Car Fire Extinguishers – A short guide

Car fire extinguishers are almost mandatory for any car owner in Singapore. On average, car fires occur once every 5 days according to SCDF statistics. This makes having a fire extinguisher in your vehicle very helpful. Unlike other fires, they are highly challenging even for the seasoned fire fighter.

In most of the videos where you see SCDF fighting car fires, the “big guns” are taken out. Fire engines are connected to the road side fire hydrant with the usual fire hoses. The most recent car fire accident was the Maris Stella Car Fire. You can see in the video that even when the fire fighters went all in, the blaze still took some time to put out. The question is, why?



Why are car fires so difficult to put out?

Car fires can happen at any point of time even when the cars are parked and turned off. A car fire is usually made of two fire classes – Class A and Class B

The area under the hood of the car has a lot of combustibles such as rubbers and plastics. When the car is in operation, a lot of heat is generated, making it a huge class A fire hazard.

On top of that, they carry a huge amount of fuel. One of the smaller cars in the market, the Mini Cooper has a fuel tank size of 44 litres while the suzuki swift has 37 litres. Larger continental cars can even have up to 55 litres. The large amount of fuel makes it a class B fire hazard.

The Hercules 2KG Dry Powder Fire Extinguisher has a fire rating of 55B which means it can successfully put out a liquid fire of around 36 litres. This seems a lot until you compare it to the fuel tank size of your car. The good news is that the entire fuel tank is not burning at the same time and it is unlikely the entire fuel tank is filled up. Otherwise, it would be truly impossible to put out the car fire.

Alone, these factors do not make the fire hard to tackle. The problem comes when all the rubbers, plastics and fuel line are squeezed into the engine compartment in a complicated array. It makes it very difficult to see the base of fire amidst the thick smoke. The tubes and parts of the engine may obstruct the powder from reaching the fire.

This all means that if a car fire has occurred, you have a very small amount of time to put out the fire. If the fire was due to an electrical wire, your odds are good if the fire has not reached the fuel line. However, if the fuel line was the cause of the fire, effectively, you may be fighting a fire that is the size of your fuel tank. The fuel size and the car hood impeding fire fighting means that car fires are very tough to put out. Even professional fire fighters will fail at putting out a car fire with a 9KG Dry Powder fire extinguisher by the time they arrive.



Do not accelerate your car

When a car fire is about to occur, the first sign is the burning smell. If you notice a strange burning smell, that is your cue to immediately slow down your car and park by the side of the road to investigate.

At this point of time, smoke cannot be seen easily as the hood is hiding the smoke. By the time the smoke is visibly emitting out of your vehicle, you will not have much time left to try to put out the fire.

Most importantly, you must slow down or stop your car as soon as possible. The more you accelerate, the more heat is generated and the faster the fire grows.



Open up the car hood slowly

The hood acts as the shield for the fire. It also hides the severity of the fire. Without opening up the hood, it will not be possible to know if there is a fire and it would be impossible to attempt to put out the fire. At the same time, opening up the hood quickly will draw in a fresh intake of oxygen. This will cause the fire to grow very quickly. The only way would be to slowly lift up the hood.



How to put out a car fire?

  1. When you detect a burning smell, immediately turn on the hazard light.
  2. Slow down and stop by the side of the road as soon as you can to investigate.
  3. Switch off the vehicle
  4. Before you leave your car, grab the fire extinguisher and pull the switch to release the car hood.
  5. Slowly open up the hood to investigate.
  6. If a small fire is seen. Immediately, fully discharge the contents of the fire extinguisher.

The key to putting out a car fire is to be quick. The moment the fire has appeared, it would already be a “medium difficulty” fire for most people.



What to do after a car fire

First of all, congratulations! You are one of the few fire fighters that have successfully put out a car fire.

Never ever try to turn on your car after putting out the fire. This may cause the fire to reignite.

Immediately make a phone call to have the car towed to the workshop for investigations. Let the tow truck driver know that a fire has just been put out so that he can take the proper precautions. Do not attempt to drive your car to the workshop. A fire may reignite within a few minutes of driving.

After the workshop has repaired the car, have a reputable car wash center do a wash down and clean up of the entire area under the hood. Even if it looks clean, do the wash down because powder is very small and hard to see with the naked eye. This is important because dry powder has a corrosive effect if left unwashed.



Car maintenance is just as important

The easiest way to stop a car fire is to prevent it from happening in the first place. Poor maintenance is the leading cause for car fires. Always do the oil change maintenance regularly and listen to the car technicians advice. If the car dashboard shows any kind of red symbol, do not hesitate to investigate immediately.

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