What causes a car to catch on fire?

The most common causes of car fires are electrical and mechanical problems. Collisions can also cause a car to catch on fire, but it’s not as common. When a car develops a mechanical or electrical malfunction, the sparks can ignite flammable materials in the car's engine compartment. Mechanical failures can generate heat that can start a fire or cause flammable fluids to ignite.

How common are car fires?

A car catching on fire is more common than you'd think. According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, one of every eight fires that fire departments respond to is a highway vehicle fire. Additionally, older model-year vehicles are at a greater risk of catching fire due to the added wear and tear on their mechanical and electrical components, according to the National Fire Protection Association. And vehicles don't need to be in motion for disaster to strike. A car can catch on fire in a driveway after you've returned home and parked.

How does car insurance cover fire damage?

If your car caught on fire, your insurance may cover it if you carry comprehensive car insurance or auto collision coverage. If your car catches on fire while driving due to a car accident, you can file a claim under your collision coverage. If it catches on fire outside of an accident, you would file a comprehensive claim instead. A claims adjuster will then determine if the damage is covered, as well as whether the vehicle can be repaired or if it's a total loss.

The insurance company will then give you a check for either the cost of repairs or the actual cash value of your vehicle if its totaled, minus your car insurance deductible.

If the fire started due to a collision that was caused by another driver, then you could file a claim for the damage with their insurance. This is known as a third-party insurance claim. Otherwise, you could file a claim under your collision coverage, and your insurer would seek reimbursement for the damage from the other driver's insurance.

How can I avoid a car fire?

It's good to stay up to date on maintenance and repairs, especially if you have an older vehicle. Pay extra attention to any electrical irregularities (fuses that continually blow, exposed wiring, etc.) or fluid loss (such as oil stains that form under the parked car) as these can be signs of serious issues that may increase the likelihood of a fire. Get your vehicle checked regularly by a professional and perform recommended repairs promptly.