Gas Leaks, Electrical Problems Are Common Causes Of Car Fires

Posted: December 12, 1999

Question: I drive to work on I-95, and often see burned-out cars along the road. I got to wondering what causes car fires, and if there is anything a motorist can do to prevent them?

Answer: Gas leaks and electrical-system malfunctions are the most common causes, according to Bob Moyta, service manager at Pacifico Ford in the Philadelphia Automall. Oil leaks and debris-packed catalytic converters also can trigger fires.

Obviously, you want to repair a leak in the fuel system as soon as it is detected. You also want to replace wires when the insulation has been damaged.

Great care should be taken in making wiring repairs of any kind, Moyta cautions. The best policy, he says, is to keep the electrical system in absolutely original condition: Electrical fires often result from less than kosher modifications, such as running a new wire to bypass a defective switch or control.

Your best defense against an electrical fire, he concludes, is an electrical system that hasn't been messed with.

Fires caused by oil leaks can be avoided by prompt leak detection and repair.

Moyta says suburbanites are much more likely to notice oil leaks than city dwellers because they usually park their cars in the same place each night and notice when an oil spot forms there.

City folk, on the other hand, tend to park in a different place each night.

Henry Dallessandro, assistant service manager at Frankel Buick/Chevrolet in Ardmore, says a car's super-hot catalytic converter also can start fires if leaves or paper get packed around it. He tells his customers to check the converter at least twice a year for debris. (The converter is a part of the exhaust system, and is usually located near the muffler.)

Q: I own a 1998 Dodge Ram 4X4 that I purchased new. Three weeks after I brought the truck home, the power steering pump went out. The dealer replaced it for free.

When I took it in for its 15,000-mile service, I told them I could hear noises and gushing fluid when I turned the steering wheel. They checked and told me that the pump pressure was normal. They also said they put in an additive to loosen the pump up and make it run quieter.

You would think that after 12,000 miles, the new pump should be broken in. Is this normal, or is something gradually breaking down?

A: "There is no break-in for that pump," says Larry Weathers Jr., president of Weathers Dodge in Lima.

"To add anything to that pump is not correct. If it is noisy, it should be replaced."

By the way, Weathers says pump problems in those vehicles are rare.

Q: Is there some reason we need to be concerned about our cars not starting on New Year's Eve or New Year's Day? I have a 1995 Buick Riviera.

A: There's no reason associated with Y2K. You may have a problem if it gets cold and you have a weak battery or used-up spark plugs.

Send your questions to Al Haas, The Inquirer, Box 8263, Philadelphia, Pa. 19101.

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