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Can car crashes really lead to explosions?

On Behalf of | Apr 9, 2024 | Motor Vehicle Accidents

Hollywood loves a good car chase, and explosions are practically a guaranteed crowd-pleaser. But how realistic are these fiery infernos? In the real world, can car accidents cause explosions like in the movies?

The answer is, it depends. While car crashes themselves don’t inherently lead to explosions, some factors can increase the risk of a fiery aftermath. Delving into the science behind car fires can help road users separate movie magic from mechanical reality.

Fuel system integrity

A car fire is most likely to erupt if the fuel system is compromised during a collision. Modern vehicles have safety features like crumple zones to help absorb impact and protect the gas tank, usually positioned within the frame. However, older cars or those that haven’t undergone proper maintenance might have exposed fuel lines or a more vulnerable gas tank placement.

A forceful impact in such cases could rupture the fuel tank or lines. This can cause gasoline to leak and potentially ignite on contact with hot engine components or sparks from damaged electrical wiring. The resulting fire can be intense, engulfing the vehicle quickly.

Leaky leaks and explosive leaks: Not all fires are created equal

The type of fuel also plays a role. Gasoline, a highly flammable liquid, vaporizes easily and creates a readily combustible gas cloud when spilled. This is why even a minor leak near an ignition source can lead to a flash fire. Diesel fuel, on the other hand, has a higher flashpoint (the temperature at which it ignites) and is less volatile, making it less prone to explosive fires.

Even with a compromised fuel system, an explosion isn’t guaranteed. The leaked fuel needs to mix with air in the right proportions to create a flammable vapor cloud. Additionally, there needs to be an ignition source – a spark or high heat – to trigger the explosion.

Individuals who are involved in a collision should prioritize getting themselves and their passengers out of harm’s way. At the sight of flames, move away from the vehicle and call emergency services immediately. Remember, in the event that someone is harmed as a result of the negligence of another party, they can seek compensation for their injuries.