Most vehicle fires can be prevented by safe driving and regular maintenance but knowing what to do can help prevent serious injury and save lives. Ian Evans, principal electrical engineer at Harmonic Solutions Oil and Gas, offers advice on what you should and shouldn’t do when your car catches fire.
• Stay calm. Signal to get off the road.
• If you smell burning wires or smoke, or even if your temperature gauge is redlined, drive directly onto the hard shoulder and turn off the ignition. You don’t need to see flames to make this decision.
• If you are stuck in a middle lane and cannot get to the shoulder, turn on your hazard lights, stop the car where it is and turn off the ignition. Do not concern yourself with the rest of the traffic — they’ll get out of the way when they see the smoke and flames.
• Get out of the car quickly but be cautious; you don’t want to get burned but you also don’t want to be struck by another vehicle.
• If you are stuck in traffic, be sure to warn others around you about the danger. They may need to abandon their cars, too.
• Leave everything in the car.
• Get as far from the burning car as you can. If the car explodes, you don’t want to be anywhere close.
• Call 999. If the fire is confined to the interior of the car, and it has not spread uncontrollably, you could consider putting out the fire yourself if you have an extinguisher in your boot and know how to use it. But do this only if the fire is small and manageable.
• Do not panic. Panic is at the root of bad decision-making.
• Do not roll the windows down and drive faster in the hope that the wind will put the fire out. Instead, the air and wind can fuel the fire and make it spread faster.
• Do not swerve off the road without checking to make sure you’re clear to do so. A fire is bad. A fire combined with a collision could be much worse.
• Do not scramble for your valuables. The only thing that is important at this moment is your safety. A fire can engulf the car in a matter of seconds, especially if there is an oil or fuel leak.
• If smoke and flames are coming out from under the bonnet, do not open it. A sudden influx of air to the engine compartment can create a fireball effect that can engulf the vehicle and anyone around it almost instantly.
• Do not assume the fire is out just because you can’t see it anymore.
• Do not try to extinguish the fire with nearby water. This is highly ineffective and unsafe.
• Do not linger around the car. Get away, and keep others away. Wait for emergency personnel.