Automobile fires are no joke. Every year in the United States, more than 170,000 automobile fires occur on the highways across the country, with these fires resulting in nearly 350 deaths, over 1,000 injuries and a staggering 1.1 billion dollars in damage to property.
Problems with the engine, drivetrain, electrical system, and other components of the vehicle are responsible for the majority of these fires, and even something as minor as a fluid leak or friction against trapped plant debris can result in a major brew-up for your vehicle.
It is eminently sensible that every prepper carries a high-quality fire extinguisher in their car for just such a contingency. But fire extinguishers are highly pressurized containers; all things considered, should you carry a fire extinguisher in your car?
Should you carry a fire extinguisher in your car?
Yes, everyone should carry one in the cabin for easy access and to ensure a fast response to a vehicle fire.
A properly designed, high-quality fire extinguisher can deal with oil or electrical fires that are typical of vehicle fires, and furthermore presents no hazard to the driver or passengers so long as it is properly secured.
Additionally, good fire extinguishers are rated to withstand storage temperatures well in excess of a hot vehicle interior, even in the hottest conditions found in the country.
Keep reading to learn a little bit more about additional factors and considerations that could affect your choice of location, model, and more.
Selecting a Vehicular Fire Extinguisher
The effectiveness of a fire extinguisher is determined by its rating and class, which in the United States is a combination of numerals and letters.
For a vehicular fire extinguisher you want to find a 5-BC rated fire extinguisher or better, with the number indicating the size of fire in square feet that the extinguisher should be able to handle, and the letters signifying what type of fire the extinguisher can put out safely.
In this case, a ‘B’ rating indicates it can handle flammable liquids and gases and the ‘C’ indicates that it can handle fires caused by energized electrical equipment and that the extinguishing agent will not conduct electricity.
Both are important considerations for dealing with automobile fires since they are typically caused either by flammable liquid igniting or an electrical malfunction that results in fire.
You might find an ideal extinguisher for your vehicle that is specific to the task has additional capability, but take care that you do not purchase one with less than the prescribed capability as it might not be up to the job of combating a car fire.
Also take care that the fire extinguisher is a convenient size for handling inside the cabin of your vehicle.
Too large, and it will be unwieldy and hard to store; that will mean you are prone to just tossing it in the trunk, a decision that will cost you valuable time when you need to put out a growing blaze.
On the other hand, a fire extinguisher that is too small might not contain enough extinguishing agent to get the job done.
Safe and Convenient Storage is Paramount
It is highly recommended you get two vehicle fire extinguishers for your daily driver, whatever it is. One of them should be mounted inside the cabin where the driver can reach it easily in an emergency. Many fires grow quickly, and vehicle fires are no different; if you do not act fast the fire might become unrecoverable.
The second extinguisher should serve as a backup, and may be mounted inside the cabin (if you have plenty of room) or could be stashed in the trunk as a backup option just in case the first did not quite get the job done, or as a hedge against an extinguished fire reigniting.
How you store the fire extinguisher is just as important as where, as the weighty, heavy-duty canister could become a deadly projectile ricocheting around the interior should you crash or apply emergency braking.
Don’t trust a fire extinguisher to remain secure no matter where you stick it or wedge it unless it is safely clamped in a mounting bracket.
Whatever and wherever this mounting system is installed it must have quick-release capability so that it can give up the fire extinguisher immediately when you need it.
Always Go for Quality
It is important that you choose a quality fire extinguisher to keep with your vehicle. Contrary to popular belief, fire extinguishers are entirely safe to keep inside the confines of a vehicle even in the hottest environments, but know there are a couple of caveats.
Any quality fire extinguisher will easily withstand the screaming hot temperatures inside an enclosed automobile cabin, even in the middle of summer in a sunny parking lot, and are UL tested for safe storage in excess of 175 degrees Fahrenheit.
However, this assurance is partly dependent upon the manufacturer using the proper components in their extinguisher. You should not settle for any fire extinguisher that has a plastic head or nozzle assembly, as these will not withstand the abuse and periodically high temperatures that an all-metal fire extinguisher will.
Additionally, though you should not expect the fire extinguisher to rupture or leak even in the hottest temperatures, understand that prolonged storage in temperatures over 120 degrees Fahrenheit can potentially degrade the seals in the fire extinguisher or lead to erratic dispersal, though this is rarely an issue with high-quality cans.
In short, you will have much less to worry about if you choose a high-quality fire extinguisher for your vehicle.
Stay on Top of Maintenance
You might think that riding in a vehicle is a pretty easy task for a fire extinguisher, but it is, in reality, a pretty rough gig!
The jolting, vibrating ride of any automobile will accelerate wear on the fire extinguisher’s critical components, and also lead to the settling of the extinguishing agent, potentially degrading its effectiveness during a critical incident.
This is, as you might deduce, inherent to the task of a vehicular fire extinguisher and there is hardly anything you can do to alleviate it.
What you should do, however, is stay on top of the prescribed maintenance intervals for your particular fire extinguisher, and they should be more frequent than for one that is kept in a fixed location inside a building.
Make sure you have the fire extinguisher regularly inspected according to the manufacturer’s guidelines by a licensed and authorized servicer.
All critical components, seals, contents and controls must be checked for function and continued operation. Defer these maintenance checks at your own peril!
Keeping a fire extinguisher in your car is an excellent idea, and a solid upgrade to your personal safety regimen. Vehicle fires are common, annually totaling quite a cost in lives and property.
You can be prepared for this eventuality by selecting and safely mounting a dependable fire extinguisher in your vehicle, and keeping it maintained just in case your car catches fire.
Without one, you will watch your ride go up in smoke. Hopefully you won’t be in it – but be sure to learn how to use it because, in a fire, every second counts.
Tom Marlowe practically grew up with a gun in his hand, and has held all kinds of jobs in the gun industry: range safety, sales, instruction and consulting, Tom has the experience to help civilian shooters figure out what will work best for them.
3 thoughts on “Should You Carry a Fire Extinguisher in Your Car?”
I kept the same fire extinguisher in every car I owned since 1994. About 2 years ago, I was stopped at a stop light and my son noticed a fire starting in the rear engine of a classic VW bug across the highway. I was able to put out the fire and save the car, despite the fire extinguisher being WAY past its normal lifespan.
On the other hand, if the temperatures drop to 0 or below for a few days and you are now using your vehicle, the powder left all over the floor is a pain to clean up.
Great idea, but make it a “car go bag” thing that you keep in the house and carry back & forth to keep it from freezing and going off.
A critical part of dry chem extinguisher maintenance is to, every couple months, shake your extinguisher a little bit to prevent the powder from caking, which happens over time. This will prevent the extinguisher from working properly when needed.