circumstances can (and can and will) make things more complicated. Understanding what these factors are can help you avoid the risk of a collision.

One of the most crucial things to consider is that once your vehicle is in flames, it isn’t a matter of the cause. 

It’s not important to think about whether your engine was running hot or what kind of fluid may have spilled (although this information could prove valuable later on, either to use for insurance purposes or to assist the auto maker to fix a flaw that could be causing the problem). 

If your vehicle is in flames you must get it out of the way and move as far from your vehicle as you can.

A small fire in a car will not be small for long. Any combination of the reasons (or complications) that we’ll cover in this article can cause the situation to become far worse.

The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) states that car fires account for almost eight out of every ten reports of fires which means it’s important to know how you can lower the risks in your vehicle.


  1. Design Defects
  2. poor maintenance
  3. Crashes on Car Crashes
  4. Arson
  5. Hybrid as well as Electric Vehicle Batteries
  6. overheated catalytic converters
  7. Heating Engines
  8. Fluoride Spills
  9. Electrical System Faults
  10. The Fuel System leaks

10. Design Flaws

A design flaw in a car generally won’t trigger a fire in a vehicle in its own right, as there’s no off/on switch to set a car ablaze. It’s the U.S. Fire Administration estimates that less than 1% percent of fires that occur in cars occur caused by design defects. 

Typically, manufacturers spot these issues before they spread to the entire population. The release recalls to remove the unsafe cars off the roads and address the issue.

Some design flaws don’t can cause fires in cars and fires, however any number of issues can make fires a significantly more likely. 

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While some recent fires may be used as examples in the pages to follow It is worth noting this: in the past year the majority of major automobile manufacturers have had recalls of more than 10 million vehicles including either gasoline- or electric-powered due to the risk of fire.

9: Poor Maintenance

Not properly maintaining your car is one of the most common factors leading to fire. ALEX TIHONOV/GETTY IMAGES

Human error isn’t likely to be the sole reason for a fire to occur in your car since, after all the act of being lazy isn’t the equivalent of throwing an open flame and throwing it into the fuel tank. 

However, if you’re in a hurry to maintain your vehicle your vehicle could be more risky generally and the greater chance of a fire in your car is only one of the bigger dangers you’re taking. 

It was found that the U.S. Fire Administration found that mechanical malfunction was the most common cause of fires in cars.

Neglecting or forgetting to ensure the proper care for your vehicle could result in an fire. It’s because when you allow damaged components, seals that leak, or malfunctioning wiring go unnoticed repairs and they could make your vehicle more open to conditions which can cause fires. 

This is especially the case when it comes to older or classic cars..

An engine with a faulty gasket is more likely drip dangerous and potentially flammable — fluids. About 20 percent of fires in cars are attributed to the electrical system failing and malfunction. Therefore, just open the hood time and take a an inspection for frayed or leaking wires.

8. Car Crashes

Of course not every vehicle crash will lead to a fire, but some can, especially when fluids leak. Just a tiny spark can ignite flammable liquids like gasoline or oil. X2PHOTO/GETTY IMAGES

Based on the location of the impact an accident could cause a car fire. The majority of vehicles’ crumple zones are constructed well to ensure that the frame and the body take the impact of a hit and shield vulnerable areas inside the vehicle, such as the battery, the engine as well as the tank for gas. 

However, a strong enough blow can result in fluid leaks and spills along with smoke and heat. As we all know, the high temperature and spilled fluids make the perfect environment for the start of a fire.

As it’s difficult for the people inside of a vehicle that has been damaged to determine the severity of the damage when they’re in the vehicle, the danger of a fire may not be apparent immediately. 

It’s for this reason that it’s best to leave the wrecked vehicle as quickly as you can. You’re lucky if not trapped in a wrecked vehicle, even in the event that it explodes in flames, at the very least you’re safe.

