Why do cars catch fire? So sure, sometimes they are being driven by people with reduced mental capacity who probably think they could make their steeds fly. Sometimes bad crashes lead to even more bad things happening. And sometimes carmakers screw the consumers by letting fire-prone cars sneak into the auto market and make a literal killing out of them.
According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, some 400 cars go up in flames in the US daily, or rather, one vehicle in the US burns every 3.6 minutes every day. Crazy, right? If you think so too, here go the ten most fire-prone vehicles in the recent history of automobiles. And some of them still sold like hotcakes, if you pardon the pun.
10 The Ford Pinto: Willing Endangerment
Every vehicle is crash-tested for safety purposes by carmakers before being sent off to the dealerships. The Pinto was no different. Ford crash-tested this particularly temperamental car some 40 times before releasing it to the public. Sadly, every time it was rear-ended at speeds above 35mph, it caught fire. And yet, all it would have taken to stop any such incidents; was a 1-pound safety plate that cost $1.
This could have shielded the rear-mounted engine from any collisions and kept the car from catching fire. Sadly, the Pinto was supposed to be exactly 2,000-pounds and cost exactly $2,000 as well, and this device was increasing both. So nothing was done and the Pinto has gone down in history as one of the most execrable cars that Ford ever made.
9 2010-2015 Hyundai and Kia Cars: 3 million recalls
The 2011-2014 examples of the Kia Sorento and Optima, and the Hyundai Santa Fe and Sonata seem to be in a fiery soup. As does the 2010-2015 Kia Soul. Reports are rife that more than 200 complaints of fires and another 200 complaints of smoldering wires have been filed by owners of these models.
The NHTSA has issued an advisory to Kia and its parent company Hyundai for the same, and some three million recalls are underway for the same. High exhaust temperatures affect the catalytic convertors, leading to engine fires and cars fully burning down. Of course, Hyundai and Kia are fully co-operating, as opposed to Ford in the 70s.
8 The F-Type Jaguar: More Dwindling Sales
The 2012 Jaguar F-Type was launched with much fanfare as the E-Type’s successor. And it was a cool car that could go 160-200mph, depending on the V6 or V8 engine option under the hood. It looked good and initially, it seemed it could do wonders. Soon, with some fiery reports trickling in, it was obvious that the F-Type was a tad effed up.
The battery cables were loose and reports of F-Type pyres began to come in from all over Europe in 2013 and 2014. So at the end of 2014, Jaguar got onto Santa’s good list by recalling its F-Types to fix the problem. Sadly, Jag sales have been on a downward spiral for a while now.
7 2015-2017 Mercedes-Benz: Starting The Car Equals Fire
There were some 51 reported fires in Mercedes-Benz C-Class, E-Class, CLA, GLA and GLC SUVs in the models ranging from 2015-2017. The issue was trivial – an overheating starter port. If and when the engine failed to turn, repeated attempts to start the car overheated the limiter, causing sparks, and in some cases, a full-blown fire. Mercedes-Benz did swing into action and recall a million cars to fix the problem.
Of course, had quality control been maintained, the issue itself would have never arisen. This has happened to Merc before in 2015 itself when a faulty rubber seal in the engine bay caused fires. Some 150,000 E-class and CLS-class vehicles were recalled to fix it.
6 Fisker Karma: Battery Bankruptcy
The Fisker Karma has been in the news more for wrong than right. Other than being a Bieber favorite, the ultra-sleek Karma has a penchant for a fiery fate. Priced at over $100k, the Karma offered a cool-looking car that ran 0-60mph in 5.9 seconds at speeds of almost 130mph. In 2012, two Karmas caught fire – both parked rather than running on the road.
Fisker had to admit to a fault with the battery and make recalls. The already small market of this car shrunk, and the battery maker ended up filing for bankruptcy. So if it catches fire, it may be Karma.
5 Lamborghini Gallardo: A Fiery Temperament
The bigger they are, the harder they fall – so the faster they are, the quicker they burn as well. And this is especially true with the 2003-2013 Lamborghini Gallardo, which came roaring in with a price tag of $200,000+ and a 0-60mph sprint of 3 seconds flat. Make a Google search of Lamborghini Gallardo fire, and the next 50 pages or so will be full of reports and incidents from all over the world.
When it’s a traffic light on a hot day, resist the urge to rev your Gallardo because it could overheat and damage its internal organs to the point of smoke and flames. And oh, the oil pipes are prone to clogging as well. Of course, the Aventador and the Murcielago have this problem as well.
4 Tesla Model S: Safer Than Conventional?
In a blog so sourced from the statistics from the National Fire Protection Association, it is claimed that a gasoline-based car is five times more likely to catch fire than an EV. Or so said Elon Musk. As of October 2019, the NHTSA is still investigating non-crash fires in the Tesla Model S and the Tesla Model X.
The defect could be in a few battery packs, but frankly, Tesla has far more worries than a few of its models catching fires. This is in response to Tesla’s new software update that it rolled out in May 2019 after some battery-fire related incidents. NHTSA is not satisfied with the solution, so it’s a wait-and-watch to see what Tesla has to say in response.
3 The Chevrolet Vega: Chevy’s Fiery Nadir
They say if you see a non-smoking Vega running on the road, you are a liar. Because more often than not, a Vega was seen being towed away, hauled away to the junkyard, or abandoned at lonely roads by exhausted owners. Of course, much like with the Pinto, the Vega too came with a bang and even won a few awards in the first year of its life.
The same publications that gave away these awards later had to publish articles reviling this ill-made and exasperating car. The engine overheated and carburetor mounting bolts would come undone, leaking fuel and making the Vega very prone to fires. Some half a million recalls and a redesign later, the Chevrolet Vega was finally put to rest. Lest it burned down the world.
2 BMW's Million Recall: 2006 Models Onwards
What do you call a car that catches fire while parked in your garage and burns your house down? A 2006 BMW. Or maybe a 2007 or 2008 one. The fact is, nearly one million Bimmers from 2006 to 2010 are being recalled for fire-related incidents.
The reasons are diverse – overheating wires, short-circuiting heaters, and a moisture-prone rusty crankcase ventilation valve. The last could make the cars catch fire even when the motor was switched off with the car safe in parking. The cars in question were from the 1 Series, 3 Series, 5 Series, X3, X5, and Z4s. Sad to have a reputed car burn down your house.
1 Pontiac Fiero: Behaved Like Its Name
The good thing is that only 244,000 Fieros were recalled because of a fire-prone issue. The bad news is that only 244,000 were ever made. While it was made to look sporty on the outside, the performance was much reduced, mostly because of the oil embargo and its EPA effects.
The one fatal flaw this car had was a smaller-sized oil pan, which meant the Fiero ran out of oil pretty often. And since people put this car to its limits because of the way it looked, the engine overheated and the car caught fire. Introduced in 1984, it was retired in 1988, but not before one out of every 400 Pontiac Fieros had lived up to their fiery nameplate.