A great number of safety conscious people routinely keep a fire extinguisher in their homes, at the ready in case of an emergency. Unfortunately, not nearly as many people think to include a car fire extinguisher among their automotive emergency kits, or even consider the consequences of not having one. The National Fire Protection Association states that an estimated 400,000 car fires are reported each year. With a number of different causes ranging from fuel fires or explosions due to collisions, to malfunctions in the electrical system or just a carelessly dropped cigarette, these fires are never anticipated.
Automobile fires can cause major damage to a vehicle and at the worst, can result in severe injury or death to drivers, passengers and even passersby. Considering the possibility that it could happen to you or a loved one and taking measures to arm yourself with an in car fire extinguisher in case it does takes little time and expense, and can make a huge difference in ensuring the safety and security of your vehicle.
Having a fire extinguisher for car use is just plain smart. Smarter still is being aware of what type is best for the most common fire situations that occur in automobiles, and how the different types function in those situations. Many extinguishers are sold for use in both home and car, and others are designed specifically for automobiles. Each kind is rated according to the types of fires it controls: class A is for paper, wood, cloth and other common materials; B is designed for use on flammable materials such as oil, gasoline and grease; class C is for electrical fires, with non-conductive qualities allowing it to be safely used on live electric systems. Some rating types are sold individually, and others have combination ratings, such as ABC extinguishers for all purpose use, and BC models, the type most frequently sold as car fire extinguishers, as they control the kind of fires most typical in vehicles.
There are two basic kinds of extinguishers on the market that are recommended for car use. Perhaps the best known is the dry chemical type, which are quite affordable and can be easily found for sale in hardware and home improvement stores, as well as on-line. The other type utilizes halon, alone or as a part of the formula, but is not as readily available in some countries for regulatory reasons. The latter type is also far more expensive. A Dry Chemical fire extinguisher for cars is sold in a container that is generally more compact than home units, usually 1 to 2.5 pounds, so that it is convenient to carry or mount inside the car within ready reach. Larger capacity units are also available, in weights of 10 or more pounds, more often recommended for use in big trucks, motor homes or vehicles capable of safely storing a heavy, more cumbersome unit. Most come with mounting hardware that works well with the features common to the interiors of cars. Specialty mounts are also available for such things as roll bars. Like any extinguishers, they are designed for single use, and require recharging even if only partially used.
Dry Chemical extinguishers are very effective for use on the electrical and fuel fires commonly associated with vehicle fires. They are inexpensive to initially purchase and to refill, and are easy to operate. Those who are concerned about the environment appreciate that they do not cause ozone damage. They do have some drawbacks though. One is that they can be very messy, and it can be exceptionally difficult to clean up the chemical residue after using. The powder can get into switches, gauges, electrical connections, air vents, and stereo systems. The most significant drawback is that it is corrosive in nature, and can damage plastic components, electrical insulation and even eat through some metals. Because of this it should be used with great care, and the car taken to an expert for cleanup afterward.
Halon based extinguishers, such as those containing Halotron marketed under the HalGuard name, offer the advantage of being non-corrosive. They discharge the extinguishing agent in liquid form, rather than a dry one. They are known as “clean agent” extinguishers that do not leave behind a residue after evaporating. Halotron is an improved, blended replacement for the older, more environmentally harmful halon ingredients that were not as safe to breathe. Halotron extinguishers are considerably more costly than, and not as easy to find as the dry chemical types, but they are favored by consumers who have extremely valuable vehicles and those that operate under more dangerous circumstances that are likely to result in a fire.
Faulty systems for fuel delivery, leaking oil and short circuits can cause engine fires. Flames can erupt from catalytic converters, brakes, exhaust systems and electrical components. On the road or in a garage, cars are at risk from fire, and having a suitable and reliable car fire extinguisher ready for such an event can prevent a huge amount of unnecessary loss and heartache.