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Old 20th March 2017, 12:15   #1
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Default Auto fire detection & fire extinguisher system in all cars - why not?

The recent news of Racer Ashwin Sundar and his wife losing their lives in a burning BMW shook many of us and it indeed makes us wonder how come incidents like these can happen in these modern times. A similar thought kept lingering among many of us when Paul Walker succumbed in a burning Porsche. There was also a Jetta(of a Team-Bhpian) which went on flames just about a month back. Just a quick internet search reveals that there are around 400,000 car-catching-fire cases reportedly.

Nowadays, even mass market cars are becoming increasingly powerful and agile and it is a necessity to create a system to avoid such incidents in future. Yes, things like Fuel cut off in case of a collision is there, but these incidents show they are not enough.

Getting straight to the point, I'm wondering why not manufacturers think on the following lines. Most of the "car catching fire" videos I saw indicate that in most cases fire starts from the engine bay, so I had the following few ideas:

Idea 1 - Just a crude thought

- Design and strategically place Fire extinguishers(like the hand held ones with either liquid or dry compounds, which we see in offices) in the four corners of the engine bay and have sensors that trigger them when they sense fumes and fire.

Advantages

- Till this system gets really engineered well, it may not be able to dose off the fire entirely but it might delay the fire and provide those crucial extra minutes.

Disadvantages

- In case of head on collision where the engine bay gets crushed, the system may not work effectively.

Idea 2

Like the fuel tank, have a reservoir that carries the Fire extinguisher compound. Have Pipes that run around the engine bay in 3 layers - one layer on top, one in the middle and one at the bottom. Have sensors to identify fumes and flames, and small motors to jet propel the compounds from the reservoir and across across the pipes and from there across the engine bay.

Advantages

- A far more refined and effective method than the first method and can be far more effective even in case of head on collisions.

Disadvantages

- Probably cost and overhead for manufacturers.

In both the methods, there can also be a override switch where the driver can trigger the system in case of a collision and he is conscious and senses that a fire might break out.

So the question is - Why not think on these lines as a first step?

Last edited by CliffHanger : 20th March 2017 at 12:44.
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Old 20th March 2017, 12:29   #2
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Default re: Auto fire detection & fire extinguisher system in all cars - why not?

Smoke detection sensors placed around the car's engine bay and passenger compartment can proactively alert passengers to the presence of any smoke in the car's passenger compartment or engine bay by sounding an alarm such as the one that goes off in case of unauthorised entry/theft. This will help passengers and the driver get out of the car before its too late.

In the case of a serious physical impact the sensors and any fire detecting/extinguishing equipment may also get damaged and as a result be unable to warn or prevent fires. Therefore in addition to the sensors/detectors it may also help if manufacturers provide car buyers with a small fire extinguisher similar to the provision of spare headlamp bulbs and a warning triangle.

PS - Many fires take place due to modifications to the electricals & wiring loom and shoddy 3rd party electrical wiring jobs. I always highly recommend adding an appropriately sized fuse to ALL aftermarket accessories including high power horns, headlamps/fog lamps and ICE systems that draw power directly from the battery bypassing the car's factory circuitry or fusebox. It doesn't take long for an electrical short to start a fire.

Last edited by R2D2 : 20th March 2017 at 12:34. Reason: added PS
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Old 20th March 2017, 12:32   #3
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Default re: Auto fire detection & fire extinguisher system in all cars - why not?

A lot of fatal accidents happen because either the door doesn't open or the seat belts dont unlock due to various reasons. Why not an emergency seatbelt unlock button on the ceiling somewhere above between the driver and front passenger headroom? in case of car landing upside down, and seatbelts on, it is difficult to unlock seatbelt and such emergency button might help.

as for doors, maybe a mechanical door opening slot (like mechanical boot opening slit found in many cars) should be there. In case the door is jammed because of misalignment due to collision, perhaps a mechanism similar to those found in passenger aircrafts, where a lever dislodges the entire door out of the hinges?
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Old 20th March 2017, 12:43   #4
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Default re: Auto fire detection & fire extinguisher system in all cars - why not?

Quote:
Originally Posted by R2D2 View Post
Therefore in addition to the sensors/detectors it may also help if manufacturers provide car buyers with a small fire extinguisher similar to the provision of spare headlamp bulbs and a warning triangle.

