Car fires aren’t anywhere near as common as they used to be a few decades ago. However, as a Fort Myers crash lawyer, I’ve seen more than a few lead to serious injuries.
Thousands of vehicles have caught fire over the last decade – including at least a half a dozen electric vehicles that went up in flames in Southwest Florida following Hurricane Ian-related flooding. (Similar issues were also reported with golf carts and scooters post-storm – especially dangerous because unlike car fires caused by engine combustion, those involving compromised batteries can keep reigniting.)
Are Florida Vehicle Fires Truly That Big of a Problem?
Overall occurrences of vehicle fires have dropped by 60 percent since the 1980s, according to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). But whether the car is powered by gasoline, lithium-ion batteries, hybrid powertrains, or electricity – car fires are always a possibility after a crash. In a single recent year, the NFPA estimates there were more than 212,000 vehicle fires in the U.S., resulting in 1,500 injuries, 560 deaths, and nearly $2 billion in property damage. It breaks down to about 400 vehicle fires daily. Vehicle fires resulted in 4.5 times the number of deaths as non-residential structure fires and 1.6 times the number of apartment fire deaths. Fires involving vehicles account for 16 percent of the 1.3 million fires that get reported to fire departments annually, as well as 15 percent of fire-related deaths and 10 percent of fire-related injuries.
The vast majority of these are highway vehicle fires, the most common causes are:
- Mechanical failures & malfunctions
- Electrical failures & malfunctions
- Misuse of certain products or materials, such as spilling caustic liquids too close to the car
Older vehicles are especially prone to issues with flammability. When larger trucks are involved in a crash-related fire, the potential injury or death rate soars.
In some cases, vehicle manufacturers may be responsible for vehicle fires. For example, more than 7 million Kia and Hyundai vehicles have been recalled for vehicle fire risk, with more than 3,100 such fires (and 103 deaths) reported since 2010, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). It’s thought that perhaps these fires are related to the type of engine used by both car makers (they use many of the same parts suppliers), but it’s also possible faulty brake systems, wiring, and battery issues may be to blame. Where manufacturers haven’t been able to fix the fire risk right away, they’ve urged drivers to park the vehicles both outside and away from structures to minimize the odds of property damage if the vehicles do catch fire.