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The need for fire extinguishers in all automobiles

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Added 11th March 2020 08:04 PM

Some common causes of fires include automobile design flaws such as electrical issues, leaks in the fuel tank and faulty batteries; electrical or mechanical failures with the car’s battery, issues with heated seats, the heating system,

The need for fire extinguishers in all automobiles

Eng. Frank K. Kweronda

Some common causes of fires include automobile design flaws such as electrical issues, leaks in the fuel tank and faulty batteries; electrical or mechanical failures with the car’s battery, issues with heated seats, the heating system,

By Eng. Frank K. Kweronda

Motor vehicle fires are not uncommon due to the complexity of vehicles' electrical and mechanical systems, not to mention the potential for oil or fuel to ignite.

Some common causes of fires include automobile design flaws such as electrical issues, leaks in the fuel tank and faulty batteries; electrical or mechanical failures with the car's battery, issues with heated seats, the heating system, or aftermarket accessories; engine overheating; and leakage of motor oil, coolant, or transmission, power steering, or brake fluid and also external factors that may cause fire outbreak.

Car fires can, of course, occur for several reasons, but most commonly occur as a result of mechanical or electrical issues. Therefore, having your car serviced regularly can certainly reduce the risk of fire. However, I pose the question; is it not prudent that we all carry a fire extinguisher in our private and public cars?

So, if you are thinking of investing in a fire extinguisher for your private car, here's what you might have to know and consider. According to the Uganda Traffic and Safety Act, 1998: fire extinguishers and first-aid outfit. Every motor omnibus shall carry two fire extinguishers of a type approved by the chief licensing officer. All such extinguishers shall be maintained in perfect order and shall be carried in such a position as to be readily available for use at any time. Section 72 further says that every private motor vehicle shall be equipped with an efficient fire extinguisher of a pattern approved by the chief licensing officer, and the extinguisher shall be maintained fully charged with such fluid or gas as shall be approved by the chief licensing officer.

Because your vehicle has the potential for many different types of fires — oil, electrical, gas, and an array of other potentially flammable substances — your car fire extinguisher needs to be able to handle several types of fires. Dry powder extinguishers tend to work best.

One of the things with automobile fires is that people never expect that it can happen to them. ‘I have no dangerous chemicals in my car', ‘I regularly check under the bonnet for any electrical or mechanical problems'. But the fact is that fires can start due to numerous reasons, many of which are beyond your control. There's human error, temperature, mechanical problems and electrical causes which can trigger a fire out of the blue. Sometimes, even pests can cause a fire.

Insurance will probably pay for the damage that occurs to the vehicle. But think about being trapped inside a burning car with your loved ones. That thought just sent a shudder down my spine. A fire extinguisher can help you contain the fire before it spreads. There's nothing more valuable than the well-being of the people we love. And this small but very useful tool can help you when you are in the most helpless situation of your life.

I don't know about you but seeing someone in distress in the middle of the road triggers the Samaritan in me. I just like to help people. And if you see a vehicle on fire, a fire extinguisher can be the best tool in hand until firefighters arrive.

There are so many misconceptions floating around on the internet about fire extinguishers that it is no wonder that people steer away from adding them to their cars. One of the most common theories is that a fire extinguisher can explode if the temperature in your car exceeds a certain limit. Not true! Fire extinguishers for the car are designed to function flawlessly even after being exposed to high temperatures.

There are people who have kept it in the trunk for years in the desert and it has worked perfectly when needed. Another notion is that you can aggravate the fire by using the wrong type of fire extinguisher, which is partly true. A workaround is to get one that can deal with any kind of fire. That's why one must have an extinguisher that can deal with Class A, B & C type of fires, which are the most common ones that occur in automobiles

What is the best type of fire extinguisher to keep in my private car?

It is recommended that an ABC Dry Powder extinguisher be used as it may be used on flammable liquids (including Petrol & Diesel and Combustible Solids such as the textiles and plastics found in a car's interior). It is also safe to use on electrical fires, however, it should be noted that the ABC Dry Powder can cause corrosion if used on an engine fire. To prevent this ensure residue is washed off as soon as is safe to do so.

While there is no dearth of places where you can install a fire extinguisher, it is advisable to keep it at arm's length. The last thing I want is to get stuck in my car with my seat belt locked and unable to reach the fire extinguisher because I stowed it away too deep. The ideal location for the installation will also depend on the size of the fire extinguisher model that you select.

One of the best places to install it is under the driver's or the passenger's seat. You can buy a universal mount that will allow you to install the most commonly used auto fire extinguishers under the seat without making any changes or drilling holes. This can make it aesthetically pleasing too. Other possible locations include under the center console, on the door or even on the floor. You'd want to ensure that it does not interfere or inhibit any feature of the car. Some people who rarely drive alone often install it in a place that the other passengers can access.

The Government via the Transport Licensing Board should enforce the installation of fire extinguishers as it will vastly increase safety and save lives. Nevertheless, the public should be encouraged to buy fire extinguishers, not just for their cars but also for their homes as it will help prevent fire from spreading. Fire extinguishers should be mandatory for commercial trucks and buses and recommended in personal vehicles.

The writer is a civil engineer

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