PS - Many fires take place due to modifications to the electricals & wiring loom and shoddy 3rd party electrical wiring jobs. I always highly recommend adding an appropriately sized fuse to ALL aftermarket accessories including high power horns, headlamps/fog lamps and ICE systems that draw power directly from the battery bypassing the car's factory circuitry or fusebox. It doesn't take long for an electrical short to start a fire.
I agree. Despite these very sad high profile cases, we must remember that car fires (other then intentional ones) are actually very very rare.

Some countries (Belgium) mandate portable extinguishers on all cars. Which seems to make sense, until you understand that people who have never used one, usually get it wrong when they do have to use it.

Having a fire extinguisher on board is not so much for yourself, but to come to the aid of others, of course.


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Old 20th March 2017, 16:48   #5
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Default re: Auto fire detection & fire extinguisher system in all cars - why not?

In a typical 1980s movie, cars used to roll down the hill and then go 'BOOM'. Nowadays, even movies don't show that. As Jeroen says, fires are quite rare.

But if you need ideas, just look up fire protection features of the Presidential Limo.

Auto fire detection & fire extinguisher system in all cars - why not?-131019838.jpg

1) Foam covered fuel tank
2) Foam covered fuel lines
2) Automatic fire suppression system that uses an inert gas to put out a fire

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gaseous_fire_suppression.

I guess weight is the biggest disadvantage of implementing such a system in all cars (along with costs).

Last edited by smartcat : 20th March 2017 at 16:51.
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Old 20th March 2017, 18:21   #6
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Default re: Auto fire detection & fire extinguisher system in all cars - why not?

A fire extinguisher is like engine oil. Both have a shelf life and need replacement/rejuvenation at regular intervals. While oil is an operative necessity and therefore taken care of regularly, a fire extinguisher is just a precautionary requirement. Hence not many would be willing to invest, reinvest and re-reinvest in the same voluntarily.

So, it is for the Government to make it mandatory for passenger cars to carry fire extinguishers. A rule could be made wherein all new cars should compulsorily be delivered with a portable fire extinguisher. This wouldn't add too much to the cost of the car. However, there is a catch even here. Remember the first aid kit we got with our new cars? How many of us have replaced/ replenished them? Fire extinguishers would be no different.

As for fire prevention/detection/inhibition/alert mechanisms, I think the present emphasis on affordable, lighter, fuel efficient cars wouldn't allow these to be included in the near future.

The biggest fire preventive measure that one can take is to keep a regular check on the engine bay, its arteries, veins and nerves. And, not carelessly tinker with/modify the electrical lines and components.

Of course, fires resulting from accidents, such as the one which prompted the opening post are of a different level and no amount of fire inhibiting/extinguishing mechanisms would work there.
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Old 20th March 2017, 18:38   #7
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Default re: Auto fire detection & fire extinguisher system in all cars - why not?

Quote:
Originally Posted by dailydriver View Post
The biggest fire preventive measure that one can take is to keep a regular check on the engine bay, its arteries, veins and nerves. And, not carelessly tinker with/modify the electrical lines and components.

Of course, fires resulting from accidents, such as the one which prompted the opening post are of a different level and no amount of fire inhibiting/extinguishing mechanisms would work there.
I agree. To be brutal, when a properly maintained car catches fire after an accident, I would think that would be a very severe accident to start with. Not sure what chances of survival the occupants have. I was reading some article the other day. And it showed that accidents at speeds over 60 km/h have a very rapidly decreasing survival rate. So even with airbags, seat belts, crumple zones, the weakest part remains the human body and we don’t do well with huge deceleration forces. Even when restrained.

When a car does catch fire in a low speed crash, if you are properly strapped in, you should have (at least statistically) a very good chance of survival, but also in many cases just be able to step out of the vehicle without to much problem.

So in all I don’t think car manufacturers are going to introduce any fire detection and or extinguisher systems any time soon. It’s simply not a big enough safety concern. Or to be even more cynical. Very few lives will be saved.

So preventive action is probably the best and also most effective way of dealing with this. Ensuring the car won’t catch fire is partly a design and manufacturing issue. And that does get addressed by the manufacturers.

But as pointed out, proper maintenance and due care by the owner might go a long way as well.

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