7: Arson

Arson is sometimes a factor in car fires, like this police car that was set ablaze in Los Angeles during protest marches over the death of George Floyd in May 2020. HAYK_SHALUNTS/SHUTTERSTOCK

Arson is the crime of igniting the fire. Why would someone intentionally set a vehicle on flames? The most common reason is an act of revenge. It could be a way to conceal evidence of a crime. 

Sometimes, it’s simply the result of curiosity or vandalism from the past or an insurance scam. There are likely to be many additional reasons, but this is more for detectives.

It’s fairly easy to cause a car to catch fire. Investigators investigating arson usually look for signs of interference with the fuel system , or an electric short. 

We’re not advocating this in any way however, we do believe that an arsonist could be another reason that your car could be in flames.

6 7: Hybrid and electric vehicle batteries

Just a few days following it was announced that Tesla Model S was given the title of “the most secure car in history” in the press (and the company Tesla Motors), a Tesla Model S caught fire in the autumn of 2013. 

It’s never a good thing, however, for Tesla the Model S, it was particularly poor. Tesla had stated many times that its all electrical Model S was all but free of the battery-related issues that plagued hybrid vehicles and electric vehicles of the past. 

However the Model S traveling at high speeds struck a piece of debris which punctured the battery of the car and it behaved as any other and ignited. 

There have been a number of Teslas have been burned since the initial fire in 2013, however these kinds of fires aren’t common.

Chevrolet recalls approximately 110,000 Volt EV models from models from 2017 to 2022 due to possible fire-related issues. 

The cause of the problem was identified as an issue with the software and hardware in the battery. It is estimated that around 1/3 of fires in electric vehicles happen when the vehicle is parked and not plugged in.

However, hybrid vehicles appear to be the one most likely to be caught in the flames, with gasoline cars following in second. Vehicles that only run on electricity rank third. Of course, as there are more gasoline-powered vehicles in the roadway and they are responsible for the majority of all fires.

5: Overheating Catalytic Converters

Catalytic converters that are overheated pose an fire risk that’s frequently neglected and isn’t. This is because it’s one of the most flammable components of your vehicle and it is a part that runs throughout the length of the car. This is an exhaust line.

catalytic converters typically overheat due to the fact that they’re working too hard to remove more pollutants from exhaust than they’re intended to handle. 

That is when the engine of your car isn’t working properly (due to damaged spark plugs or any of other adversities) the cat isn’t burning the fuel correctly and lots of extra debris ends up within the system of exhaust. The cat is then forced to exert extra effort to accomplish its job, making it more hot than normal.

Overworked (or congested) catalytic converter is able to change between its usual operating temperatures that ranges from 800-1,000 degree Fahrenheit (648.9 to 871.1 degrees Celsius) to 1,400 degrees Fahrenheit (1,093.3 degrees Celsius). 

This can cause long-term damage, not just to the cat, however, it also affects the vehicle’s components and the surroundings like high grasses. The car’s built to withstand the normal temperature of a cat however it isn’t able to handle temperatures that are hundreds of degrees higher. 

The catalytic converter isn’t a fire hazard and will not ignite however, it is possible to spark anything in close proximity at such high temperatures, even other components of the car.

4: Overheating Engines

An overheated engine can spark a fire, too. It might not necessarily burst into flames itself, but it could cause other flammable parts, like oil, to spread and ignite. THOMAS JACKSON/GETTY IMAGES

A car engine that overheats and causes cars to catch fire is an excellent illustration of how one issue could lead to another. It is likely that the engine won’t overheat to the point of bursting into flames completely by itself. 

However, an engine could overheat, causing its fluids, including the oil as well as coolant increase to high temperatures before they begin to flow from their designated zones of circulation. 

They flow, drizzle, and splatter across the engine bay , and then on to the exhaust system, settling on hot parts which is where they could ignite and expand. Most of the time drivers stop before they get too serious.

In rare instances, such as the late 2012 recall of approximately 90,000. Ford vehicles with an EcoBoost powertrain engines that overheats can be an inherent flaw that can be corrected through a software upgrade -changing the car’s computer to keep the engine’s temperature within a more safe (lower temperature) limit. In general, however the engine that is overheated requires the attention of a mechanic.

