Fire-proof your car for UAE summer

Residents are warned against buying vehicles with specifications not suited to the region’s heat / Image Credit: K.P Devadasan/Gulf News

Residents are warned against buying vehicles with specifications not suited to the region’s heat / Image Credit: K.P Devadasan/Gulf News

More than 10 incidents of vehicles catching fire in the UAE in the last one month has prompted authorities to step up awareness drives for motorists.

On May 30, a SUV broke out in flames at an Enoc petrol Station on Al Quds street in Dubai. Civil Defense brought the fire under control within 10 minutes. No one was injured but both the vehicle and petrol pump were severely damaged. Forensics has not yet released information about the cause of the blaze.

On June 1, a motorist miraculously escaped after his moving vehicle burst into flames on Al Taawun Bridge in Sharjah. The man stopped the vehicle after he realised his car had a problem. Firefighters extinguished the fire but no reports of what caused it have been issued yet.

Last month, Rahim Boul, a Pakistani driver for a Dubai-based company, had to pull to the side of the road when he noticed smoke billowing out of his pickup hood.

“I had taken it to a mechanic a few days prior to the incident as the air conditioning wasn’t working well,” Boul said. “The day after I got it back, the car caught fire. Luckily, I managed to extinguish the fire before it spread.”

Two weeks after the incident, police report stated the fire originated from a loose battery connection.

“I suspect the mechanic did not fasten it well,” said Boul. “I had only recently changed the battery.”

There is rarely a single source to a car fire. Causes range from an acid leak from the battery to a punctured oil pipe. Vehicles catching fire is common during summer because motorists are not aware of the precautions to be taken. 

Causes of fires in cars

Hagop Yacoubian, owner of the Sebouh Electrical Workshop, said loose battery cables are a major cause of car-fires.

“Loose cables and old wiring can cause sparks to burst, which is especially dangerous if the sparks are near to oil pipelines. Bare wires are extremely dangerous and can definitely start a fire. Fuel pumps that are not fixed well can also be a cause.”

Yacoubian stressed that motorists should be wary of loose cables and change their car-batteries periodically, as acid-leaks can pose a fire-hazard. He also said modifications can overload a car’s fuse-box. “The fuse will begin gradually heating and as temperatures soar, it becomes more prone to melting. It will start rattling as the car drives and give out sparks. That, along with loose electrical cables, is the main causes of car fires.”

Poor maintenance and overheating engines are another cause. I’ve seen people neglect coolant leaks, simply filling water in the radiator when the temperature starts rising. This will ultimately lead to the engine overheating at some point and causing a fire. ”

Yacoubian said a fire can erupt from a car in a matter of seconds, especially if it is near the fuel pump. “Motorists should keep a fire extinguisher handy in their cars at all times. You never know when it becomes necessary. Strangely, it is a rule in Sharjah but Dubai does not mandate motorists to carry an extinguisher in their vehicles.” 

Leaks

Nitin Thomas, assistant service manager for the Sharjah division of Jeep/Chrysler at Trading Enterprises, said: “There are several factors that could lead to a car to catch fire, like fuel or oil leakage. Summer temperatures can also make a neglected vehicle susceptible to catching fire as the plastic-cover of wires hardens and becomes brittle, causing short circuits.”

Thomas said it is the motorist’s responsibility to promptly refer to a car specialist at any sign of leak.

“Motorists should also check the pressure of their tyres and oil levels on a weekly basis at least,” he said, “If a customer observes a leak, he needs to have it checked as soon as possible.”

Car-modifications, such as fog-lights or stereo amplifiers, can also lead to car-fires.

“When motorists put aftermarket accessories on cars, it can cause the battery to overload if it hasn’t been properly modified as well,” Thomas said, “the power alternator overworks especially during summer which can lead to sparks being fired and eventually a fire.”

Can filling fuel to a tank’s utmost capacity can lead to a fire or is it a myth? “It is an urban myth,” said Thomas. “Fuel tanks have special ventilation to release gases and circulate air. 

Specifications

Older cars, he said, are more prone to catch fire as their wiring and other parts may be well beyond their lifetime. He also warned residents against buying vehicles with specs not suited to the region’s heat.

“You often here of people buying imported cars with American-specs or whatever. These cars often are bought as scrap, then repaired here. If the job is not done professionally, there can be a serious threat of a fire. Also, vehicles with American specifications are not designed to withstand the high temperatures of the UAE. On the other hand, vehicles with Gulf specifications have larger radiator fans and better cooling systems. Even tyres are designed to survive the temperatures here.”

Mohammad Al Shalloudi, service manager of Liberty Automobiles in Sharjah, said it is the motorist’s responsibility to regularly check coolant and oil levels, and tyres.

“It will take mere minutes and can avoid very bad situations like a car catching fire, in the end it is for the motorist’s own safety” he said.

Al Shalloudi said there are indications by the gauges, which are designed to alert the driver of any malfunctions.

“You’d be surprised how many people are more annoyed than concerned when the engine-symbol lights up on their gauge board,” he said, “people should take those signals seriously, and consult an expert as soon as possible. It could be an electrical shortage or a punctured pipe that could lead to a car catching fire. Nearly all dealers have a hotline, which exists to assist motorists with their cars. They will give an explanation of what a specific notification on the gauge board means.” 

Emergencies

Al Shalloubi said if a car happens to catch fire, motorists should switch off the engine “and get as far away as possible.

“One of the most important habits is to bring the car in for maintenance as specified by the last service,” Al Shalloudi said, “Most people think maintenance is just to change the oil and filter, which is a major oversight. However, dealerships often do more than that like checking tyre rotations, putting the car through a road test, and running the engine through a computer if the road test shows any suspicious signs. In fact, there is a checklist a tester has to go through before clearing the car. This is all to ensure the car is at its safest.”

Dealerships, he said, have a skillset and knowledge base for their respective car models, information and experience that run-of-the-mill garages and mechanics do not have.

“There are data sheets that circulate between official dealerships around the world. People say dealerships are more expensive and so they avoid bringing in their car to them. However, every dealership is up-to-date with the latest software and information on defects and technology. In fact, newer car models utilise specific and complex technologies that only authorised mechanics can handle.” 


Source: Razmig Bedirian, Staff Reporter, gulfnews.com

With inputs by Shafaat Shahbandari, Staff Reporter, gulfnews.com