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Hot Topic: Why do cars catch fire?


The motoring community was rocked yet again this week by not one, but two ‘fiery’ encounters that happened on our highways. One involved a truck at the KESAS toll gate (above), and another a VW Golf on the LDP (below). While the fire involving the truck at the toll gate was obviously caused by an accident, the other with the VW was a bit more perplexing. The car didn’t appear to have been involved in an accident; in fact apart from the flames engulfing it, the car looked intact.


So in this day and age of modern technology in both the active and passive safety departments, crumple-zones, as well as all the electro-gizmodery packed into modern day automobiles, why do cars still catch fire? I do recall a time long ago when owners of older Alfa Romeo cars would say that if an Alfa didn’t catch fire at least once, it wasn’t really an Alfa. They say that about Alfas and rust too, but I digress (put down the torches and hatchets all you Alfisti, I’ve owned five Alfas and still have one).


Now in no way am I particularly referring to the VW Golf above, but believe it or not, if it’s not a busted fuel-hose spraying RON97 onto hot headers and igniting, it’s very likely because of that aforementioned mass of ‘electro-gizmodery’ in latter day cars, that’s possibly the root cause of them catching fire. But not without some ‘human intervention’ first. Modern day cars have wiring systems or wiring looms that would confuse a NASA engineer, and they’re made and packed within the bowels of a car and out of view for a reason; they should not be tampered with!

The problem begins when owners of new cars decide to ‘upgrade’ systems within the car, from performance enhancing mods to better sound or ICE with massive 5000W amps, boom-boxes, Monster Cables, etc. By the way, while we’re on this topic of messing with the wiring system of a brand new car, I think it’s only fair to mention that doing so will void the cars’ warranty, if any fault can be traced back to the ‘tampered-with’ wiring, and in modern day cars, that’s pretty much everything.

Now here’s the scary part. If the shop that’s adding-on or enhancing anything in the car involves getting into the wiring, and they aren’t familiar with it, wires may get crossed and short-circuits can happen. ECUs can get fried and yes, fires can occur. The fact that our country is experiencing some of the hottest and most humid days in recent memory probably doesn’t help much either. Wiring looms are packed and concealed in such a way that they’re not just unobtrusive, but also insulated from the elements. They’re hidden away for a good reason, as mentioned above.

As a general rule of thumb, don’t mess with a car’s wiring, but if you must, just make sure it’s done by someone who really knows what they’re doing, or better yet, just leave it original. From my experience a car has a lot more resale value if the wiring has not been messed up, because it costs thousands to rewire a car, weeks to source a wiring problem, but just one bad decision to totally mess it up.

[Photos source: Facebook]