Car on Fire

I was late to work today because on the bridge I take over the Seine en route, a car was stopped with the hazard warning lights flashing.

As I looked to find out why, I saw flames under the passenger wheel. I thought maybe just the tyre was burning. But as I passed, I saw it was even more spectacular: the bonnet was closed but aflame, with acrid smoke billowing above the car. No wonder the traffic was blocked up before I got to the bridge, which was down to one lane. The police weren’t on the scene as I passed by, so it must have happened shortly before I got there.

I wonder could that car have exploded since, or did it just burn until the fire brigade got there? Can a car suddenly overheat so much that it catches alight, or was there some other reason for the car catching fire?


  1. Could this be a world record for longest burning car – if it was left smouldering after all the riots?

  2. Simon

    6/12/2005 at 2:59 pm

    Hi Stefanio,

    Lol if the car had been burning since the riots I’d have been in trouble getting to work for the last few weeks :-). Maybe it was indeed affected during the riots and this is actually a case of ignition seriously delayed by the cold spell :D.


  3. This happened to my Mum’s car once. She was in it at the time !(and thankfully got out, without any problems)

    The fire was put out by some neighbours, and what I remember mostly is that the tyres melted and were stuck to the road. The marks were there for ages.

    The reason for it catching fire was some electrical problem or other. It wasn’t an overheating problem in her case as she had just driven out of the drive and gone 2 yards down the road.


  4. Simon

    6/12/2005 at 5:49 pm

    Hi P,

    I’m glad to hear your Mum got out in time! At least you had a handy signal for visitors after that: park near the burnt tire marks and you’ll be close to the house :-D.

    The thing that surprised me in this case was that although the bonnet was closed, the flames were burning on the bonnet. The source of ignition must have been underneath the bonnet, but the flames were coming off the bonnet itself. Maybe the paint had caught fire, I don’t know.

    I saw a car burning once with the bonnet open, I could understand that. But a closed bonnet that manages to burn anyway was a bit weird. I’m sure there is indeed some simple physical explanation…


  5. Basically – that stinks! (literally and figuratively). I thought getting a flat on the way to work was bad but having your car start on fire…ay yi yi…I did do that to a lawn mower once, that wasn’t pretty either.

  6. The flames on my Mums car were shooting out beneath the car, near the front tyres. No idea why.

  7. Simon

    6/12/2005 at 10:02 pm


    Having your lawnmower break down on the way to work must have been a traumatic experience ;-). I felt sorry for the person whose car was burning, but to be honest I knew I’d be stuck in traffic which reduced my sympathy to a minimum. Losing 10 minutes to get past the burning car meant I hit heavier traffic than usual.

    Pauline, it could have been the brake fluid that caught fire I suppose. Who knows.


  8. When flames come out from under the hood, it generally means fuel has begun to leak and is dripping onto the exhaust manifold, which is hot enough to ignite the gas. Cars very rarely blow up. It’s sort of like an oil well fire, with the oil burning at the surface only, never blowing up below ground. There is no way for the fire to work its way into the tank for two reasons. One is that the fuel flows out until it stops and the pump is no longer letting anything out or into the tank and, two, there’s no way for oxygen to get back to the tank. In the meantime, the fire spreads from under the hood to the interior and elsewhere, but, the tank remains sealed. Sometimes, a ruptured tank, due to a rear end collision, can spark a major fire back there, but, most of today’s cars have built in safeguards to prevent that.

  9. Simon

    8/12/2005 at 10:11 am

    Hi Dave!

    I was hoping for a bit of a better explanation, thanks for posting that. The thing that I still don’t quite get is how the flames appeared to be burning from the middle of the bonnet (hood) and not licking from the sides. The flames were coming from directly where I’d consider the exhaust manifold to be, but as if they came through the bonnet. I can only assume that the petrol vapour must have made its way over the top of the whole bonnet, but that the heated part (above the exhaust) must have burned all the more efficiently and therefore the major part of the flames was centralised on the centre of the bonnet.


  10. Hello Fruey!

    It could have been that the intense heat from the engine compartment started the bonnet paint on fire. Another, even more probable possibility, is that the heat was so strong it had already melted the aluminium hood and was just rising up from there. Most bonnets are aluminum, as we say in the States, and it melts at a lower temperature than other metals such as steel and iron on a car.

  11. Simon

    9/12/2005 at 9:32 am

    The plot thickens…

    I’m trying to visually recall exactly what the bonnet looked like. I think the paint was still mostly visible beneath the flames, which would rule out melted aluminium. It’s not impossible that the underside of the bonnet was starting to melt and that the paint was burning above, but I can’t picture the flames well enough (I was just driving by of course) to be sure.