6 Steps to Take if Your Car Catches on Fire, According to Consumer Reports

Sometimes the news runs a headline about vehicles catching on fire and then makes it sound like a one-off experience. While this is mostly the case, there are situations where some models have a track record of catching on fire before being recalled. So what should you do if your vehicle suddenly has flames shooting out of the motor? Consumer Reports says to follow these six steps.

A small white car on fire, engulfed in flames.
Car fires are extremely dangerous | STRDEL/AFP via Getty Images

1. Pull over and shut off the car

This is very important. Pulling over just makes sense, but it’s crucial that you shut off the car before exiting the vehicle, according to Consumer Reports. This can prevent the fire from spreading further.

If you are in a gasoline-powered vehicle, this prevents fuel from continuing to flow. For EVs, it’s also crucial to shut down the powertrain and accessories.

2. Driver and passengers exit and get at least 100 feet away

Everyone, including the driver, should exit the car as quickly as possible. Don’t forget any small children or pets who are in safety seats.

Once you are out, you need to get at least 100 feet away from the vehicle. If you aren’t sure what 100 feet looks like, here are some quick tips. 

One lane of traffic is about 12 feet, so eight lanes of traffic would be 100 feet. You can also visualize two train cars placed end-to-end.

Also, keep an eye on which way the wind is blowing, and stay upwind. This will prevent you from breathing in any toxic fumes. It’s also crucial to remember that the wind can also drive flames, so you don’t want to escape one fire only to be trapped in the path of another.

3. Call 911

The sooner firefighters arrive, the sooner they can begin working to put out the flames. If you don’t have a cell phone, try to wave down another motorist who does.

4. Attempt to put the fire out only if you have the proper equipment

If you have the proper training and equipment, you can attempt to put out the fire from a safe distance. If you aren’t trained, then it is recommended that you stay 100 feet away and wait for the fire department to handle it. This is especially true if the vehicle is engulfed in flames.

If you have a fire extinguisher, it should be approved for Class B or Class C fires. These are fires of combustible liquids, oils, tars, and energized electrical equipment.

5. Don’t open the hood or trunk


Parking on Leaves Can Make Your Car Start on Fire

If you managed to put the fire out on your own, it may be tempting to check how bad the damage is by opening the hood or trunk. This can cause the fire to spread, however.

When you open the hood or trunk, this allows air in. Air is one of the key ingredients for a fire to spread. A fire that was nearly extinguished may find new life breathed into it, and you can end up burned.

6. Be aware of your surroundings

Let’s face it, there is something alluring about a fire. It can draw you in and catch your attention in a way that not even social media can manage. This can lead to another tragedy if you are focused on the fire and back away right into traffic.

Keep in mind that you are still near a roadway and watch any small children closely. Also, don’t run into traffic in an effort to flee the source of the flames. Keep calm, and listen to any instructions first aid responders provide.