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Is It Safe to Carry a Fire Extinguisher in Your Car?

Wondering whether or not it is safe to carry a fire extinguisher in a car is a common concern. Can it explode or cause damage? Can you just place any extinguisher near the back seats of your car? I did some extensive research, and these are my findings.

If properly maintained, stored, and secured, it is safe to have an appropriate fire extinguisher in your vehicle. It can also increase the level of safety of the driver and passengers. Experts suggest using a BC Dry Powder extinguisher with a capacity of 1 to 2kg and placing it in the trunk or under a seat, strapped.

So, now that you know that you have made the right choice by opting to equip your vehicle with a fire extinguisher, let’s dive into the details. You will be knowledgeable enough to go shopping for your extinguisher in minutes.

Fire extinguisher in the door compartment of a car

What Kind of Fire Extinguisher Should I Carry in My Car?

If you are considering placing an extinguisher in your car, you are making a wise choice. In the U.S., an average of 170,000 vehicles catches fire on highways, resulting in almost 350 deaths each year. Most of these fires happen due to mechanical failures: the ignition starts from the insulation around electrical wires or in the engine. Most of these eventualities, however, start small and can be controlled with a fire extinguisher.

To decide on the type of extinguisher to place your car, we will first have a look at what kinds of fire can take place in a vehicle. These considerations are essential to put the fire out quickly and safely and avoid making dangerous mistakes in the process.

  • Class A Fires: the most manageable fires to put out, Class A fires are the ones caused by igniting solid combustible materials such as paper, wood, or, most likely, upholstery. Water, or a water-based extinguisher, can quickly douse such fires.
  • Class B Fires: these are the most common fires happening in vehicles and involve the ignition of liquids such as oil, gasoline, or alcohol. Since pouring water on them might make things worse, you should use carbon dioxide, foam, or powder extinguishers. 
  • Class C Fires: related to electrical equipment and wires, it is essential to identify the cause of such fire before pouring water over them. In this case, you should use carbon dioxide or foam extinguishers to avoid the risk of electrocution.
  • Class D and K (F) are scarce and not bound to happen in a car, as the leading cause of these fires is igniting metal or cooking oils and grease.

Any of these fires can happen, and the last thing you want is to find out whether it is a Class B or Class C fire while looking at your car bursting into flames. Instead, you should opt for at least a BC Dry Powder, like this one found on Amazon, that will protect you against any fire happening in your vehicle.

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Where Do You Put a Fire Extinguisher in a Car?

There are different views regarding where you should place the extinguisher in your vehicle, and several viable options. Here are the best places to store a fire extinguisher securely in your car:

  • Under the driver seat – while you would be able to reach the extinguisher quickly in the case of fire, this might not be the most comfortable of places for this tool. Indeed, it can roll out, get in the way of pedals, and become a significant road safety hazard. 
  • In the trunk – this might be the safest place to store your extinguisher, but it will make it difficult for you to access it in case of need. This factor can also make you lose precious time which is essential to put the fire out promptly.
  • Under the passenger seat – this option is an excellent compromise between the two options we have just seen. Placing the extinguisher under the passenger seat will ensure that you can reach it in a matter of seconds in case of a fire. Moreover, even if it does roll out, it will not represent a significant safety hazard.

While the choice of where to place a fire extinguisher depends on your personal needs, as well as the characteristics of your vehicle, there are some factors not to overlook:

  • Ensure that the extinguisher is secured to lower the risk of an unintentional discharge
  • Pick an extinguisher that boasts a mounting bracket
  • Make sure that the container does not have space to move around freely

Can a Fire Extinguisher Explode?

Fire extinguishers are essential tools when it comes down to fighting small fires. They can save lives and reduce the damage that ignition can cause to your car and properties. However, if they are not adequately maintained, handled, and looked after, they can explode and become a threat to the safety of the car’s passengers. 

Indeed, while unlikely, there have been fatalities caused by the mishandling of fire extinguishers. Moreover, you should keep in mind that if the extinguisher has space to move around, it can be prone to receive hits and bumps. These movements can build pressure inside the cylinder, which, in turn, will explode. 

An easy solution to reduce the chances of this happening is to secure and strap it tightly to its place or mounting rack. Ultimately, this easy step can ensure that the safety pin won’t slip out by mistake, causing leaks and breakages.

Car on Fire

What Size of Fire Extinguisher Do I Need?

The size of the extinguisher you pick should reflect the size and characteristics of the vehicle you are trying to protect. Indeed, if you are trying to equip an SUV or van, you might need a more significant tool that provides a more extended discharge time.

However, for a standard-sized car, experts suggest equipping the vehicle with extinguishers with a capacity of 1kg or 2kg. These cylinders are small enough to fit under any seat and in any size trunk. 

Such small extinguishers have an average discharge time of 6 to 10 seconds. While this time frame might be enough to limit the damage that a fire can cause to your vehicle and its passenger, it can limit their effectiveness.

In any case, even if your car boasts an extinguisher, you should not attempt to fight a fire that is enlarging. If you only have a small cylinder, you might try to fight the flames only at the very beginning of the fire. However, if the flames are already running through your car, you should evacuate all the passengers immediately and call the Fire Department.

Trying to fight a growing fire with a small cylinder can indeed cause additional damage to the car and put you in a potentially dangerous position. Ultimately, if you are not able to reach the extinguisher within the first few seconds, you should avoid getting back into the car to retrieve the cylinder or personal items.

Final Thoughts

Now you are ready for a shopping trip to find the perfect extinguisher for your vehicle. Such tools can increase your peace of mind, reduce the damages to your car in case of a fire, and help you keep passengers safe. However, fire extinguishers should never replace the intervention of a professional fire authority. 

In any case, keeping an extinguisher in your car is safe if the cylinder is well-handled, secured to its place, and professionally maintained. The best extinguishers for a vehicle are Dry Powder-based ones, which makes them perfect for a Class B and C fire. And remember, if the fire is growing too fast to tackle, opt to evacuate the car instead.

For more, check out Can I Use My AAA for Someone Else?