One major, though usually unexpected hazard encountered on the highways and interstates every year are vehicle fires. Resulting in hundreds of deaths, thousands of injuries and countless fortunes in property loss, vehicle fires are an ever present and significant emergency when operating any vehicle.
A fire extinguisher is always the first and best option for combating a fire but some drivers express worry about keeping a pressurized vessel inside the vehicle at all times.
Is it safe to leave a fire extinguisher in your car? Yes, absolutely. Only by having one close at hand inside the passenger compartment can you be reasonably sure you will be able to respond to a vehicle fire in a timely manner. A properly rated fire extinguisher is capable of handling typical oil and electrical fires associated with motor vehicles, and also withstand high ambient temperatures inside the vehicle while in storage.
The bottom line is that there is absolutely no reason why you shouldn’t have a high-quality, vehicle-specific fire extinguisher with your vehicle at all times. There are a few points to consider before committing to installing or carrying one, and I’ll be discussing them below.
Proper Mounting and Storage is Critical for Success
Proper mounting and storage of your vehicle’s fire extinguisher is going to play a major role in your success at fighting a fire and also keeping you safe in the event of an accident.
Generally, experts recommend you obtain two fire extinguishers for your vehicle. You should mount and keep one inside the passenger compartment where it can be easily accessed, and also a backup in the trunk or cargo area.
Your primary fire extinguisher might not have enough extinguishing agent to fully handle the fire, and sometimes extinguished fires reignite.
Before you stash your extinguisher under the seat, in the floorboard, or in some other unapproved cubby hole consider that a heavy duty, steel container might be launched and ricochet around inside the passenger compartment during a high-speed impact where it can inflict serious or even deadly wounds all by itself.
You must never keep a fire extinguisher inside the passenger compartment unless it is in an approved and properly secured mounting bracket for holder. This holder must also have a quick release system so it will not cost you any time when you need the extinguisher.
Select the Right Kind of Fire Extinguisher
You don’t want to get just any kind of fire extinguisher for your vehicle. Choosing one with the right rating and classification will ensure but you can effectively fight the types of fires you’ll be facing.
Generally speaking, any automobile specific fire extinguisher should have at least a 5-BC rating. The number ‘5’ indicates what size of fire, in square feet, that the user can reasonably expect to tackle using the extinguisher and the ‘B’ and ‘C’ in this case are North American classifications that inform us the extinguisher’s agent can handle flammable gases and liquids as well as electrical equipment fires.
This is critical because it also tells us that the extinguishing agent is non-conductive itself.
If you take the time to analyze typical vehicle fires, you will find that the vast majority of them involve flammable oils or other liquids regardless of how they begin.
Concerning the cause of ignition, electrical component failure and friction on flammable materials are both leading instigators. A ‘BC’ rated fire extinguisher can handle pretty much everything you’ll need to deal with.
One item worth carefully considering before selecting a fire extinguisher is the overall size. This is generally a compromise item for most vehicles because an extinguisher that is too large and heavy will be difficult to handle or retrieve when you need it most, and if they’re too heavy they risk being placed out of the way inside the trunk due to their bulk.
On the other hand, larger fire extinguishers have a greater capacity with which to fight a fire, meaning that one might be enough to do the job or to keep the fire at bay before the professionals arrive.
Fire Extinguishers Must be Periodically Maintained
All fire extinguishers need maintenance, and fire extinguishers that are carried inside vehicles need more maintenance than most.
Though it seems like a pretty easy duty simply being clamped inside a holder, fire extinguishers chosen for this important task go through a lot more than the ones we have in our homes and office buildings.
Vehicles, and their cargo, undergo constant vibration, and this can cause issues with your extinguisher. No matter what, it will accelerate wear on functional components and it also leads to settling of the extinguishing agent, settling which will reduce effectiveness when it is time to pull the pin and fight a fire.
Unfortunately, this problem is endemic to the nature of a vehicle-carried fire extinguisher and there’s not much you can do to prevent it.
What you can do, though, is stay on top of maintenance for your fire extinguisher to restore its functionality. A yearly or twice-yearly quick inspection at a fire safety supply dealer is all that is required to make sure your fire extinguisher is in tip-top shape and ready to do its job.
The dealer will inspect all of the many important components of the fire extinguisher including its contents, seals, actuator, and more before giving it a clean bill of health.
Quality Counts with Fire Extinguishers
Nobody wants to spend too much on the things they buy, but you would be foolish to be miserly when purchasing critical safety equipment.
Going with a cheap knockoff or a cut-throat supplier’s model might mean your fire extinguisher is not up to the task of withstanding the difficult duty of riding in your vehicle: The trigger and contents might not be able to hold up under the vibration.
The seals might not be able to withstand the screaming hot temperatures of the passenger cabin in a parked vehicle. Any of this could result in a failure when you can least afford it, and then you will rue the day you wanted to save $20 on a fire extinguisher.
The only way I have any assurances that your fire extinguisher will perform in all conditions and at all times is to spend for one made by a reputable manufacturer who UL tests their fire extinguishers both for vehicular carriage and for high-temperature storage. Your safety and potentially your vehicle are both on the line!
It is absolutely safe and a good idea to keep a fire extinguisher or two in your vehicle. Vehicle fires are far more common than most people think, and result in many deaths, thousands of injuries and untold fortunes in property damage.
Your best chance of preventing all the above is by choosing and properly mounting a vehicle-rated fire extinguisher in your personal automobile.