How to Deal with Vehicle Fires on the Road: A Complete Guide

Vehicle fires while on the road are incredibly dangerous and can occur suddenly, often without warning. They can result in significant damage to the vehicle, potential injury to passengers, and pose a threat to other road users. This can lead to traffic disruptions and hazardous situations that require immediate and effective action.

If you ever find yourself faced with a vehicle fire, you need to know how to respond quickly and safely. Knowing how to deal with vehicle fires will minimize risks, protect lives, and help control the situation until emergency services arrive. This knowledge is crucial for ensuring the safety of everyone involved and reducing potential damage. In this guide, we’ll tell you what you need to do if you encounter a vehicle fire as well as some tips on how to prevent it.

Understanding Vehicle Fires

Vehicle fires refer to fires that originate within a motor vehicle, including cars, trucks, and buses. This happens when flammable materials such as fuel, oil, or electrical components ignite due to factors like mechanical failure, collisions, or external sources of fire. It involves various elements of the vehicle, including the engine, fuel system, and electrical wiring, which can all contribute to the spread of the fire.

Such fires are typically categorized as emergencies due to their potential to cause significant harm to people, property, and the environment. While not typically considered force majeure—an unforeseeable, unavoidable event beyond control—they are critical incidents that require immediate response and appropriate safety measures. Vehicle fires demand prompt attention from emergency services to prevent further escalation and ensure public safety.

Common Causes of Vehicle Fires

Vehicle fires can be triggered by a variety of factors, often resulting from mechanical failures or accidents. Understanding these common causes is crucial for prevention and safety.

  • Faulty Catalytic Converters: Excessive heat due to unburned fuel can ignite.
  • Fuel System Leaks: Leaking fuel can easily catch fire from engine heat.
  • Parking Over Dry Grass: Hot exhaust systems can ignite dry vegetation.
  • Fluid Leaks: Leaks from brake fluid or engine oil can cause fires.
  • Engine Overheat: Boiling fluids can spill and ignite.
  • Electrical Failures: Faulty wiring or poor aftermarket electrical installations can spark fires.
  • Battery Issues: A faulty battery can cause sparks and potentially explode.
  • Collisions: Accidents can lead to fuel leaks and sparks from damaged wiring.
  • Overloading: Carrying too much weight or overloading can overheat components and lead to fires.
  • Poor Maintenance: Neglecting regular vehicle maintenance can increase the risk of fires due to undetected issues.

Key Steps to Handle a Vehicle Fire

Experiencing a vehicle fire while driving can be terrifying, but knowing how to respond can save lives and prevent further damage. In the Philippines, where the weather can be extremely hot, the risk of vehicle fires increases, making it crucial for drivers to be prepared. Here’s a list of what to do if you encounter a vehicle fire while on the open road.

Step 1. Pull Over Safely

  • If you notice smoke or flames, immediately pull over to a safe location away from traffic and pedestrians.
  • Turn off the engine to stop the flow of fuel.

Step 2. Evacuate the Vehicle

  • Exit the vehicle quickly but calmly. Ensure all passengers do the same.
  • Move at least 30 meters away from the vehicle to avoid exposure to flames and toxic fumes.

Step 3. Call for Assistance

  • Dial the local emergency hotline and provide your exact location and details about the fire.

Step 4. Use a Fire Extinguisher

  • If the fire is small and manageable, use a fire extinguisher to try and douse the flames. Aim at the base of the fire and use a sweeping motion.

Step 5. Do Not Use Water

  • Never pour water on a gasoline or diesel fire as it can spread the flames.

Step 6. Wait for Professionals

  • If you cannot extinguish the fire, maintain a safe distance and wait for emergency services to arrive.

Preventive Measures to Avoid Vehicle Fires

Preventing vehicle fires requires proactive measures and regular maintenance to ensure all systems are functioning safely. By addressing potential hazards and adhering to safety protocols, you can significantly reduce the risk of a fire.

  • Regular Maintenance
    • Coolant Levels: Regularly check and maintain proper coolant levels to prevent overheating.
    • Oil Changes: Follow the manufacturer’s recommended oil change intervals to ensure the engine runs smoothly.
    • Electrical Checks: Inspect electrical wiring and components for wear and tear to prevent electrical faults.
    • Routine Inspections: Have your vehicle inspected by a certified mechanic regularly.
    • Use Approved Parts: Always use manufacturer-approved parts for repairs and replacements, especially for the electrical system.
    • Check for Leaks: Routinely inspect for fuel, oil, or brake fluid leaks and address them immediately.
  • Safe Driving and Parking Practices
    • Park in Shaded Areas: Park in shaded areas to minimize heat exposure.
    • Avoid Dry Grass when Parking: Do not park over dry grass or foliage to prevent accidental fires from hot exhaust systems.
    • Avoid Overloading: Do not overload your vehicle beyond its recommended capacity to prevent overheating.
  • Proper Storage
    • Remove Flammable Materials: Keep items like aerosol cans and gas containers out of the car, especially in hot conditions.
    • Heat-Resistant Covers: Use heat-resistant car covers to protect your vehicle from direct sunlight.
  • Emergency Preparedness
    • Fire Extinguisher: Always have a fire extinguisher in your vehicle and ensure all passengers know how to use it.
    • Awareness of Warning Signs: Pay attention to dashboard warning lights and unusual smells or smoke from the engine bay.

In Case of an Accident

In the event of an accident, it’s important to remember to prioritize safety and take immediate, appropriate actions to minimize further risks. Knowing what steps to take if you see an accident that results in vehicle fire can make a significant difference in the outcome of the situation.

Step 1. Preparation

  • Keep a fire extinguisher and an emergency rescue tool in your car.

Step 2. Quick Assessment

  • Park at a safe distance and call emergency services.

Step 3. Assist Passengers

  • Help passengers exit the vehicle and turn off the ignition.

Step 4. Control Fire

  • If safe, use a fire extinguisher to control small fires. 
  • Do not lift the hood; spray through any openings.

Step 5. Evacuate

  • If the fire is uncontrollable, focus on evacuating all passengers.

Video: 7 Common Causes of Vehicle Fires and Prevention Tips

Understanding the common causes of vehicle fires and knowing how to prevent them can significantly reduce the risk of such dangerous incidents. In this video, Car Talks PH explores the seven most common causes of vehicle fires and provides essential tips to help you stay safe on the road.


Vehicle fires can be frightening and dangerous, but being prepared and knowing how to respond can make all the difference. Regular maintenance, proper storage, and awareness are key to preventing vehicle fires. In the event of a fire, staying calm, evacuating safely, and calling for help are crucial steps to ensure everyone’s safety. Remember, it’s better to be proactive with safety measures than to react to an emergency unprepared. Stay safe on the roads and protect your vehicle from fire and other road hazards.

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