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The car next to me burnt to the ground. What damage should I look for in my car?

My daughter is a senior in Anthropology at OSU. She got a used Honda CR-V a year ago that she loves, and was pleased when she was awarded a parking space for it that w as not next to the dumpser (which was instead car over). About 10 days ago she got a real life lesson in primate behavior when someone set fire to the dumpster. A couch next to it then caught on fire. This spread to the next car next to hers, which was completely consumed in flame. Fortunately the fire crew came before the gas tank exploded.

After the site was cleared the next day she examined her car. She found new scratches all over that side, soot on the hood and windows. She noted the tires on the drivers side, next to the flames, were now “whiter” than the passenger side. She also found that the battery was dead. No turnover, no door locks or lights. She called AAA. AAA jumped the car. She let it run for 4 hours to charge the battery. However, after this period the car still would not start.

The next day she called or a tow truck and had the car towed to the Honda dealer. There, she asked for a complete evaluation of the car, and an assessment of the likely damage to the car and any future safety or maintenance risk that she may now face. After a few hours in a coffee shop, she returned and was told:

  1. The battery was replaced and now working fine.
  2. An object was found in the left drivers side tire. This was removed, and the site patched.
  3. The care was washed. Yes there are possibly new scratches, and more on the side of the fire, but there is nothing to do about them. The paint “should be fine.”
  4. There were no other problems or risks.

As my tag name (Worry wart Dad) suggests, I am worried that this is the wrong answer. My daughter is at the stage of independence where she wants to make decisions for herself, and has chosen to trust the Honda dealer and mechanic that looked at the car, and overrule my feeling that she should dig deeper. It is her car - I get that.

Perhaps she and the mechanic are correct, but I am nagged by several fatherly questions:

My questions are:

  1. Can we be sure that this is still a safe car?
  2. Even if things seem to be working now, is there likely to be damage to specific components that should be evaluated or replaced? If so, which components?
  3. What about those tires? Wouldn’t the intense heat be likely to do something that creates risk of future failure (slow or sudden?) Shouldn’t the tires on the driver’s side be replaced and not patched?

Please give me some insight and some ammunition.

Worry wart Dad

Picture of Dumpster fire and site where other car and debris form the fire was removed. CR-V parked to the left with driver side facing the fire. WWD

I wouldn’t worry. Dealers are usually extra scrupulous about maintenance. If the tire needed replacing instead of patching, they would have replaced it for you at extra charge.

If the tires show no blister marks, from the fire, they’ll be fine. And nothing in the engine compartment could have gotten hot enough to be damaged. The battery was likely old and on its way out already. The fire may not have had anything to do with its demise.

The car will be fine.

There was enough heat to destroy the battery so that would give me cause to be concerned about anything rubber. The tire looks like it is OK, but I’m pretty sure that its life will be shortened in years, not miles.

The tire looks like it still has enough tread to go another 10 to 20k and if those miles are put on in a year or so, it will probably be OK, but I think I would not let it go past next fall. I like buying tires after the heat of summer so I have new tread going into winter and they don’t get exposed to excessive heat during the break in period.

Another concern would be the brake calipers and brake lines. They are rubber, but in both cases, they have liquid inside them that helps carry the heat away. My suggestion is to flush out the old brake fluid on the burn side of the vehicle.

First take a sample from the master cylinder (MC) and save it in a clear glass jar, then suck out all the old brake fluid from the MC reservoir and refill with fresh. Then start flushing the rear brake first, getting a small sample of the first fluid to come out and save it in another clear glass jar. Repeat for the front caliper on the fire side, keeping a sample of the first fluid to come out.

If all three samples look and smell the same, you should be good. If the samples from the calipers/wheel cylinder are very black or have a burnt rubber smell, the lines and calipers/wheel cylinder should be replaced.

Edit: I don’t think the brakes will show a problem because if they hot enough to do any damage, the tires should show a lot more damage first, but after all, they are brakes and brakes are important.

Does your auto insurer know about this? Report it and see where it goes.

If the heat damaged the battery wouldn’t the heat also have melted anything plastic on the drivers side of the car?

Maybe the battery was a coincidence, how long did the car sit before she attempted to start it.

Keep a close eye on the paint on that side…only time will truly tell.
Take detailed pics of both sides for direct comparison now…then is six months, and a year etc.
I don’t trust that nor the tires.

