Do cars on fire explode? Not like a bomb but they do for these 5 reasons

By Arif

Car explosion

Your car took a crash on the road, something got hit under the hood, it started releasing fire and…. boom! It exploded like a balloon and filled the air with black smoke all over. Really? Do cars on fire explode the way they are shown in the movies?

There is a potential danger when a car is on fire but instances of explosion are close to nil. Yes, there are some causes that can lead a car on fire to minor explosions but not to the extent of taking lives.

It is important to be aware of the risks associated with a burning car and what are the causes that lead to explosions and this is what you will find in this post.

Do cars on fire explode?

In practicality, cars on fire never explode like a bomb unless someone actually put a bomb inside the car to make it explode.

However, fire incidents occurring due to overheating, electrical malfunctions, and battery failures can create a messy situation.

If the fire is not attended to quickly, below are the causes that can result in the spreading of fire to an extent of small bursts without explosion:

  • The fuel tank getting extremely pressurized,
  • Fire heating up the air inside overinflated tires,
  • Extremely low gas in the fuel tank,
  • Airbags getting infected with chemical reactions,
  • Malfunctioning of batteries (for electric cars)

Such scenarios can increase the intensity of fire turning your car into a fireball.

Let’s assess these points one by one and see if it leads to an explosion!

Extremely pressurized fuel tank

If a car wants to explode it will need help from its fuel tank which is not made to withstand the extreme pressure of heat. Yes, whenever the fire breaks out it is the fuel tank that is most vulnerable to heat.

If this fuel tank is tightly sealed, and made of solid metal that is hard to melt the heat pressure inside begins to build up and can reach extreme levels causing an explosion.

The level of an explosion could be moderate to low depending on the extremeness. However, the reality of the fuel tank’s capability is quite the opposite of what we have said.

It is illogical for any car manufacturer to create such type of a fuel tank that can explode in fire situations.

The fuel tanks are made of metal and plastic. The density of metal used in creating a fuel tank is less thick than the standard metal broadness.

The purpose of using such metal is to surrender the pressure created by excessive heat. In such a scenario, the fuel tank with continuous heat tends to crack slowly which does not allow the heat to build pressure. As a result, it continues to burn but does not burst.

On the other hand, plastic-made fuel tanks which are a common trend now can easily melt under the pressure of extreme heat allowing the fuel/gas to disperse. Again, it will keep burning but never explodes.

Needless to say, there is no need to panic about your car getting exploded unless you have a specially modified fuel tank with immense power to absorb heat.

Are your car tires overinflated?

Tires remain highly pressured vessels in a motorcar. They have all the right to explode if they are overly inflated.

Burning tire

In a scenario where a car fire has reached the level of tires, these rubber units start to burn and melt and gradually begin to release air.

The problem starts when the tires have excess air pumped in and during the fire if this excess air is heated up inside it could make the tires burst like a bomb.

Overinflated tires are usually risky. Driving with such tires under extremely hot conditions with fiery speed could make them blow up.

It is always a best practice to monitor the tire pressure and fill them with balance air to avoid explosive situations.

Don’t leave the gas tank low

This is another reason you may witness a certain explosion sound during a car fire. Running a car on low gas does not necessarily create an explosion however, it does make the fuel pump overheat.

Now overheating is definitely a cause for concern in car fires. Secondly, a tank with low gas has the potential amount of air that makes it an air-fuel bomb.

The liquid form of gasoline keeps combusting and turns into vapor quickly. The deadly combination of vapor, air, and external heat is enough to cause an explosion.

A certain example is pumping stations. You will always find precautionary signboards on turning off your vehicle while pumping the gas, getting out of it, not smoking, etc.

Why are all these precautions necessary when your vehicle is low on gas? Now you know the answer.

Airbags can become air bombs

Airbags are designed to provide safety in response to a collision or a crash. By no means it is harmful except in a fire situation.

Airbags contain sodium azide which is a combustible chemical. This chemical is susceptible to fire and when the fire intensifies it can ignite the chemical to create a much larger explosion.

Airbag explosion

The destruction caused by an airbag explosion could be worse as it forces shrapnels (metal nuts) to fly around in the car.

To be honest, airbags are the only reason to give you explosion goosebumps. But we are looking at an out-of-control situation where no effort has been initiated to stop the fire in the first stage.

Be wary of the batteries if you have an electric car

No, it’s not about only Tesla but any car that runs on battery. A majority of electric cars are equipped with lithium-ion batteries. Normally, these types of batteries are safe unless exposed to a car fire or severe heat.

With cobalt oxide chemicals in the base, lithium-ion batteries tend to react explosively owing to accidents, fires, or electrical malfunctioning.

Improper maintenance of electric cars is another reason for battery explosions. Whatever the reason, the explosion is not life-threatening until it reacts with other heating elements of a car.

Frequently Asked Questions

Do cars explode when they are upside down?

It is not necessary for a car to explode when it turns upside down unless you are watching a movie.

The extent of an explosion is only possible when some of its vulnerable parts such as gas tanks, tires, airbags, etc. are exposed to extreme heat (car fire).

In such cases, cars tend to make explosive noise regardless of the position they stand in. The chances of a real explosion are still rare.

Do cars explode after a crash or an accident?

It depends on the impact of a crash. If the impact is extensively bigger it can cause severe damage to the engine compartment leaving the parts exposed to leakage/malfunctioning and fire.

In such scenarios, if the extent of the fire is too extreme (to the level of boiling) it can cause low-level explosions.

Do cars explode on shooting their gas tank?

Gas tanks are not designed to explode. So, even if you shoot at it with the intent of explosion, it won’t.

There are a couple of scenarios like a gas tank low on gas and an extremely pressurized tank that can create explosive situations. Still, it won’t give you the joy of watching a car blown up in the air.

Final thoughts

Unless you use a propane tank or carry combustible material in the vehicle there is no way a car can explode.

Potential causes of car explosions are far and few. It mainly depends on the situation and circumstances you are caught in.

There really has to be a fire situation that is beyond everyone’s imagination. Unless this happens the only way to see a car exploding is by watching a movie.

Keep your car well-maintained, drive safely to avoid any mishaps or accidents, monitor your surroundings and weather conditions, and always follow precautionary measures while filling the tank.

If you do this the chances of the car catching fire are zero which in turn will never explode.

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I am the founder of TheCarPlus. As a passionate car owner and enthusiast, I offer practical solutions and insights from my own personal experiences combined with extensive online research.

The purpose of creating this website is to empower fellow car owners and motorcyclists like 'YOU' with knowledge and practical solutions to enhance your vehicle's performance and aesthetics.

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