3. Spilled Fluids

The average vehicle contains a variety of flammable and dangerous fluids that are under the hood. They include gasoline or diesel fuel transmission fluid, engine oil and power steering fluid brake fluid, and even coolant for engines. 

The fluids all circulate while the car is running and they all are at risk of burning when their reservoirs, hoses, or lines are damaged. 

Therefore, even although one of the vehicle’s vital fluids is unlikely to leak without warning, generally there’s a reason for something else to go first. The reality is that all of these fluids can be ignited.

When combined with an aggravating trigger, like a car accident or a component that fails that fails, the result could be the start of a fire. 

Although a fire will likely begin within the engine bay in which all these hazardous liquids are positioned be aware that some of them such as the fuel or brake fluid are able to travel throughout the length of the vehicle.

2. Electrical System Problems with the Electrical System

Failures in electrical systems take second place on the list since they’re the second most frequent cause of fires in cars. 

Batteries in cars pose a risk and it’s not just the all-electric or hybrid battery packs we’ve previously mentioned. 

The standard lead-acid battery charging cycle can result in explosive hydrogen gas accumulate within the engine compartment and the electrical current that the battery supplies (along with damaged or loose wires) can produce sparks that quickly spark a drip of fluid or leak gasses.

The dangers of electrical systems aren’t limited to the space beneath the hood neither are they limited to the hood. The electrical wiring is everywhere in the entire vehicle: through channels, through doors, beneath the carpet, and even through heated and powered seats, just to mention several locations where a stray wire can cause chaos.

1: Fuel System Leaks

Fuel leaks are something you never want to contend with. Gas and diesel are very flammable, and can catch catch fire without an ignitor. FLICKR/TONY WEBSTER/(CC BY 2.0)

The fuel tank leak is among the most frequently cited cause of vehicle fires, which is why they are at the first spot of our checklist. A leak in the fuel system is very hazardous

We’ve previously discussed the fact that a large portion of vehicle’s fluids are corrosive and toxic and flammable characteristics however, gasoline is one of those that are the most explosive.

A gas-powered vehicle with a temperature of less than 45°F (7.2 °C) Celsius) or more could quickly ignite from an unintentional spark. 

This happens frequently and with purpose in an automobile that is running however, it’s contained within the engine. The gasoline that is heated to the temperature of 495°F (257.2 degree Celsius) will begin to ignite on its own.

It’s not difficult to imagine how the vapor of fuel that drips down onto hot plastic and metal parts could cause a rapidly spreading fire as well as sparks from the tossed cigarette or another sources.

The most effective way to decrease the chance of a fire in the fuel system is to ensure that your vehicle is maintained properly and kept free of the dangers that we’ve discussed. And , if you happen to detect gas around or in your vehicle, locate and address the leak right away.

Car Fire FAQ

What is the cause of car fires?

A car can be engulfed in flames due to an accident, but car fires usually occur because of a malfunctioning wiring or fuel system or a lit smoking cigarette in the car which causes the carpets or seats to catch the fire. In some instances an inconsistency in design could also be the cause.

What is the reason why a car can catch fire after an accident?

One of the primary causes of vehicles burning during an accident is the possibility of a rupture in fuel tanks. Incorrectly routed, poorly installed or damaged fuel lines and also those that have been badly damaged by the collision are more prone to rupture in an accident, causing the car to burn.

What methods do you employ to extinguish the flames of a car?

It is possible to use dried powder, or even a foam extinguisher to the car that’s burning. But the best thing to do is to get away from the vehicle and call firefighters.

Where do the majority of car fires get started?

In the majority of instances the fire is at a minimum limited in the motor compartment.

Can a car spontaneously explode?

It’s true, but it’s no longer a common occurrence. Fires are usually caused by to mechanical or electrical reasons. Signs that a car might be at risk of fire include leaks of oil or fluid, wires that are loose or faulty, rapid shifts in levels of fuel or engine temperature

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