If heat did the battery in then I also would be concerned about tires, other rubber parts, and paint over time.

Concerning insurance. Does the policy include comprehensive. I’m not knowledgeable of various insurance companies but mine (State Farm) offers comprehensive for a few dollars per Month. It covers almost all of those things that are not covered by liability or collision. Fire, theft, storm damage, vandalism, meteor strike, or being hit by a 150lb chunk of a dynamited whale. If anyone is curious about the last one search Oregon/exploding whale. With State Farm full coverage it has always been included and could be added to minimum liability. It could also be a stand alone policy on a vehicle that is in storage and not driven. I had this policy on my 1991 Mazda RX-7. The premium was $4.35 per Month. What I like in addition to the low premium is the $50 deductible.

Hindsight is 20/20. I believe the first ting to do was to call your insurance carrier. Possible coverage depending on your policy. They could have covered some of the cost less betterment. Keep an eye on electrical issues since it cooked the battery.

The only safe car is one sitting in the parking lot. Given the battery got fried, and the tires within a 10,000 miles anyway, I’d replace the tires, flush the brake fluid, and maybe do some checking for melted wires inside the engine compartment and door panels. Pay for a buffing to remove the scratches and hope for the best. Seems to me if it really got that hot inside though, there’d be some evidence but the battery going dead is troubling.

I would put new tires on it and that’s not because of the fire. They like its time. As for the battery, the fire did not get it hot enough to cause it to fail. If it did there would not be any paint on the fender. It was most likely on its way to fail. Does the car have a alarm? If it does that could have drained the battery. The paint will burn long before any wires.

I have fixed burned vehicles and ones that where in garages that burned. I fixed a van that all the paint on left side was burned. I had to replace all the moldings and rubber on that side and repaint it. It was fine. The people I sold it too drove it for years. They came back and bought a Ranger that had dash fire. I did not want to sell that one. I had drove it for 5 months and it was good truck. I know some of you will ask. The dash on that Ranger comes out in one unit. Less than one hr and out the old and in with the new.

someone set fire to a dumpster, and osu wasn’t playing michigan in football?

If you haven’t done it yet, i’d call your insurance company and have them go over it. a body shop would probably give it a better looking over

I think that if the lights didn’t melt and the windows didn’t break it’s OK. Water flying around under pressure was bad for the battery connection and water on a dirty battery can drain a weak battery. If there isn’t comprehensive insurance, you may not have a silver lining.

I’m more on the ‘it was a coincidence’ side regarding the battery, unless other high-temp damage is found. An engine compartment gets VERY hot idling in traffic on a 100F day, hard to imagine it got hotter parked next to the fire, with no other fire-related damage. I would take it to a good independent shop for a thorough exam/second opinion.

What year is the CRV? The main reason I ask is my Dad owns a similar one but his is a 2007 so he has replaced the battery and tires just due to age and mileage. It may just have been time for a new battery although you’d probably be feel better if the tires were replaced. A second opinion wouldn’t hurt but other than possibly a detail and new tires this should be a safe and reliable vehicle. Doesn’t look like any major damage happened to the CRV from what I can tell.

I tend to think that the battery and the flat were not related at all to the fire.
Had it gotten that hot to dry out the battery , the cars paint would be clistered on that side.

The tire plug shown in the picture looks like you may have just ran over a nail or screw on the way to work that day.

That said. I would be concerned about the paint on the side that the fire was. I’d check the car over good, looking for any plastic trim that may have melted or deformed from the heat.
Open the windows on that side and check the rubber seal that the outside of the glass rides on.
(where you wuld rest your arm out the window.)
Be sure that this is not damaged or dried out and cracked from the heat.
Check any plastic moulding along the outside of the windows for bubbling from the heat.

Unless you find that some plastic part is bubbled or deformed, I doubt there is anything to worry about.

But to be safe watch the paint on that side for a time. It could lift off the metal from the heat and that may take awhile.

If you find nothing in a month, I tghink you’ll be safe to forget about it.


The scratches may be due to the fire department’s efforts. The battery may have died of natural causes, the car may have gotten doused with water, causing some kind of temporary drain, or the activity may have set off the alarm, draining the battery. The tires are pretty low down and heat rises. So I doubt they were damaged by the heat, especially from a dumpster fire. If you don’t have any noticeable heat damage, such as melted tail lights or blistered paint, I think you’re probably fine.