Car fires are a dangerous potential risk for all car owners. They may seem unlikely with all of the safety systems cars have in place but every year there are multiple instances of cars catching fire on New Zealand roads.

Since there is a risk of car fires, it’s important that all owners are aware of the multiple factors that can increase the likelihood of a car catching fire to avoid a threatening situation.

Car accidents

The most common cause of cars catching fire is a car crash. Most vehicles are built so that crumple zones don’t lead to internal (more dangerous) spots like the engine, battery or gas tank bearing the brunt of the impact but in bad crashes, the gas tank may start leaking, which could cause a fire. It’s not always clear if the crash has led to a gas or fluid leak but a fire can start quickly so it’s important to get away from a vehicle crash site as fast as possible.

Poor maintenance

Human error and lack of maintenance won’t be the direct cause of a fire in your vehicle but will certainly exacerbate the problem. Your car will always be more dangerous the less up-to-scratch it is with regards to maintenance and constant checks, but especially in the case of car fires, the more broken parts, leaky seals, or faulty wiring you let go without repair, the more likely it is that these issues will make it easier for a fire to start if they come in contact with flammable liquids.

Even popping the hood and doing a simple visual check can greatly reduce risks, but it’s also important to get proper professional vehicle checks done, and to deal with vehicle failure as it happens.


One major cause of cars catching fire is vehicle modifications with the installation of poor quality accessories. It isn’t necessarily the quality of the product itself that leads to the fire, but the installation process (often involving loose wire fittings in the car).

When these accessories are installed poorly, it can lead to short-circuiting in hot weather or extreme sunlight. Often poor wiring can also blow a fuse in which case wiring can melt and potentially lead to a fire.

Battery problems

A car’s battery can also be a potential fire hazard, as it only takes loose battery terminals arcing to potentially lead to a disaster. Similarly, if the cables attached to the battery and worn and short, they can produce a massive spark that could lead to a fire, so it’s important to keep an eye on the wiring in your car to make sure it is properly insulated.


Overheating in catalytic converters and engines are also major causes of car fires. One of the hottest parts of your car is the exhaust system. Catalytic converters overheat because they’re working too hard to clear the exhaust system, making the car even hotter. If the catalytic converter gets hot enough, it could ignite the vehicle.

An engine can also overheat and make internal fluids rise in temperature and spill, leading to potential for ignition.

What to do if your car catches fire?

If you see any signs of a potential fire, the first and most important thing to do is to pull over, turn the car off, and get out and away from the vehicle. A fire can start rapidly so don’t worry about your belongings, just get to a safe distance and call 111.

Car fires can take you by surprise but by taking preventative measures, you can greatly reduce your risk of your vehicle succumbing to hazardous car fires.