AAA and Fire Protection Experts Issue Advisory to Help Prevent Quarter Million Vehicle Fires Nationwide; 7,764 Vehicle Fires in California

(LOS ANGELES, October 19, 2005) — The Automobile Club of Southern California, the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), and professional firefighters today issued a national consumer advisory requesting the public's help in preventing vehicle fires in the United States.

According to recently completed research by NFPA, U.S. public fire departments responded to an estimated 266,500 highway-type vehicle fires during 2004. These fires claimed 520 lives, caused 1,300 injuries and nearly a billion dollars in property damage. Also, highway vehicle fires accounted for 17 percent of all reported fires and 13 percent of all civilian fire deaths. Highway vehicles include cars, trucks, motorcycles and other vehicles commonly driven on roads or highways. Highway vehicle fires are most often caused by mechanical or electrical failure. In California, 7,764 vehicle fires occurred in 2004, according to California State Fire Marshal incident data. In Orange County, nearly 500 vehicle fires were logged by the Orange County Fire Authority's jurisdictions.

"In 2004, highway vehicle fires caused more deaths than apartment fires," said NFPA President James M. Shannon. "The public needs to be more aware of this serious fire safety issue and take measures to lessen the risk of an incident."

The joint advisory from AAA and the NFPA on vehicle fires is being issued during AAA Car Care Month.

"The size and seriousness of the vehicle fire problem in the United States is prompting AAA to advise all motorists to be alert to vehicle maintenance issues that can cause fires, and to know what actions they should take if their vehicle is involved in a fire," said Dave Skaien, Auto Club–approved auto repair program development manager.

"Although drivers may believe fires occur mostly from collisions, this is not true. Many more are caused by failed vehicle components that could have been maintained or repaired prior to causing or accelerating a fire, Skaien added."

For this reason, the Auto Club and NFPA are urging all vehicle owners to carefully follow manufacturers' maintenance schedules and to arrange for a comprehensive maintenance inspection of their vehicles each year.

Vehicle owners and the technicians that inspect their vehicles need to be especially alert to damaged wiring and loose electrical connections, worn or blistered fluid lines and leaking connections, severely worn brake components, and damaged heat shields; especially those protecting catalytic converters, exhaust manifolds and other high temperature heat sources, the Auto Club said.

According to NFPA statistics, more than two-thirds of highway vehicle fires resulted from mechanical or electrical failures or malfunctions. Collisions or rollovers caused only 3% of these fires, but 57% of the associated deaths.

To further reduce the risks associated with vehicle fires, consumers need to be knowledgeable about what to do — and not to do — if their vehicle catches fire. Fire protection experts advise that if a vehicle fire occurs, stop, get out and call for help as quickly as possible. Attempting to fight the fire yourself can lead to serious injury or death and should be avoided.

Fire protection experts recommend the following:

  • STOP — If possible, pull to the side of the road and turn off the ignition. Pulling to the side makes it possible for everyone to get out of the vehicle safely. Turn off the ignition to shut off the electric current and stop the flow of gasoline. Put the vehicle in park or set the emergency brake; you don't want the vehicle to move after your leave it. Do not open the hood because more oxygen can make the fire larger and exposes you to a sudden flare up.
  • GET OUT — Make sure everyone gets out of the vehicle, but do not waste time and increase risk by removing personal belongings. Then move at least 100 feet away. Keep traffic in mind and keep everyone together. There is not only danger from the fire, but also from other vehicles moving in the area.
  • CALL FOR HELP — Call 9-1-1 or the emergency number for your local fire department. Firefighters are specially trained to combat vehicle fires. Never return to the vehicle to attempt to fight the fire yourself. Vehicle fires can be tricky, even for firefighters. Pressurized components can burst or explode, spilling or spraying highly flammable liquids, or eject projectiles than can cause serious injuries.

To reduce the risk of a vehicle fire, the Auto Club makes these recommendations:

  • Have your vehicles inspected at least annually by a trained, professional technician. As a public service, AAA inspects and approves thousands of repair facilities in the U.S. and Canada as part of the AAA Approved Auto Repair program. Names and locations of Auto Club–approved repair businesses can be found at
  • Watch for fluid leaks under vehicles, cracked or blistered hoses, or wiring that is loose, has exposed metal or has cracked insulation. Have any of these conditions inspected and repaired as soon as possible.
  • Be alert to changes in the way your vehicle engine sounds or smells when running. A louder than usual exhaust tone, smoke coming from the tailpipe or a backfiring exhaust could mean problems or damage to the exhaust and emission control system on the vehicle. Have vehicles inspected and repaired as soon as possible if a safety or mechanical problem is suspected.
  • Avoid smoking. If you must smoke, use your vehicle ashtray. Don't throw cigarette butts or flick ashes out the windows. They may contribute to vehicle and other types of fires.
  • Drive according to posted speed limits and other traffic rules. Remain alert to changing driving conditions and vehicle performance at all times.