Having a fire extinguisher in your car can provide an extra layer of protection and preparedness in the event of a vehicle fire. While it’s not required by law in most places, many safety experts recommend keeping one in your car. Here’s what you need to know about having a fire extinguisher in your vehicle.
Why Have a Fire Extinguisher in Your Car?
There are a few key reasons why it can be a good idea to keep a fire extinguisher in your car:
- Be prepared for a vehicle fire – Car fires can happen without warning and spread quickly. Having an extinguisher on hand may allow you to put out a small fire before it spreads. This could potentially save your vehicle from total loss.
- Protect yourself and others – If a fire starts while you’re driving, having an extinguisher can allow you to safely pull over and extinguish the flames. This helps protect you, your passengers, and other motorists from harm.
- Prevent injuries – Extinguishing a fire quickly can prevent serious burns and smoke inhalation injuries to yourself or others nearby. The faster you can put out the flames, the better.
- Limit damage – A small fire can turn into a raging inferno in minutes. The quicker you extinguish the flames, the less damage will occur to your vehicle. This can potentially save you money on repairs or replacement costs.
- Peace of mind – Simply knowing you have a fire extinguisher easily accessible in your car can give you greater peace of mind whenever you’re on the road. It’s an added safety net.
So while a vehicle fire may be rare, having an extinguisher handy can be invaluable if one occurs. It provides a critical first line of defense.
What Types of Fire Extinguishers Can I Put in a Car?
When selecting an extinguisher for your automobile, you’ll want to choose one that’s designed for Class B and Class C fires. These types cover flammable liquids (like car fuel, oil, and grease) and electrical equipment (like wiring). Here are the common options:
- Dry chemical extinguishers – These are typically rated for Class B and C fires and contain a powdered extinguishing agent. They are a good all-purpose choice for vehicles.
- CO2 (carbon dioxide) extinguishers – These extinguishers displace oxygen to put out the fire. They are also effective on Class B and C fires. However, they discharge very quickly.
- Wet chemical extinguishers – These specialized units contain an extinguishing agent effective on Class K (cooking) fires. This makes them a good choice for food trucks and vehicles prone to cooking-related fires.
- Halotron extinguishers – Halotron is a clean, electrically non-conductive agent. This makes these extinguishers ideal for sensitive electronics in vehicles. They put out Class B and C fires.
- Water extinguishers – These are only recommended for Class A (ordinary combustibles) fires. They should not be used on vehicle fires, as they can spread flaming liquids.
In general, a 1-2 lb. dry chemical extinguisher is a good choice for most passenger vehicles. Make sure whatever you choose is rated for Class B and Class C fires and is approved by organizations like UL or the U.S. Coast Guard.
Where Should I Keep the Fire Extinguisher in My Car?
To be easily accessible in an emergency, most experts recommend keeping your vehicle fire extinguisher in the passenger compartment within reach of the driver. Potential locations include:
- Mounted or secured in a center console or side door storage compartment
- Under or beside the driver’s seat
- In the glove box
- Attached via a mounting bracket to the floor or wall of the passenger area
The goal is to choose a location that:
- Allows you to safely reach the extinguisher while operating the vehicle
- Protects the extinguisher from damage during normal driving
- Allows secure mounting or attachment so the extinguisher doesn’t become a projectile in a crash
Avoid putting extinguishers in the trunk, cargo area, or engine compartment. These make the extinguisher hard to access in an emergency. Also make sure the extinguisher is visible so any passengers can point it out to the driver if needed.
Regularly check that the extinguisher is pressurized and functional. Test thebracket or mounting method to ensure it keeps the extinguisher tightly in place as well.
Is It Legal to Have a Fire Extinguisher in Your Car?
In most areas, it is perfectly legal to have a fire extinguisher in your vehicle. However, some states and countries do have laws regarding securing and mounting them properly, so it’s best to check your local regulations.
According to the National Conference on State Legislatures (NCSL), only five U.S. states have statutes regarding fire extinguishers in passenger vehicles:
- Arizona – Extinguisher must be approved by Underwriters Laboratories, with a capacity of no more than 10 pounds.
