I think everyone can generally agree that car fires are bad. Unless you're blowing one up so you can do a super cool slow-mo walk away while it blazes in the background, car fires pretty much always mean trouble. According to the National Fire Protection Agency, 17 cars catch fire every hour in the US, killing four people per week on average. Mechanical failure or malfunction is the cause of a whopping 49% of those fires. While numbers like that sound really, really bad (how is it that everyone I know hasn't been the victim of a car fire?!), remember that according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, there were 16.09 fatalities for every 100,000 drivers in 2015 (the most recent year statistics are available), and that's from all causes, so your likelihood of being involved in a car fire is actually extremely small.
But... there are a few cars out there that seem to weigh the numbers against you, and they're not all the bargain bin models. Sure, there are certain cars that are so well known for catching fire that if you own one and it burns to the ground, you shouldn't expect to get much sympathy from your neighbors. But if you shell out big bucks for your vehicle, you expect certain quality standards for your money (such as not having it encase you in an inferno). So keep reading, because if you own one of these 20 cars, you might want to invest in a fire suit.
20 Fisker Karma
Fisker Automotive began selling the Karma, its hybrid luxury sports sedan, in the US in 2011. Starting at $102,000, the Karma offered buyers a sleek exterior, a 5.9 second 0-60, and a top speed of 127 mph. Oh, and also the chance to spontaneously combust.
In May 2012, a Karma caught fire while parked in a Texas home garage. The fire spread, destroying part of the house and two other cars. Then, in August that same year, another Karma caught fire - this time in a California grocery store parking lot. Though Fisker only admitted to a faulty battery in the second fire, they nevertheless made a recall, and the company's battery supplier, A123Systems, was forced to file bankruptcy as a result of the tanking market for the Karma.
19 Lamborghini Gallardo
Lamborghinis are known for a lot of things, but the Gallardo has a reputation all its own. Manufactured from 2003-2013, the Gallardo is Lamborghini's best-selling model. Though there were several Gallardos produced over that decade (the Coupe, the Spyder, the Superleggera, etc.), they all basically came with a $200,000-plus price tag and a 3-second 0-60. Unfortunately, a fire extinguisher wasn't included.
There have been reports of Gallardos catching fire in Delhi, Sydney, Las Vegas, Portland, Seattle, Greece, England - basically anywhere in the world that people drive Gallardos, Gallardos are burning, with sometimes fatal results. I did a quick search on YouTube for "Lamborghini Gallardo fire" and got 115,000 results. The spontaneous combustion is usually chocked up to oil leaks and/or overheating (so resist the urge to rev at that stoplight).
18 Porsche 911 GT3
In a lot of ways, the Porsche 911 GT3 is a gentleman's supercar. It provides a classy exterior (contrasting the LOOK AT ME styling of Lamborghinis, Koenigseggs, etc.) without sacrificing performance. Though the price starts at just $130,000, it has a 3.3-second 0-60 and a top speed of 195. So what's the catch?
In 2014, two GT3s caught fire in Europe, prompting Porsche to make a recall. The fires were later traced to a loose screw, which caused an oil leak. Perhaps unrelated, but still worth mentioning, a 911 Turbo caught fire in 2016 at an auto show in New York, but as it was heavily modified, it's difficult to say whether the resulting electrical fire is really Porsche's fault. Still, I wonder if a flame-resistant interior is an available option...
17 Ford Explorer
Introduced in 1991 as the replacement for the Bronco, the Ford Explorer has been the #1 selling SUV for over two decades. With a starting price in the $30,000s, the Explorer offers families an affordable, all-purpose vehicle that can serve equally well as an off-roader or a grocery-getter... as long as you don't mind if the groceries are already roasted by the time you get home.
In 2013, Ford issued a recall of 3,037 vehicles (including that year's Explorer as well as the 2012 Taurus and Lincoln MKS) due to a dangerous gas tank default that presented a fire hazard. Apparently, Ford didn't learn their lesson because just three years later, they issued another recall: this time of their 2016 Explorer, as well as the 2015 Taurus and Lincoln MKS, for the exact same reason.
16 Pontiac Fiero
Despite its popularity when it was first introduced in 1984, the Pontiac Fiero was a car that never really knew where it belonged. It had a sporty exterior designed to appeal to fans of the Corvette, but due to the 1979 oil crisis, its performance never matched its looks. To help deal with the crowded engine bay, Pontiac reduced the size of the oil pan from four quarts to three, meaning the Fiero always ran out of oil sooner than its owner expected. Add to this the fact that people tried to drive it like a sports car (even though it wasn't really one), and the Fiero was a recipe for disaster. By the time it was discontinued in 1988, one out of every 400 Fieros on the road had caught fire.
15 Lamborghini Aventador
With a price tag that easily exceeds a half-million dollars once you add in optional extras, buyers have the right to expect a lot from the Lamborghini Aventador. They can expect that the 6.5-liter V12 engine will go 0-60 in under three seconds (which it does: 2.9 sec), as well as exceed 200 mph (which it does: 220 mph official top speed). But they also should be able to expect that their Aventador won't spontaneously combust on the side of the highway. Alas, life is full of disappointments.
