Car Accident Fire

Defective vehicle design results in thousands of car accident fires across the country each year. Often these car fires come at the end of an accident after the occupants have made it through the crash and should be ok. Dangerous fire causing defects include defective gas tanks and fuel tank design, defective wiring and electronics, exploding drive shafts rupturing nearby located and relatively unprotected fuel tanks, and so on.

In some cases, fires can be avoided altogether if the gas tank has been properly located or shielded. Placing the tank in a position that it is protected from crash forces and impact from other parts of the vehicle during an accident is essential to reduce the risk of car fires. Clearly, the safest place for a gas tank is between the frame rails in front of the rear axle.

As more technology and electrical systems are added to vehicles, the chance of wiring failure and engine bays catching fire increases. Manufacturers have a duty to keep vehicles from catching fire after accidents, just like they have a duty to keep passengers safe during the accident.

If you or a loved one have been in a car accident that resulted in a fire contact our auto defect lawyers today. We offer free consultations to review the details of your accident and discuss filing a claim.


Types of Car Fires

Why do vehicles catch fire following an accident? One of the most common causes of fire is if the fuel tank is breached from road debris or a part of the vehicle, as the driveshaft explodes during the accident, putting the fuel tank at risk of exploding. It is said that one gallon of gas exploding has a similar amount of energy as multiple sticks of dynamite. Multiply that by 10 or 20 gallons of petrol and the outcome is not a good recipe for a person involved in a car accident fire.

Another type of accident where car fires occur is when fuel lines move from their original position because the engine has shifted during a crash. During a frontal crash or frontal-offset impact, the engine can move greatly. As this happens it stresses the fuel line running from the gas tank to the engine. When these shifts occur, fuel lines break or begin leaking, drastically increasing the chance of car fires and gas tank explosion accidents.

Third, many accidents occur when there is an impact on the outside of a vehicle’s frame rails. Often, batteries are placed in these areas and when the battery gets contacted during a crash, battery acid explosions and acid fires can cause the entire engine and vehicle to burn up.

What Are Common Causes of Fires in Car Accidents?

Post Collision fuel-fed fires can have catastrophic results for occupants of these vehicles.

  • Fires from Fuel Tanks under the trunk floor.
  • Fires from Seam Weld Failure in the fuel tank.
  • Separation of the Fuel lines from the fuel pump. Carburetor or Fuel Tank following a collision.
  • Puncture of the Fuel Tank due to poorly designed structural members of the vehicle.
  • Fires from Side-Saddle or Added Fuel Tanks, unprotected by the vehicle’s frame.

A car on fire on the side of the road after an accident.

In an automobile accident or rollover, a post-collision fuel-fed fire can have catastrophic results for occupants of these vehicles. These accidents may be rollovers, frontal impact collision, side-impact collision, and rear-end collisions. Some common fire-related points of original or cause include:

Fires from Fuel Tanks under the trunk floor. Electric fuel pump fires- lack of fuel (gas) cut off device Lack of anti-siphoning device to prevent contained gas flow after a collision Fires from Seam Weld Failure in the fuel tank. Separation of the Fuel lines from the fuel pump.

Carburetor or Fuel Tank following a collision.

Puncture of the Fuel Tank due to poorly designed structural members of the vehicle. Fires from Side-Saddle or Added Fuel Tanks, unprotected by the vehicle’s frame.

Fuel-Fed Fires

In each of these types of cases, the automotive engineer must first try to eliminate the hazard, or at least break the fire triangle. The fire triangle is the presence of oxygen, fuel, and an ignition source. However, since the ignition factor oxygen, is near impossible to eliminate in a real-world collision the most likely engineering solution lies in the protection of the fuel system or “fuel containment.” Preventing a crash induced fuel spill is the purpose of fuel system integrity engineering

According to the Highway Safety Research Institute, up to 3,500 deaths each year can be contributed to post-collision fuel-fed fires and over 10,000 suffer some form of burns each year in such collisions. However, other studies believe the death rate is closer to 400-700 per year.
The risks of fuel-fed fires go up dramatically as the speed of the impact increases. At the same time, the size of the vehicle also contributes to the frequency and survivability of post-collision fuel-fed fires.

