What can cause a parked car to catch fire? 7 reasons you cannot avoid

By Arif

Parked car catching fire

So, what can cause a parked car to catch fire? You must have witnessed several vehicles catching fire on the road which is understandable. But… in the parking lot or under the hood that isn’t easy to accept.

You think your car is parked so it is safe and secure. Not necessary. Here are the causes that can make your car vulnerable to fire in a parking space.

What can cause a parked car to catch fire?

The most common cause could be a fuel leakage or an electrical short circuit arising due to poor maintenance.

This could happen if you just left your car from a long drive into parking without actually noticing the leakage which combined with faulty electrical wires can cause a fire.

Some of the other causes could be overheating, harsh weather conditions, vehicle recalls, and arson.

Let’s elaborate on these causes further!

Did you park your car dripping (with fuel)?

Your car is a running bomb with the quantity of fuel and associated components it contains which are enough to explode.

Fire and plastic are the two most common friends. When they unite you can imagine the mess left behind. And surely, you have leather and metal to support the firing cause.

However, it doesn’t happen on its own. Usually, the cars are safe unless the fuel or any other flammable liquid starts to leak.

When it comes to leakage this can happen due to multiple factors. But the most common reason is poor maintenance. A majority of the fire incidents in vehicles were reported because of the non-adherence to timely maintenance.

Such negligence can lead to broken or cracked parts, loose wire connections, and leakage in the gas tank.

This leakage when clashed with electrical properties in your vehicle can lead to wiring failures causing dangerous sparks.

It doesn’t matter if your car is in a running position or parked. What matters is your presence of mind and smelling ability to identify the leakage.

Make sure to glance through the hood and below your vehicle to find the smoke or drips especially after returning from a long journey. If you smell anything bad in gasoline it’s time to take action.

Is your car connected well electrically? (Electrical malfunctions)

Electrical wires should be well-connected within your vehicle. These wires occupy 80% of the space including the main engine bay, below the carpet, through the doors, and other channels.

Faulty or loose wiring could produce a spark. A more dangerous situation could arise if any of the faulty wires are close to the engine or battery.

Since the cooling process takes some time after you have parked the car the electrical malfunctions can create havoc if they come in connection with the hot parts.

Some of the other reasons for faulty wires could be the entrance of water during a casual car wash or if it was standing in the rain for a long time.

If you have an older version of the car it may have rusty plug connectors. Casually installed aftermarket accessories such as a fancy audio system, and small accidents where proper maintenance was avoided can also result in fires.

If you are wondering how to identify electrical malfunctions then there are two ways to do it. One is the typical burning smell of wires.

Secondly, most cars now are equipped with odometers that efficiently alert the drivers by giving malfunction indicators. As and when it pops up it is time to take your car to the nearest service center.

Is your car bleeding heat? (Overheating of the engine and catalytic converters)

Did you notice and ignored the overheating signs while driving? If not then obviously you won’t take risk of parking your car anywhere. Instead, you should take it for immediate repairs. But…

Overheating Indicator in a car

If you really parked it then be ready to witness the fire. Overheating instances can take place with engines and catalytic converters.

The engine is prone to overheating due to a lack of coolant liquid in the radiator. This increases the temperature and the fluids start to spill all over the engine bay and other parts of your vehicle resulting in fire. Spilling can also lead to electrical short circuits.

Catalytic converters work like kidneys for your car. They are instrumental in supporting your vehicle’s engine to perform efficiently by burning off the pollutants in the exhaust system. This is the reason catalytic converters are one of the hottest parts in every vehicle.

If for any reason the engine gets corrupted it increases the pressure on these converters making them a fireball. The heat generated by catalytic converters is enough to damage the surrounding parts of your vehicle that can ignite the fire.

Ensure that you do not avoid any overheating signs and take the necessary steps to control them immediately.