The problem with the Aventador is that every model produced from 2012-2017 (save certain S and SV models) has a defective evaporative-emission system that allows fuel vapor to come into contact with hot exhaust gas. This tends to set the car ablaze, especially when you drive it like a 220 mph car is meant to be driven.
14 Chevrolet Volt
If you're trying to convince the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration that your vehicle is safe for consumers, you should probably make sure it doesn't burst into flames in their parking lot. Unfortunately, that's exactly what happened to a Chevrolet Volt in 2011. To be fair, the Volt in question was first given a side-impact "pole test," then put in a storage lot for three weeks before it ignited in a blaze that was severe enough to damage nearby cars. Because they were unable to replicate the fire, the NHTSA gave the Volt a 5-star safety rating. However, two separate Volts (one in North Carolina in 2011, and one in Connecticut in 2010) each caught fire in home garages. Fire officials in both cases have said the Volts weren't to blame. Still, maybe keep 911 on speed dial.
13 Mini Cooper
In 2011, South Wales resident Karina Collins was driving her Mini Cooper on the M4 when it suddenly lost power. As she pulled over, it became clear that the Coop was on fire. She left all her belongings inside and escaped without harm. The incident was one of four known fire cases stemming from an electrical fault in the turbocharger cooling system. This prompted Mini to make a massive recall of turbocharged models produced between 2007 and 2011. However, in January 2017, a Mini Cooper caught fire in California, and then in August 2017, another burned in Missouri. In both cases, the fires originated in the engine compartments and may have been due to the faults that were addressed in the recall. Whether that means the owners didn't participate in the recall or the fix just didn't work, we may never know.
Mercedes-Benz is one of the most respected car manufacturers on the planet, so you would think you could safely buy one of their vehicles without having to worry about it turning into a bonfire. Sadly, you'd be mistaken. In 2015, Mercedes-Benz USA recalled nearly 150,000 E-class and CLS-class vehicles due to a faulty rubber seal in the engine bay that had become a fire hazard. In 2016, a Portland man watched as his C300 caught fire and then exploded just a week after he'd bought it. And you may remember the recall Mercedes-Benz made in March this year of one million models across the globe; this was in response to 51 instances of the vehicles catching fire due to a defective limiter in the starter motor.
11 Subaru Outback
Japanese automaker Subaru is known for producing vehicles with boxer-engine layouts as well as their distinctive Symmetrical All Wheel Drive drive-train layout. Unfortunately, lately, they've also been known for their cars being flammable. In 2013, the company recalled over 600,000 models in the US (including several years' worth of Outbacks, Foresters, and Tribecas) due to an accessory puddle light that was discovered to be a fire hazard. But no sooner was that issue sorted when another recall was needed, albeit a much smaller one. In 2016, Subaru recalled over 3,000 Outbacks and Legacies due to a possible loosening of the drive shaft, which posed a risk of striking the fuel tank and causing a fire. To be fair, no actual fires were reported with either malfunction, though that may simply be because of Subaru's quick response to the issue.
10 Ferrari FF
Thanks in large part to the reputation of founder Enzo Ferrari, Ferraris have long been seen as the pinnacle of sports cars. The FF (Ferrari's first four-wheel drive model) debuted in 2011. For as low as $300,000, buyers get a 208-mph top speed, a 3.5-second 0-60, and loads of classic Italian styling. But maybe they should also throw in some marshmallows so you can at least have something to do when your FF bursts into flame.
The year 2012 was rough for the Ferrari FF. Even after high-profile FF fires in Germany, Shanghai, and Krakow (let's face it: after the 458 Italia, people were just waiting to see if the FF would combust), Ferrari still declined to issue a recall. Nothing to see here, people. Move along.
When BMW aficionado Bill Macko's 2008 X5 caught fire while parked in his garage in 2015, it destroyed his house. But what destroyed Macko's faith in BMW was when the company basically said it wasn't their problem. “I feel like I’m just tossed aside," said Macko. And unfortunately, Macko's incident was far from isolated. Just last month, BMW was finally forced to make a recall, and the numbers show how widespread the problem really is. Roughly a million vehicles of varying models dating back to 2007 have been recalled due to fire risk. The danger has been traced to overheating wires and short-circuiting heaters. BMW may be able to fix their cars, but how are they going to repair the relationship with their customers?
8 Lamborghini Murcielago
The third Lamborghini on this list, the Murcielago was introduced in 2001 as a replacement for the Diablo; it was the first model produced under Audi, Lamborghini's new parent company. The all-wheel drive, mid-engine supercar is notable for its scissor doors (you either love 'em or you hate 'em) and its role in 2005's Batman Begins. I suppose if anybody could deal with their Murcielago suddenly bursting into flames, it would be Bruce Wayne.
Like many of its Lamborghini siblings, the Murcielago is notorious for catching fire. There are reports of Murcielagos burning in the Netherlands, New York, Britain, and South Africa, just for starters. Per usual, the blame is usually placed on overheating and driver error (a.k.a. when people try to drive their supercar like a supercar).
