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Poor maintenance, gadget craze add to vehicle fires

HOT STATISTICS: A car in flames on the Pan-Island Expressway on Oct 14. In the first half of this year, 114 vehicles caught fire, a 20 per cent increase from the same time period last year.


    Sep 08, 2014

    Poor maintenance, gadget craze add to vehicle fires

    THE increase in vehicle fires over the past few years has raised concerns among drivers, with the industry saying more can be done to improve vehicle maintenance and awareness on the issue.

    The latest statistics from the Singapore Civil Defence Force showed that there were 218 car fires last year, up from 202 in 2012 and 188 in 2011.

    In the first half of this year, 114 vehicles caught fire, a 20 per cent increase from the same time period last year.

    Just last Monday, two cars burst into flames in Victoria Street and Havelock Road. Pictures and videos of cars, buses and rubbish trucks on fire are also being shared regularly on social media.

    Last month alone, users of citizen journalism site Stomp sent in 10 different cases of vehicle fires.

    So what exactly is causing these fires?

    Industry experts say that, while it is usually hard to pinpoint the exact cause of a fire due to the charred and damaged state of the vehicles, there are a few common issues that could lead to fires.

    These include poor and irregular car maintenance, and overloading a car with electronic gadgets.

    Francis Lim, president of the Singapore Motor Workshop Association, noted that most car fires are due to poor maintenance.

    "Cars need regular, thorough servicing, especially given the wear and tear they go through," he said.

    This is particularly important now, with the greater number of older cars on the road due to the increase in certificate of entitlement (COE) prices, he said.

    For example, the rubber insulation of wires can harden over time, become brittle and fall off. Two or more exposed wires can touch and trigger a short circuit, causing sparks.

    Such sparks can very quickly ignite leaking fluids or vapours, explained David Lee Butler from the Nanyang Technological University's School of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering.

    "A single spark can quickly become an electrical fire that will usually spread to other wiring nearby," said Associate Professor Butler.

    Fuel lines are also susceptible to wear and tear, noted experts, and if the fuel leaks from the fuel line and touches anything hot, like the exhaust, it will catch fire.

    Mr Lim said that while car owners should focus on regular maintenance of their vehicle's electrical wires and fuel line to minimise the chances of a fire, many tend to skimp on regular servicing especially as a car gets older.

    "They think that the workshop is out to swindle them when they notice their bill has grown. They don't realise that as cars grow older or have more features added, more things need to be repaired or replaced, which drives up the cost," said Joey Lim, managing director of Harmony Motor.

    Experts also noted that another common cause of fires is the overloading of vehicles with devices like in-car cameras, rear sensors and entertainment systems.

    These gadgets put more stress on a vehicle's electrical system and increase the risk of an electrical fault, especially when not properly fitted, said Bernard Tay, the Automobile Association of Singapore's president.