Lack of fitness (poor maintenance)

Everything comes down to this crucial factor of maintaining your car regularly. Like every ‘body’ that needs to breathe properly with timely fitness sessions, your car needs it too.

As we have seen above, all the causes covered till now are somehow related to maintenance (and negligence). Non-maintenance especially for a long time leaves your vehicle vulnerable to different calamities. Fire is just one of them.

Keep your vehicle’s maintenance schedule up to date especially when you are planning to restart your car after a long hiatus (parking).

The chances of catching fire are not instant however, depending on the weather and surrounding conditions there could be battery issues, arcing of wires by rodents, and even unnoticed arson incidents.

It is always a best practice to tow your car for a complete analysis and maintenance before commencing your journey after a long parking stay.

Harsh weather conditions

Nature has its own role to play with man-made metal. Yes, it is often due to the weather conditions of the region/country you live in that can attract fire.

Extremely hot summers in the gulf and African countries are responsible for numerous vehicle fire incidents. If you are a resident of such countries make sure to park your car under the hood or use the underground parking space.

It also depends on the number of hours you have driven your vehicle before parking. Rising temperature is instrumental in boiling the engine and the exhaust system to overheating levels.

The consequences of overheating can engulf your car in flames either during the drive or in the parking lot.

Similarly, several car owners have reported fire incidents in low temperatures as well. Faulty electrical lines and short circuits were the causes of fire in the harsh cold conditions.

Make sure to inspect the vehicle using your own instincts after a heavy snowfall/downpour.

You can get your car on track with a little bit of warmup drill. In case you find abnormalities in the starting sound or your car is just not starting call the specialist for a thorough inspection.

Is your car the center of attraction for others? (Arson)

Is your car envied by others? Do you have personal rifts with your neighbors? These are not good signs for your car. Yes, if not you then your car will be the target of destruction by your opponents under the act of Arson.

Solution? Always be a good Samaritan and behave well to keep yourself and your car protected.

Secondly, remain alert and vigilant of your surroundings. Public violence and riots are also responsible for car fires. In fact, in some European countries setting vehicles ablaze is a trend on New Year’s eve by the locals.

As a precaution, take your car to the safest place.

Also, avoid rivalries, cooperate with your neighbors on parking spaces, and never keep your vehicle parked for too long in the same place which can spark curiosity among your neighbors to do something stupid.

Did you hear the call? (Vehicle Recalls)

There are several automobile manufacturing companies that have recalled millions of vehicles in the last few years. The reasons vary but fire hazard is also included in the list.

It could be a design flaw, battery problems, and other technical issues that prompt the car-producing companies to issue a recall.

Not all cars are part of recalls and there is no standard process or protocol to be followed by the users. However, keeping an eye on vehicle recall incidents and news should be part of your pre-requisite list while purchasing a new car.

Other miscellaneous causes

Above are the main reasons I see as causes for fire when your car is parked. If not for these, your car may also be a victim to fire because of the combustible materials you store inside the vehicle.

Items like fully-pressurized deodorants, aerosol sprays, air fresheners, etc. are highly flammable. Burnt cigarette butts and even smoking in a parked car can lead to a fire in upholstery and leather materials.

Sub-standard aftermarket accessories are another reason. Some people like to modify the dashboard, audio system, horns, etc. by tampering with the electrical wirings leaving them loose or unfixed causing the fire.

Final thoughts

It is a rare scenario to see cars catching fire while they are parked. But it is possible. We have seen the causes above.

Barring a few causes like arson, and vehicle recalls that cannot be controlled proactively you must always take care of your car with proper maintenance.

Some of the other precautions to be applied are adhering to driving speed limits which will prevent your car from crashes and minor accidents.

Be attentive to any burning smell and always take note of the surroundings where you want to park your car.

Related Read: Best fire extinguisher for a car

I hope the information in this post helps you park safely and keep your car protected from fire. Any other reason you find worth highlighting is most welcome.

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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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