7 Vauxhall Zafira
Based in Luton, Vauxhall has been manufacturing vehicles since 1903, making it one of Britain's oldest car manufacturing companies. The Zafira Tourer, a front-wheel-drive MPV (multi-purpose vehicle), was awarded "Best Estate" at the 2012 German Car of the Year Awards. But then, things went horribly wrong.
It turns out the Zafira is basically a time bomb due to problems with its heating and ventilation system. After more than 130 instances of Zafiras bursting into flame, the company was forced to make a recall in 2015, followed by another in 2016. Soon after, it was revealed that Vauxhall actually knew of the fire risk as far back as 2009 but did nothing. A Select Committee of British MPs have called the company "reckless," but as no laws were broken (the current system relies on voluntary recalls), there's little else the MPs can do.
6 Ford Pinto
This is perhaps the most notorious entry on this list, as the controversy surrounding the Ford Pinto is a case study in ethics - specifically how not to have any. Manufactured from 1971-1980, the Pinto was included in "Worst Cars of All Time" lists by both Forbes and Time. There were many problems with the car's design, but the biggest (and most tragic) was the placement of the fuel tank in the back, which often caused it to explode if involved in a rear-collision. Ford knew of the defect; eight of 11 cars put through their rear-collision test burst into flames. The three that didn't had simple and cheap safety measures installed, like an $11 steel plate placed behind the bumper to protect the fuel tank (which Ford declined to implement). In the end, at least six people were killed and hundreds more injured due to Ford's cost-cutting.
5 Jaguar F-Type
British car-manufacturing company Jaguar was founded in 1922 and so has a long history of making luxury vehicles that are sold around the world. The F-Type was launched in 2012 as the successor to Jaguar's E-Type; available with either a V6 or a V8 engine, the two-door sports car has top speeds ranging from 161 mph to 200 mph (depending on the model). Unfortunately, it also has loose battery cables, which pose a fire hazard. F-Type infernos were reported in Belgium in 2013 and in the Autobahn in September 2014. In December 2014, Jaguar issued a recall of its new F-Types (along with its XJs and XFs) to fix the issue. Is it proper British etiquette to serve tea around your smoldering Jag?
4 Chevrolet Vega
Manufactured by Chevrolet from 1970-1977, the Vega was intended to be a sophisticated two-door subcompact. For a while, things seemed to be going well; it was even named Motor Trend's "Car of the Year" in 1971. This success was short-lived, however, as the Vega's design and safety problems soon reared their ugly heads. Rust was a major issue. The engine was prone to overheating, a problem that was exasperated by its undersized radiator (which Chevy did to save money). It also had carburetor mounting bolts that would come loose, causing fuel to leak and catch fire. In 1972, Chevrolet recalled a half million Vegas in order to fix the problem, as well as the faulty axles and throttles. The Vega was redesigned in 1975, but it wasn't enough to save the car, and it was soon discontinued.
3 Lamborghini Veneno
With its $4.5-million price tag, the Lamborghini Veneno pushes the limits of what can even reasonably be called a dream car, instead rising into the realm of impossibility. The Veneno was produced in 2013 in limited edition for Lamborghini's 50th anniversary; only a dozen were made. Yes, I realize the Veneno is really just a sub-type of the Aventador (and thus has all its same problems), but because of everything I just explained, the Veneno stands out from the Aventador as its own car and thus deserves its own spot on this list.
By now, no one reading this list will be surprised to hear that the Veneno is prone to catching fire. In February of this year, Lamborghini recalled all 12 of them to fix issues with gasoline coming into contact with the exhaust system.
2 Ferrari 458 Italia
Ferrari's 458 Italia was produced from 2009-2015 as a replacement for the F430 (before it itself was replaced by the 488). It boasts 562 hp and a dual-clutch 7-speed gearbox, which allow it to reach a top speed of 210 mph. A 458 Italia GT2 won Le Mans in 2012 and 2014, among several other victories. Oh, and it's also cursed.
Okay, probably not really. But in 2010 alone, five 458 Italias burst into flame due to a flaw in which the wheel arch came into contact with the exhaust pipe. Also that same year, five 458 Italias were involved in crashes and another (with a £65,000 Dolce and Gabbana custom interior) was destroyed in a warehouse fire. Hmm, maybe it is cursed.
1 Tesla Model S
The Tesla Model S is supposed to be a marvel of luxury and technical innovation, and in many ways, it is. It was the best-selling electric car in 2016 according to EV Volumes, and you'd need a lot more space than I have here to list all the awards it's received. It also has a 5-star safety rating from the NHTSA, which is a bit baffling considering its tendency to burst into flames.
Three Model Ss caught fire after crashing in 2013 alone. One was destroyed when it caught fire in Norway in 2016, another burned later that year in France, and yet another combusted just a few months ago in Austria. And when a Model S catches fire, it's serious business; you can't use water on these fires, so Tesla has even created guidelines for first responders on how to put out the blaze safely.
Sources: NPR; Wikipedia; carandriver.com