Vehicle fires: investigating the causes and circumstances

There are many possible causes of vehicles fires and their investigation requires solid technical expertise. But before addressing the origin of the fire, it is important to understand the architecture of the vehicle and to be able to reflect upon the composition and role of the burnt materials.

Flammable materials and fluids are naturally present in vehicles and other motorised machines. These elements coexist in a confined space alongside many different forms of energy: heat, mechanical, electrical, hydraulic and pneumatic. It’s unsurprising therefore that vehicles are highly susceptible to catching fire. By investigating the origin of a fire, those involved in the management of a claim can ascertain their position with regards to liabilities and warranties. So how can we determine the source of a fire?


Useful and scientific investigative methods

While investigative methods are numerous and sometimes controversial, investigations into the causes and circumstances of an outbreak of fire do not result from a fascination with American TV shows or an occult science to which only the brotherhood of fire loss adjusters holds the secret. They require an initial analysis of the conditions and environment in which the fire began (reported circumstances, location, weather conditions, etc.), the areas and extent of the damage, the melting temperatures, as well as the self-ignition and even pyrolysis of materials in order to then identify the oxidising and combustible energies that are naturally and abnormally present in the areas concerned.

Once this work is complete, the investigation will either determine the origin of the fire or give rise to a limited number of hypotheses. Sometimes, however, despite a thorough investigation, the cause of the fire can remain undetermined for various reasons: limited investigative resources, disappearance of evidence during the handling or storage phases, destruction of clues by the flames, etc. However, even in a case such as this, an investigation can be useful in ensuring that certain theories do not become wild allegations.


Understanding the composition of the vehicle, its service and maintenance history and the methods for investigating the causes and circumstances of the fire

As you can see, carrying out these kinds of investigations requires sound knowledge of the composition of the vehicle to be able to correctly interpret the damage caused and fully understand the kinematics of the fire. It is also essential to have expert knowledge of the methods and practices of the aftermarket industry in order to study a possible causal link between the incident and previous service and maintenance interventions on the vehicle.


Mobilising loss adjusters with different expertise

For several years, loss adjusters from the GM Consultant Group have provided clients with the expertise of a countrywide and cross-border team specialised in investigating the causes and circumstances of vehicle fires (in their various forms). Experience has taught us that the study of each fire is unique and sometimes requires the mobilisation of several loss adjusters from different specialist departments to facilitate the management of cases.

In general, you can rest assured that the chances of seeing your favourite car go up in smoke are pretty slim, as vehicle fires are still relatively rare. However, they can sometimes have serious consequences, particularly if they spread to storage or business premises.

A little advice in passing to avoid causing a fire: even if the summer, which was particularly catastrophic in terms of forest fires, is a distant memory, next time you take a drive into the countryside avoid parking on top of tall, dry grass if your car is fitted with a diesel particulate filter.


Bertrand BOIRON, Fire risk loss adjuster

Find more about his specialty line.