According to the National Fire Protection Association there were 258,000 vehicular fires reported in the United States last year. These fires caused 385 civilian deaths, 1675 civilian fire-related injuries and $1.4 billion in property damage.
Motor vehicles can catch fire easily because of the volatile combination of fuel, ignition, airbags, exhaust and electrical systems. Any time a vehicle is on fire there is a danger that it could explode. In most accidental fires, the fire begins in the engine compartment. Many vehicle fires are not caused by engineering defects- they are caused by poor maintenance. Still, the cause of many car fires may require an independent investigation to uncover the fire cause and origin.
There can be other factors that come into play in an accidental vehicle fire, such as the installation of aftermarket electrical or performance components, debris accumulated around hot areas on a vehicle, animals (building nests or hoarding food in engines), or drivers and passengers dropping burning items (like cigarettes) in cars. Arson is another common cause of car fires, which has been on the rise in recent months (in many cases believed to be an unfortunate derivative of high gas prices and delinquencies on auto loans).
It is important to retain CED Engineers as first responders in a vehicular fire case; as the intensity of a blaze tends to destroy evidence. In many cases the debris is cleared from the roadway before a thorough investigation can take place, leaving the fire department to make an educated guess about the cause. Determining causation can be a fairly daunting task, even if CED is not involved early on in the investigation, there is still a lot of different engineering and analysis that can be performed. If a forensic engineer cannot get to the scene immediately, pictures of the fire and damage can be very helpful. Also, preserving any evidence available can be invaluable to a car fire investigation.