Seeing your car engulfed in flames is both terrifying and rare. If it happens, damages can be severe, often resulting in a total loss. Fortunately, your auto insurance should cover fire damage if you have comprehensive coverage on your policy.
In this article, we’ll explain how your insurance covers fire damage. We’ll also break down what to do if your vehicle catches fire, including how to file a claim. Finally, you’ll learn the most common causes of vehicle fires and how to avoid them.
Which Coverages Protect a Car from Fire Damage?
If your car catches fire due to an accidental or random cause, your insurance will cover it. However, which coverage protects you depends on the situation. These coverages will come into play, depending on how the fire damage occurred:
Comprehensive coverage pays for fire damage due to non-accident disasters or “acts of God.” These include events like arson and wildfires. However, it won’t cover any damages you cause, accidental or not.
In the rare event that a crash sets your automobile aflame, collision coverage will pay for the damages. You can file a claim regardless of fault, but it must be for a car accident involving another object.
Much like collision coverage, liability insurance will pay for damage or injuries due to a fire that another person causes. Conversely, if you accidentally cause a fire, your liability protection will pay for the other person’s expenses.
Fires often cause severe damage and, as a result, total your vehicle. If you’re financing or leasing, things can get tricky for you because you must still pay back the loan. Gap insurance pays the difference between what you owe and your vehicle’s actual cash value. This ensures you won’t need to pay out of pocket for the rest of the loan.
What About My Belongings Inside the Car?
If you had any valuables inside, your homeowners or renters insurance policy would cover it. Be sure to keep an inventory of what you own. This way, you’ll receive the proper compensation when you file a claim.
Common Causes for Vehicle Fires
There are several ways a car can catch fire. Some are related to the vehicle itself, while others are completely random. Here are the most common fire-starters:
- Mechanical failure. At times, a mechanical or electrical failure can occur, igniting a fire inside. This can happen randomly or due to a lack of maintenance. At times, hot weather can cause an engine to overheat. If the cause was random, your comprehensive insurance will cover it.
- Car accidents. A collision could start a fire in some cases. If this happens, your collision coverage will pay for any damages.
- Arson. This is when a criminal intentionally sets your vehicle up in flames. Comprehensive coverage covers any damage due to vandalism, including arson.
- Wildfires. Forest fires are rampant in the summer months, especially in states like California. If one spreads to your vehicle, you can file a comprehensive claim for it.
- Housefires. Unfortunately, accidental housefires can happen. If the blaze spreads to your car, your comprehensive insurance will cover it.
- Negligence. Poor maintenance or fires that you cause aren’t covered by auto insurance companies. For instance, if you light a firework next to your car and it catches on fire, you won’t be able to file a claim. As another example, if you don’t conduct routine maintenance and it results in a mechanical failure, your coverage won’t help you.
How to Avoid a Car Fire
In some cases, you won’t be able to fully protect your car from disaster. But there are some steps you can take to keep your asset safe.
First, you should park your vehicle in a garage whenever possible. This will keep it away from arsonists, the heat, and natural occurrences (such as lightning). Next, be sure to perform routine maintenance on your vehicle. This includes keeping up with oil changes and taking it into the shop if you notice anything out of the ordinary. Remember, the cost of repairs is always a better alternative to a sudden disaster or a total loss. An added bonus is that garaging your vehicle can shave a few bucks off your auto insurance!
What to Do if Your Car Catches on Fire
Your car going up in flames can be extremely terrifying. Especially when you’re driving. In some cases, it’s a life-or-death situation as it can happen suddenly. However, it’s important to stay calm and act quickly. If your vehicle catches fire, here’s what to do:
- Get off the road
- Turn off the car
- Get yourself and your passengers out and at a distance ASAP
- Call 911 and report the incident to the fire department
- Wait for the fire department to take care of the flames. For your safety, don’t try to put it out yourself.
- Contact your insurer and file a claim. Take pictures and record everything that happened.
Types of Damage a Vehicle Fire Can Cause
A fire can cause severe damage to your vehicle. The interior, body, and mechanical parts can all be ruined in many ways. Below are the most common damages related to a fire:
- Damage to mechanical parts. If a fire spreads to or ignites in what’s under the hood, your car may not ever work properly again. Flammable materials can light and even explode in some circumstances. Often, when this happens, your car becomes a total loss.
- Burns to the interior and upholstery. Flames can spread and burn up your vehicle’s interior. Depending on the extent of the burns, it could become unusable.
- Smoke damage. Smoke can get into your car’s interior and ruin the upholstery, dashboard, or other parts. This is especially true if the smoke contains hazardous chemicals due to a mechanical fire.
How to File a Fire Damage Claim
You should try to file a claim for a vehicle fire as soon as possible. Most insurers allow you to file either online or over the phone. Before you do anything, make sure you have the proper information on hand, including:
- An account of what happened
- Pictures or a description of the damage
- Date and time of the accident
- Proof of claim form
- Police report (if any)
- The other driver’s contact and insurance info (if it was a collision)
After you file, your insurer will likely assign an adjuster to you. They’ll assess the damages and determine what your reimbursement will be. Also, be ready to pay a deductible. This is the amount of money you previously agreed to pay if you file a claim.
State laws usually require insurers to settle your claim in a reasonable amount of time. Once you receive your settlement, you can repair or replace your car as necessary.
Will Filing a Claim Raise My Rates?
In general, filing a fire damage claim shouldn’t raise your rates. However, if this is one of many recent claims, you might see an increase. Even if you may see a rise in costs, you shouldn’t avoid filing. Fire damage is often severe and can cost thousands of dollars out of pocket unless your insurer helps cover it.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: What happens if my car catches on fire?
A: If your car bursts into flames, you need to take immediate action. Get your car off the road, turn off the engine, and get away from it ASAP. Then, you’ll want to call the fire department. Once you’re able, you should alert your insurer and file a claim.
Your insurer should be able to help you pay for the damages as long as the fire was started by an accident or other covered event. After you receive your settlement, you can repair or replace your vehicle.
Q: Can you fix a car that caught fire?
A: Depending on the damages, you may be able to repair your car. However, fire spreads quickly and can also cause smoke damage. Your insurance adjuster will have some insight into how bad the damage is. Additionally, an auto body repair shop will also be able to tell you what the possible outcome is.
Q: Do cars catch fire in hot weather?
A: Yes, cars can catch fire in hot weather. During the summer months, engines and other car parts are more likely to overheat and, potentially, ignite. Also, be aware that wildfires are more common in hot, dry weather. All it takes is for someone to litter a lit cigarette on a dry patch of grass to start one. For this reason, be wary of where you park your car in the hot months.
Q: How do most car fires start?
A: Cars can catch fire for several reasons. But, according to Progressive, the most common is due to mechanical or electrical failure. Hot weather, lack of maintenance, or just a random breakdown can cause a mechanical fire. To curb this, keep up with regular maintenance and take your car into the shop if you notice anything wrong.
You can also avoid fires if you park in a garage. This keeps it safe from arsonists, thieves, and accidents.