- California – Extinguisher must be mounted or secured to prevent movement in crash. Designed to avoid causing injury.
- Connecticut – Extinguisher must be SECURELY mounted to vehicle. Driver and all passengers must be able to access it.
- Louisiana – Extinguisher must be classified and rated for vehicles by Underwriters Laboratories. It must be securely mounted.
- Virginia – Extinguisher cannot weigh more than 10 pounds. Must be securely attached so it does not come loose in a crash.
So be sure to check the laws in your state. In general, properly mounting and securing smaller, commercially rated extinguishers is recommended. This helps ensure safety.
You should also verify local laws if crossing state lines or national borders. For example, here are some key regulations in other countries:
- Australia – Requires an extinguisher in vehicles categorized as a “small bus” (carries 9-12 passengers).
- France – Mandatory to have one extinguisher in buses and coaches.
- Germany – Required in vehicles over 7.5 tons and in some buses.
- Sweden – Required in certain vehicles like taxis, buses, and trucks.
So while not universally mandatory, having a fire extinguisher is a smart safety step for any vehicle in any location. Be sure to check relevant laws and properly secure it.
What Should I Do If There’s a Fire While Driving?
If a fire breaks out in your vehicle while driving, safety should be your top concern:
- Pull over – Get the vehicle off the roadway and out of traffic as soon as it is safe to do so. This will avoid endangering others on the road.
- Turn off engine – Shut off the engine if possible. This will cut off the fuel source and keep flammable liquids from spreading.
- Evacuate passengers – Get yourself and all passengers safely out and away from the vehicle. Move a safe distance away.
- Call emergency services – Alert the fire department. Be ready to give your exact location.
- Fight fire if safe – If the fire is small and contained, using the extinguisher can help suppress it until firefighters arrive. But only do this without risking your safety.
- Avoid smoke inhalation – Stay low to the ground if fire is producing smoke. Do not try to retrieve belongings. Just get to safety.
Remember, while an extinguisher can be helpful for small fires, vehicle fires can quickly rage out of control. Your life is not worth risking over property damage. Evacuate and let trained emergency crews handle firefighting.
How Can I Help Prevent Fires?
The best way to handle a vehicle fire is to avoid having one in the first place. Here are some proactive maintenance tips to help prevent fires:
- Address leaks/drips – Clean up any oil, fuel or fluid leaks quickly. Keep the engine bay clean.
- Inspect wiring – Look for any frayed or damaged wiring. Rodents can chew on wires and ignite fires.
- Check fuel system – Ensure hoses and fuel tanks are in good condition, with no leaks.
- Change fluids regularly – Keep oil, coolant, transmission and brake fluids fresh.
- Replace old parts – Swap out worn belts, hoses and accessories that can deteriorate over time.
- Clean battery terminals – Keep terminals corrosion-free so you don’t have electrical shorts.
- Have repairs done promptly – Address any mechanical or electrical issues immediately to reduce fire hazards.
- Drive attentively – Be alert to dashboard warning lights or smells of burning. Pull over if anything seems amiss.
Being proactive with maintenance and repairs goes a long way towards preventing electrical, mechanical and fuel-related fires. But carrying a high quality fire extinguisher provides peace of mind in case the unexpected occurs.
Key Takeaways on Fire Extinguishers in Cars
Here are some of the main points to remember:
- While not mandated by law, having an extinguisher can protect you in the event of a vehicle fire.
- Choose a 1-2 lb extinguisher rated for Class B and C fires. Ensure it is designed for vehicular use.
- Mount or secure the extinguisher in a place easily accessible by the driver. Avoid trunks or cargo areas.
- Follow any state or local laws regarding approved extinguisher types, sizes and mounting.
- If a fire starts, pull over, evacuate people and call emergency services right away.
- Only try to extinguish small, contained fires without putting yourself at risk.
- Perform regular maintenance and servicing to minimize fire hazards proactively.
Equipping your car with a fire extinguisher provides an added layer of protection in case of vehicle fires or emergencies. While let’s hope you never have to use it, it’s wise to be prepared in order to keep yourself and your passengers as safe as possible. Consult your local fire department for any other questions on vehicle fire safety.