Dubai supercars: Why do vehicles keep bursting into flames?

Negligent mechanics, aggressive revving and high temperatures are all factors, say mechanics

A spate of car fires on the UAE's roads have made headlines in recent days.

A sports car burst into flames on Sheikh Zayed Road on Monday, while the bonnet of a white convertible caught on fire on the Palm on the same day.

Firefighters were quickly on the scene to extinguish the flames and neither driver was hurt.

Cars can catch fire for a variety of reasons — and the cause of the two fires on Monday has not been revealed.

It happens with Lamborghinis, McLarens and some Ferraris, largely because of the high-exiting exhaust pipe at the back
Damien Reid, motoring journalist

But experts say as soon as there is even a hint of smoke, the driver and passengers should exit the vehicle as quickly and safely as possible.

Vehicles contain several flammable liquids and materials, and once a fire starts spreading it can quickly escalate, so stand well clear and call the emergency services.

The National turned to motoring expert Damien Reid and car mechanic Tim Crossley from I Service Any Car in Dubai to find out more about why cars burst into flames.

How do car fires start?

If there has been no collision, there are a multitude of possible causes of a car fire, said Mr Crossley, 51, who runs a car service centre in Al Quoz in Dubai.

“Leaking fuel systems, faulty or damaged wiring, spilt fluids and underperforming exhaust systems are just some of the avoidable causes.

“Many people may also be unaware that batteries in electric vehicles are highly volatile, and if damaged can ignite.”

Over-fuelling and careless fuelling, where petrol comes into contact with hot components, can also play part.

Are certain vehicles more susceptible?

High performance cars are more likely to go up in flames, particularly when they overheat, which can happen when they are stalled in traffic jams in the UAE's summer heat.

“Supercars are known for being a little more 'delicate' than other vehicles, although this does not make them more susceptible to catching fire," said Mr Crossley, who comes from the UK.

“However as they generally are used less frequently, seals can become hard and start to crack, filters can become clogged with dust — all resulting in a greater chance of an issue arising.”

The drivers can also play a part, said Mr Reid, who is originally from Australia and covers car racing, like Formula One, for several media outlets.

“It happens with Lamborghinis, McLarens and some Ferraris, largely because of the high-exiting exhaust pipe at the back.

“You get guys who rev them, and then the exhaust spits flames, which catch on to a bit of the plastic or carbon fibre on the back of the car and up it goes.

“So it's a mixture of people being irresponsible doing that, but also a lot of people here like to get them serviced as cheaply as possible at some dodgy places, and that can do it as well.”

Are car fires more common in the UAE?

The summer heat does play a part in car fires, and high winds can fan flames. But really it is the desert environment that causes problems.

“The physical climate that we live in does take its toll on cars. Anyone who has left garden furniture out in the sun over the summer months will know the impact that the heat, sand and UV light has,” said Mr Crossley.

“Your car goes through the same conditions for years on end and it's easy to imagine how plastic pipes can become brittle, rubber hoses can perish and electrical wires can fray, even if the car isn't regularly used.”

How can you stop car fires from happening?

Modern day vehicles are far safer now than they ever have been, but this does not make them impervious to mechanical failure, which can result in a fire.

Most of the issues can be avoided with an annual safety inspection at a reputable automotive service centre, said Mr Crossley.

The mechanics will spot any potential hazards, inform the vehicle's owner, and repair the damage.

What can you do to keep yourself safe?

The RTA’s standard annual safety checks require car owners to ensure that a fire extinguisher is in place in all vehicles.

Experts say drivers should familiarise themselves with the location of the extinguisher, because in times of heightened tension, seconds can count, and having quick access to it could potentially save lives.

When you rent a car, check that it has an extinguisher in place.

Tim's safety tips

It’s important to understand the simple steps you can take to help keep yourself safe.

  • If you notice any fluids under the vehicle, do not drive the car.
  • If smoke starts to appear, turn the vehicle off and exit the car in a safe manner.
  • If you can smell fuel do not start the car.
  • Most insurance providers offer free roadside assistance, so if any of these situations arise, they can arrange for your vehicle to be collected and sent to a car repair centre.
Updated: November 23rd 2021, 1:13 PM