You’re driving down the freeway. Suddenly you see blacksmoke and flames shooting out from under the hood of your car. Insurance probably isn’t the biggest thing on your mind at that moment, so we’ll save
that for last. First, let’s look at what you should do when your car catches fire while you’re driving.
Car fires are fairly common. The U.S. Fire Administration (USFA) says one in every four fire department responses is to a vehicle fire. They also say the leading cause of car fires is mechanical or design problems. Electrical wiring and fuel igniting materials feed the flames and make car fires worse. Surprisingly, according to USFA, fires that result from a collision and not the collision itself are the leading cause of vehicle deaths, and many injuries result from people attempting to put out the fire. Don’t do that.
Understand that this is a very dangerous situation. If you even suspect your car is on fire, pull over to the side of the road immediately, turn off the ignition and get out. Do not look under the hood. The rush of air
can make the fire worse. Instead, get as far away from the vehicle as possible. Car fires can burn as hot as 1,500 degrees and flames from a burning vehicle can shoot 10 feet or more from the source. Other parts of your vehicle like tire rims, engine parts and axles can burst and become deadly shrapnel, and the fire can produce toxic gases including carbon monoxide. Although it’s not as common as TV and movies would lead you to believe, gas tanks can rupture and spray flammable fuel or even explode on rare occasions. Your best bet: head for safe ground, upwind from the fire, call 911 and wait for the experts to show up.
So let’s say your car has caught fire. You’re okay but your car looks like the bottom of a barbecue. Your car insurance will pay for all this, right? Maybe not. Unless you have comprehensive coverage, your basic policy will only cover fire damage resulting from a collision. And, as we mentioned in our prevision post about car arson, insurance companies are extremely suspicious of spontaneous car fires. Even if you have comprehensive, expect some scrutiny of your car and your background before your claim is paid.
Things can also get a little dicey if the fire was caused by mechanical failure. Depending on your policy, your insurance may pay for fire and smoke damage except the actual defective part. Say a faulty battery
started the fire. Insurance will deduct the value of the battery from your claim payout.
Whether or not to repair the car is another decision your insurance will have to make. If your insurance company decides that the cost of repairs exceeds a percentage of its estimated worth, they will offer you the car’s actual cash value, less your deductible. Before you accept any payment, do your own research into the value of your car and show it to the insurance company if you have a dispute.