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Sat Oct 22 19:54:18 SAST 2016

How does my car catch fire?

MiWay | 04 October, 2016 12:13
Up in flames? You can take steps to prevent such a disaster.
Image by: MiWay/Shutterstock

You’re driving along your usual route and you see smoke billowing out of a car stopped by the side of the road. No driver in sight, no accident scene – just the flaming car. Not a common sighting, but not an unknown risk either.

After some of MiWay’s clients mentioned that they had spotted a burning car on the side of the highway, an in-depth conversation was sparked (pun intended) and it only made sense to share some of the reasons that could lead to your car going up in flames.

What causes a car to go up in flames? Over and above the obvious reason of a collision, there are other hazardous situations to consider when driving your car.

Without further ado, here’s how your car could catch aflame:

Mechanical failure

Massive overheating through friction as a result of mechanical pieces getting stuck or not working as they should. These aren’t always easily detectable by the average driver. However, good maintenance can decrease this risk.

Electrical malfunction or short circuit

Lately there are more and more electrical cars coming onto the scene, but how safe are they from fires? In 2013, the Tesla Model S caught fire, proving that electrical cars are not immune from battery problems. This is actually said to be the second most common reason behind cars going aflame.

Oil or fuel leakage

There is a reason why oil and fuel tanks are designed to avoid contact with areas that would result in a dangerous situation. When oil or fuel leaks out of the tank, it could come into contact with areas that are potentially hot enough to cause a fire. If you notice leaking fluid on your garage floor, get it checked out!

Design flaws

Although manufacturers will try to contain this situation by recalling cars before there are any incidents, your car may run the risk of going up in flames as design flaws can lead to mechanical failure or total malfunction.

Poor maintenance

Not taking proper care of your car adds to the danger of a car burning up. Leaving broken parts, faulty wiring or leaky seals unattended for any period of time is equivalent to throwing a lit match to the car and hoping it won’t burn.

Overheating catalytic converters (exhaust system)

This a fire risk that is often overlooked and honestly shouldn’t be. Think about this – the exhaust system is one of the consistently hottest parts of your car and it runs the entire length of your car. Your car is designed to withstand the car’s standard exhaust system heat, but the added heat from an exhausted system can become too much to bear even for a car designed to take a lot.

Overheating engine

This cause is a good example of how one thing can lead to another – a car’s engine won’t overheat to the point of causing a fire all on its own; there is always a buddy fire-starter. An overheating engine can make fluids rise to dangerous heat levels and spill over. If you notice your car’s engine overheating, you may want to get it checked out ASAP.


One other reason that can’t be overlooked is human intent. Yes, cars may catch fire simply because someone set it alight. There are a number of different reasons why someone would go to the lengths of setting their car alight – which we don’t condone.

Popping the hood may be a schlep, but doing so from time to time could be beneficial to ensuring that your car is not a rolling death-trap that is waiting to explode. It is also suggested that you review your car insurance policy to ensure that you are covered for any and all emergencies – you wouldn’t want to come under fire for any miscommunications when making a claim!


This article was paid for by MiWay and does not involve Times Media journalists.


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