Fuel Tank Design to Prevent Fuel Tank Fires and Explosions

The majority of automotive fuel tanks are constructed low carbon hot-rolled sheet steel and protected from corrosion with a material most known as “terne coating.” Most tanks are stamped in two pieces (halves), fitted with the fuel line fittings, and holes, with a steel baffle welded inside the tank. Then the two halves are seem welded together to complete the tank. The tanks are then pressure tested for leaks.

What Causes Fuel Tank Failures?

Fuel Tanks and Fuel Systems fail due to well-known and well-documented reasons:

  • Puncture of the fuel tank
  • Tearing of the fuel tank
  • Filter Pipe Separation from the Tank
  • Filter Cap Separation
  • Hydrostatic Bursting (rare)
  • Fuel Line Separation from the fuel tank
  • Lack of Fuel Pump cutoff
  • Fuel Line Separation from the tank

Post-Collision Fires & Fuel Fed Fire Cases

Every year thousands of innocent consumers suffer horribly disfiguring or fatal burn injuries in post-collision fires. Many of those injuries and deaths are caused by improperly designed fuel systems that allow fuel to spill during the accident. Fuel systems should be designed to maintain integrity during reasonably foreseeable accidents.

We believe that a person should not survive a crash only to be burned in a post-collision fire. When that happens, we are prepared to pursue a fuel system defect case. We have experience investigating and pursuing cases concerning fuel system design defects which can involve fuel tank location, fuel filler cap design, filler pipe protection and attachment, fuel line protection and routing, and fuel pump shutoff switches.

Electric Fuel Pumps Can Lead to Fires

Fuel lines that are allowing fuel to escape from the fuel system can result in fuel-fed fires during a collision. Improper construction, as well as the location of the fuel lines, can make a fuel line leak more likely. Cars that contain electric fuel pumps will continue to pump gas through the fuel system after an accident because a defect allows fuel to be present allowing fires to occur.

A man watching a car on fire after an accident.

Anti-siphoning devices prevent fuel from siphoning from a fuel tank, thus preventing fuel from igniting and causing a fuel-fed fire. Manufacturers have yet to take safety precautions by adding the device to vehicles. Siphoning usually allows the gas to flow out very quickly due to gravity.

How Can Fuel Tank Placement Affect Car Accidents?

The safest location for fuel tanks is the area that is least likely to be impacted or intruded during a crash. Through years of studying crashes, two locations have been formed to be the safest. These are “over the rear axle and forward the rear axle,”

The two most dangerous locations have been the placement “rear-mounted under the floor pan” and side-mounted outside vehicle’s protective frame (see), because of the frequency of rear-end collisions the rear-mounted fuel tanks under the floor pans are particularly dangerous due to close proximity of the crash zone from rear-end collisions. Therefore, many manufacturers have been forced to move the tanks further away from the rear bumper or provided protective shields to prevent their rapture.

What Steps Can be Taken to Prevent Fuel Tank Fires?

Relocation, location and/or shielding of rupture or puncture are the most practical solutions to fuel-fed fires. It is no secret that the more potential for fires. Another practical solution is the shielding or guarding against intrusions into the tank zone. Beginning in 1977 in some vehicles a high density, a plastic shield was placed under or against the tank to prevent puncture by the differential or drive draft during a collision. Other designs included bladders located in the fuel tanks, high-density polyethylene plastic tanks, and breakaway fittings on the filler pipe.

Talk to an Auto Defect Lawyer about Your Car Accident Fire Claim

If you have a question regarding a serious personal injury claim or the wrongful death of a friend or family member, call and talk to a Board Certified Personal Injury Trial Lawyer. Don’t wait, schedule your free confidential consultation today.

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