Are car fires covered by insurance?

Whether or not car insurance covers fire damage depends on the cause. Comprehensive car insurance covers most fire damage, but not fires caused by mechanical failure.

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Zaneta Wood, Ed.S. has over 15 years of experience in research and technical writing bringing a keen understanding of data analysis and information synthesis to reach a wide variety of audiences. She studied adult education and instructional technology at Appalachian State University as well as technical and professional communication at East Carolina University. Zaneta has prepared technical p...

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Joel Ohman is the CEO of a private equity backed digital media company. He is a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™, author, angel investor, and serial entrepreneur who loves creating new things, whether books or businesses. He has also previously served as the founder and resident CFP® of a national insurance agency, Real Time Health Quotes. He has an MBA from the University of South Florida. Jo...

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Reviewed by Joel Ohman
Founder & CFP®

UPDATED: Jan 20, 2021

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Here's what you need to know...

  • Car fires are far more common than most people realize
  • Not all car insurance plans will cover a vehicle in the event of a fire
  • Comprehensive insurance is typically the type you would want in order to have adequate coverage

Car fires may be covered by the insurance you purchase for your vehicle if you purchase the comprehensive insurance on your car before the incident occurs.

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Types of Car Insurance

In order to choose the right automobile insurance to protect yourself and your family, you need to know about the basic types of car insurance.

Liability covers your responsibility to others for injuries, death, and property damage to their vehicles or property:

  • Bodily injury liability expressed as $100,000 per person and $300,000 per accident; pays for injury or death to others in an accident
  • Property damage liability expressed as $50,000 per accident; pays for damage to the property of others in an accident

Protection for you and your family for injury or death in an accident:

  • Medical payments coverage coverage in addition to your health insurance for accidental injury to you and your family while involved in a vehicle accident that is your fault. Usually $10,000 or above in states without No-Fault coverage requirements
  • Uninsured or underinsured motorists coverage pays for you and your family if you are injured in an accident in which the other party has little or no insurance. About 17 percent of drivers do not purchase car insurance
  • Comprehensive coverage covers damage to your vehicle for incidents other than accidents, such as theft, fire, vandalism, weather damage, falling objects, or animal damage
  • Collision coverage pays for damage to your vehicle when you collide with another object – a car, light pole, fence, bridge abutment, or other objects

A deductible applies to comprehensive and collision insurance in which you choose how much of the prospective loss you will pay before the insurance company will pay.

Deductibles range from $100 per accident all the way to $1,000 per accident.

Lesser deductibles cost more than the higher deductibles, but you should plan to set aside an amount of money to help defray the cost of the deductible.

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Automobile Fires

Causes of automobile fires vary widely. Automobile fires typically develop quickly and involve the entire vehicle rapidly.

Some of the many causes of car fires are:

  • Design flaws
  • Lack of maintenance
  • Overheating engines
  • Fuel system leaks

Forensics on Automobile Fires

There are typically three stages of automobile fires:

  1. Beginning or incipient stage in which smoldering combustion occurs. Temperatures often reach 400 degrees. This stage can last up to 15 minutes
  2. Free burning stage in which a rapid rise in temperature can go up to 1700 degrees. This allows the plastic to melt, in spite of fire retardants. A fire can demolish an entire vehicle in 45 to 60 minutes
  3. Smoldering stage in which the burned vehicle continues to smolder for an hour and a half or more, depending upon efforts to stop it

Most Common Causes of Vehicle Fires

  • Fuel system leaks from faulty fuel line connectors, carburetor, or fuel injection systems
  • Electrical system failures primary ignition circuits are connected to the 12-volt battery, which can generate a spark to ignite flammables
  • Flammable liquids engine oil, automatic transmission fluid, and coolants can be exposed to the exhaust manifold, which may reach over 1,000 degrees, causing ignition of fires in the engine compartment
  • Catalytic converters  generate enough heat to ignite carpeting if there is poor ventilation. These converters can also ignite grass and weed fires when parked in overgrown areas
  • Garage fires if your garage burns, only the comprehensive coverage will cover damage to your car

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How to Diagnose and Prevent Auto Fires

Be alert to the condition and odors in your vehicle.

  • Pull over if you smell burning plastic or rubber to examine the cause
  • Get your car tuned up at least once a year – have the technician check for leak
  • Pay attention if fuses keep blowing. This can signal an electrical problem

The National Fire Protection Association indicates that between 2003-2007, U.S. fire departments responded to an average of 287,000 vehicle fires per year.

An average of 480 civilian deaths, 1,525 civilian injuries, and $1.3 billion annually occurred within this time.

Actions to Take if an Auto Fire Occurs

Most of us do not contemplate the possibility of automobile fires, even though they are quite prevalent.

If you are ever in this situation, take the following steps:

  • Move immediately to the right shoulder of the road
  • Stop the car, turn off the ignition, and get yourself as well as all passengers out of the vehicle
  • Get at least 150 feet away from the vehicle in a safe place
  • Dial 911 for the fire department
  • If you have a signaling device, try to warn oncoming traffic

Take automobile fires seriously, even if you are not positive about the extent of the damage.

Comprehensive coverage is the only insurance that will indemnify you for the loss of your vehicle.

Carefully consider the value of the vehicle to you as compared to the cost of insurance to determine if comprehensive coverage is worth the cost.

Obtain several quotations for car insurance to be certain you are paying the least amount possible with a reputable company.

Start comparing car insurance rates from multiple providers by entering your zip code in our FREE tool below!

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