Usually, when people think about hazards on the highway, they don’t consider fires. Accordingly, some drivers don’t know that keeping a fire extinguisher is really their only chance for stopping a vehicle fire from brewing up.
Though automobile crashes usually cause death and destruction directly, fires also claim hundreds of lives and rack up millions in lost property.
A compact fire extinguisher is always the best option for putting out such a fire but do we need to worry about keeping these highly pressurized steel containers inside our vehicles? Is it safe to carry a fire extinguisher in your vehicle?
Yes, it is totally safe to keep a fire extinguisher in your vehicle if stowed properly. A fire extinguisher that is for vehicular usage will be just fine in extreme temperatures experienced inside a vehicle and can put out oil and electrical fires that commonly occur.
You absolutely should have a high-quality vehicle-specific fire extinguisher aboard your personal vehicle, period.
But there are a few things to know before deciding whether or not to install or carry one. We will talk about them below.
Good Fire Extinguishers Can Resist High and Low Temps
Keeping anything inside a vehicle full-time is a real test. Extreme and sustained temperature swings, intense vibration, dust, grit, and more all await anything that will be a part of your ride’s equipment.
We are all cautioned to avoid leaving anything precious to us in a vehicle unattended for that reason.
It is natural then to wonder if a fire extinguisher can withstand such conditions. The good news is that modern fire extinguishers, especially ones designed for vehicular transport and use, are designed to take all of that and more.
The steel canisters are made to resist corrosion from the elements as well as being banged, dinged and dropped.
Their seals, triggering mechanism, and extinguishing agent are similarly designed to function across a wide spectrum of temperatures with no loss of efficiency.
In short, you don’t need to worry about your extinguisher blowing up in a hot car or failing to function when you need it.
You Must Properly Locate and Secure Your Fire Extinguishers
Fire safety experts all recommend that you have fire extinguishers in your car, but they also urge that they must be mounted with security and passenger safety in mind.
It is tempting to buy an extinguisher and toss it beneath the seat, in the glove compartment, or some other out-of-sight and out-of-mind location in your vehicle, but consider that that heavy steel container might become a missile within the passenger compartment during a high-speed impact.
That’s just physics, folks! In such an event, it will inflict terrible, maybe even deadly wounds if it strikes someone.
Therefore, you should never store a fire extinguisher in the passenger area unless it is in a properly mounted bracket or other purpose-designed holders.
On the other hand, seconds count when fighting a fire, so your mounting solution must also be capable of releasing the extinguisher so that it won’t slow you down.
Also, where one is good two are better: One extinguisher should be kept inside the passenger compartment but you should have a spare either in a different location in the cabin or else in the trunk.
Your automobile’s primary fire extinguisher may not contain enough chemicals to fully put out the blaze and such fires are prone to reignite occasionally!
Take the time to do this right: proper storage of your vehicle’s fire extinguisher is critical to your success fighting a fire, as well as your safety in the event of an accident.
You Must Pick the Right Kind of Fire Extinguisher
If you cared to look at stats concerning vehicle fires, you will notice a definite trend: most are caused by the ignition of oil or other combustible liquids, however it is set off.
Common sources of ignition are damaged wiring and electronics as well as friction and auto-ignition of combustible materials in contact with hot surfaces of the engine. To combat these fires, you’ll need the right kind of extinguisher.
Fire extinguishers come in all sorts and kinds, but you’ll want to look for a ‘BC’ rated one. This type can deal with nearly any vehicular fire.
The B and C in this code (according to U.S. conventions) indicate that the extinguisher can handle oil, flammable gases, and flammable liquids as well as electrical fires.
Choosing an extinguisher of this type will ensure that you can effectively fight the fire when the time comes instead of watching it come back to life again and again.
Furthermore, you will want to buy the largest extinguisher that you can effectively store and handle. More is always better when the flames are roaring!
The one or two digit number in a fire extinguisher’s rating informs you of how big a fire it can be expected to handle.
For instance, a 5 tells you it can handle a 5 sqft fire whereas a 10 would tell you it can handle a 10 sqft fire.
Think Carefully About the Size of the Extinguisher
This is where things get tricky. You should think about the size of an extinguisher before choosing one.
If it’s too big, it might be hard to retrieve, much less handle, in an emergency situation.
Extinguishers like this which are too much of a pain in the ass are usually tossed in the trunk, out of reach, where they live ever after.
Smaller extinguishers are more convenient, easier to handle, easier to use, and get in the way less.
However, larger fire extinguishers will have more power to fight fires, so one could potentially do the job or at least keep the blaze under control until help arrives.
Your Car Fire Extinguisher Must be Inspected and Maintained
Fire extinguishers, like any other piece of equipment, require periodic inspection and maintenance.
The extra maintenance required by fire extinguishers that are carried in vehicles is something you’ll need to account for.
Vibration is a fact of life for motor vehicles, and for anything they carry, which may cause difficulties with your extinguisher.
Despite being securely clamped down in its holder (and you did clamp it down, right?) vibration will deteriorate functional components and also result in the compaction and settling of the extinguishing chemicals inside the canister.
Unfortunately, this issue is just going to affect any fire extinguisher carried in your vehicle.
To keep your fire extinguisher in optimal condition, perform a regular, quick inspection at least once a month: You should check the pressure gauge regularly (most extinguishers have them) and know how to read it.
If the needle is in the red zone on either side, it is time for a new one. Also, make sure the pin is in place and has not been removed or wiggled loose.
This is cheap insurance to keep the fire extinguisher from accidentally being discharged! Look it over for rust, unusual wear, or anything out of the ordinary.
Once or twice a year, swing into a fire safety supplier to get your extinguisher inspected properly. This will only cost a few bucks.
A dealer can check for any subtle damage or malfunction that might have occurred, as well as make sure that the seals and actuators are functioning correctly.
This will give you peace of mind knowing that your fire extinguisher is ready to use in case of an emergency on the road.
Always Buy the Best Fire Extinguisher You Can Afford
Spending too much on anything can blow your budget, but if you are going to cheap out, cheap out on something besides critical safety equipment.
Don’t penny-pinch when it comes to buying your fire extinguisher: a bargain-bin special might not hold up in your car. Maybe the seals start to break down or the trigger actuator fails.
Either could result in a huge mess in your vehicle, at best, or a total failure to function when you desperately need it to work. Suddenly, a $10 extinguisher seems like a bad bargain, huh?
The cheapest insurance in this regard is to buy a known-quality fire extinguisher from a reputable manufacturer.
These will likely cost you a bit more upfront, but over the long term, they will be cheaper and much less hassle.
A good fire extinguisher is an investment that could literally save your life or the lives of your passengers, or prevent the total destruction of your car that costs thousands of dollars, so it’s worth spending a few extra dollars to get something you can rely on.
When it comes to fire safety, never take shortcuts or chances: make sure you have a high-quality fire extinguisher in your vehicle, properly mounted and properly maintained. It might just be the most important thing you ever buy for your car.
Tom Marlowe 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, He has the experience in helping civilian shooters figure out what firearms work best for them.