Thursday August 28 2014

Why your car may catch fire

A car goes up in flames.

A car goes up in flames.There are a number of reasons why vehicles catch fire. But some of the fires are preventable. PHOTOS BY ABUBAKER LUBOWA 

Car fire can be caused by fuel leakages, overheating, short circuits, and accidents among other factors. If your vehicle is comprehensively insured, you may not be badly off. But there are instances when the insurer may not compensate you, why?

Like other football devotees, more than 75 people from Busabala, a Kampala suburb, accompanied their football team on Easter Sunday for a friendly match with Kahunde FC, a football club in Kibaale District. On their way back to Kampala after the match that ended in a 1-1 score, the Isuzu bus mysteriously caught fire at Kasalaba in Mataale Sub-County. Luckily, the 75 passengers escaped without injuries. They watched on as the bus got engulfed in flames. However, the driver and the passengers did not know the cause of the blaze.

Advice to drivers

Mutebi advises drivers to check their cars before driving them. “Checking the vehicle’s mechanical condition can help to identify disconnections within the engine. When disconnections are observed, the driver should seek assistance from a mechanic. Disconnections can even be caused by rats that bite the wires,” he says. He adds: “It is important to read odometers while driving. When the arrow shows extreme red, it means that the temperature is high. Thus the driver should stop and let the engine cool by air. Drivers should avoid pouring cold water to cool the engine because the steam can cause burns to the driver.”

Mutebi advises vehicle owners to insure their life as well, the vehicle’s because accidents can happen at any time. Wanjala adds: “Checking the radiator and cooling fan is crucial before embarking on any journey. In case the fuel tank has seepage (the slow escape of a liquid or gas through porous material or small holes.

The quantity of liquid or gas that seeps out), the driver can use soap or glue to cover the hole if the ooze happens in a place where there is no nearby car clinic.” He encourages drivers to take vehicles for servicing in order to clean the engine and fix the disconnections. “Drivers should always check tyres and attend car educative workshops in order to acquire some knowledge about vehicles,” he stresses.

Expert’s opinion
According to experts, car fires can be caused by fuel leakages, overheating, short circuits, and accidents, among other factors. Mr Grace Robert Mutebi of Mutebi Garage, says, many car fires start from the engine compartment where most of the working parts are. Mutebi notes, “accidents can also cause significant car fires when the gas tank or the engine has taken a severe hit, a slight spark or electrical impulse, such as when batteries get ruptured, can cause fire.”

“A short circuit is an electrical circuit that allows current to travel along an unintended path. Short circuits cause fire, especially when the positive wires get in contact with the flame, a spark is formed leading to fire. When the wires join together, a spark can be formed causing a blaze,” he says.

According to Geoffrey Wanjala of Good Life Motors in Wabigalo, vehicles catch fire when the engine overheats causing wires to melt. “This happens when the cooling system is not properly working or when there is not enough water in the radiator,” he explains. Wanjala adds, “Fuel leakage on the exhaust pipe can light up the car, especially in vehicles using petrol. When fuel leaks, a slight friction can also lead to fire. Leaking gas lines, head gaskets, cracked blocks, cracked radiators, leaking fuel lines, are all potential firehazards.”

Mutebi stresses: “When the vehicle is overloaded, the engine may become overheated thus making wires melt. Overloading can also make tyres burst after serious tear and wear friction that may result into fire.”

According to Mutebi, some vehicles have computers within the engine. He says when the computer becomes hot or damaged by rust; this can lead to a fire accident. “A worn out clutch can collide with the pressure plate and the friction can also cause fire,” he adds. Mutebi further explains that smoking while driving can also cause car fire especially when there is a fuel leakage. When the lit cigarette is thrown onto a surface with spilled fuel, it can inginte a fire.

Insurance experts
Michael Mbazira the underwriting manager of Rio Insurance Company says car fires are covered under the comprehensive motor policy which includes collision and theft. He adds: “The car owner pays premium for coverage of the vehicle against damage. The amount paid depends on the value of the car in terms of purchase amount and its condition. Very old vehicles cannot be insured.” Mbazira notes, the insurance company is able to handle any damage even when the harm occurs within the next hour after the covenant.

However, he says the insurance company makes investigations in conjunction with authorities to know whether the incident was genuine. “If we find that the occurrence was planned, the company cannot take any action to help the owner.”

Ahmed Kibirige in charge of business development at AIG Uganda Limited says: “Compulsory third party (CTP) is paid by all vehicle owners. The CTP is mandatory in all territories and provides compensation for bodily injuries caused by vehicles but does not provide cover for any damage to the vehicle.”

Kibirige adds that comprehensive motor policy covers fire, theft and accidents excluding damages caused by unauthorised drivers. “For instance, if the car is taken for cleaning and the washing bay staff get involved in an accident without the driver’s consent; the insurance company cannot take the responsibility to repair the car.”
He cautions: “At times the vehicle insurance policy may be limited to fire and theft only. With this form, the insurance company only covers for fire damages and theft to vehicles but it does not cover crash accidents.” An insurance premium is the amount of money charged by a company for active coverage.

“The sum a driver pays in premiums, also referred to as the rate is determined by factors like age of the vehicle, year of manufacture and value of the vehicle. If the vehicle is worn out, the company cannot cover it,”Kibirige notes. He advises motorists to consult different agencies before striking any insurance deal because it will help them know the terms and conditions involved.


When you notice your car starting to overheat, pull over. As soon as you notice the temperature gauge getting into the hot territory pull over and turn off the car to allow the engine to cool. If steam comes from the bonnet, stop immediately and keep an eye on your temperature gauge to prevent serious steam from escaping.

* Open the bonnet to allow heat to disperse faster. Don’t keep all that heat in there. Beaware that some cars have safety latches close to radiator cap and there is a risk of getting burned if steam is coming from the radiator cap.

*Do not open your radiator pressure cap (the cap on top of the radiator) while the engine is hot. Doing so is likely to release a high pressure combination of steam and radiator fluid that can cause very serious burns.
Check the coolant reservoir tank and fill if needed. Some cars have a plastic reservoir of coolant connected to the top of the radiator. This allows the driver to know whether coolant is below the proper level.

*Look for a leak in the cooling system in case the radiator or cylinder head seem to be compromised. If you are experienced with cars, check the radiator, core plugs in the engine block, or cylinder head near the head gasket for any signs of leakage or seek help from a mechanic.