Fire in parked car

Hi guys! I’m hoping some car geek out there can help me. I’m a newspaper reporter currently investigating a strange fire. The lady claims it started spontaneously in her parked, turned-off, 2001 Ford Focus. Fire department won’t release the records, says they’re still investigating. Is this possible? Has anyone else ever known a fire to start in a parked, turnedoff car?

Oh yes…VERY possible.

A gas leak can cause this. Even with the engine turned off the gas is still in the gas line. If there’s a leak in the engine compartment or near the exhaust pipe it could easily catch fire. I’ve seen it a couple times actually.

Thanks, Mike! May I quote you in the article? If so, please send your full name and town to me at Are you a mechanic?

Yes, it is possible. But not common.
Cars use gas. Gas can leak. Exhaust manifolds get hot. Gas can leak onto an exhaust manifold. Or an electrical short could cause a spark.

But you, as newspaper reporter, will have to wait for the fire department investigator’s report. You’re responsible to ensure that the facts are right. We can’t tell you anything from here that you could use in your article.

There was a known issue several years back with Ford pickup trucks. IIRC, two of the contacts in a switch inside the steering column (most likely the ignition switch) were badly designed and as a result, were too close together. A breakdown of the insulating material led to short circuits and fires in parked vehicles.

A real quick look shows that the 2001 Ford Focus had a recall for a miss routed battery cable that could result in a fire. This can occur with or with out the vehicle running as the battery cable is energized all the time. I have attached a copy of the TSB. I am a certified tech and have been for 20 years. I have seen multiple instances of Ford and other vehicles catching on fire when not running. A good customer of mine had his Ford pick-up catch fire in his driveway while no one was home. Luckily the neighbor saw it and called the fire department before it spread to his garage and house. If I can help you with any additional information let me know.

Sorry but so much for the future of investigative journalism. You would quote unkown people with unknown qualifications as a source?

A quick google will provide tons of spontaneous combustion information on Fords. They had problems with the cruise control switch and possibly ignition switch. Its well documented by the Feds which would prove to be a better source of info. It was a continuously hot wire coming in contact with brake fluid, not leaky gas lines.

Yes, it can happen and it has happened multiple times. Just to cite an example, there is a recall right now on some Fords (my Lincoln is one of them) about the cruise control release switch which may short out at any time and cause a fire.

There have been 2 homes in the Oklahoma City area in the last couple of years that partially burned due to this exact problem. Both were pickups (Fords). In one case the truck caught on fire at night and did some damage to the house even though it was parked outside in the drive.
In the other case the built-on garage and part of the kitchen was destroyed when the truck that was parked in the garage blazed up. The smoke alarm woke the single mother and 2 kids up. They got out without suffering any injuries although the truck was a total loss along with major home damage.

For what it’s worth, many automobiles have suffered goofy problems through the years including, and not limited to, fires.

Oh please please please tell me that you’re not asking a web forum for information to use in a newspaper article.

My son’s inlaws had a fire that started in their Lincoln Town Car in the middle of the night last March. The car was parked in the driveway and the fire jumped to the eaves of the attached garage and did considerable damage to the house as well as destroying the car. In fact, they are just now moving back into the house. A couple of days before the fire, the cruise control had stopped functioning and the speculation is that it began in this circuit. However, the fire damage was so great in the front of the car that it was impossible to know how the fire started.

I worked as a fire investigator (professional engineer) for six years and looked at at least 5 cars that spontaneously combusted. Most cars have several electrical circuits that are “hot” all of the time. A short in wiring can easily ignite a fire if combustible material is at hand. The current draw does not even need to exceed the fusible link or fuse rating. On one of the cars I looked at, for example, the power seat wiring shorted out and started the fire.

Spontaneous car fires, both on running and parked cars, is a problem that has been around for years. CNN even did a story on the Ford cruise switch problems several years back.
The letter I got a few months ago from Ford advised me to drop by and have the switch disconnected as a safeguard until the parts needed to perform the recall were sent to the dealers (disconnected it myself). The letter also strongly advised me to park my car away from the house or anything flammable such as trees, shrubs, and other vehicles.

From memory I think there may have been a few fires on some Chryslers due to coolant leaking onto a coolant fan. If the fan cycles on after the engine is shut off the fan motor can short and catch fire. I think the Kia Sedona also had a problem with electric seat motor wiring??? possibly causing some fires. Maybe a recall on the Kia but I have not looked that up.

Some cars have burnt to the ground while parked due to faulty ignition switches, headlight switches, and even A/C switches, although with the latter the engine was in operation at the time.