Why Italian cars catch on fire

With the news of a brand new Aventador catching on fire, it seems like a trend in various mid-engine Italian cars burning down continues.

We take for granted how dangerous gasoline really is – less than a cup can kill you. That said, the Aventador carries up to 23 gallons (90 liters) of this flammable liquid and its placed near the center of the car… by the engine.

I can only speculate on the exact cause of the Aventador’s fire, but fires in cars typically happen when fuel leaks onto a hot component like the exhaust. This can actually happen quite easily and its somewhat amazing that this doesn’t happen more often.

A common leak area is the fuel rail. A faulty o-ring or an injector that’s not seated properly into the fuel rail can leak and may cause fuel to run down the side of the engine right onto the headers. Once a fire is started, the fire can burn through the fuel hoses that feed the fuel rail. If the fuel system is a return type system which is the most common and runs the fuel pump at 100% all the time, the pump will now be moving its full capacity directly into the fire if the engine is not shut down immediately.

At this point, the fire is probably so big that the engine bay would be engulfed in flames if not the car. But this is where these mid-engine cars have a problem that your typical Honda Civic doesn’t; that is, the fuel tank being right next to the engine bay. Once the fire spreads to the tank, it becomes exceedingly difficult to put out.

Even if you notice early signs of a fire, it may be difficult to prevent a full on inferno without pumping many gallons of water onto the ignition source. This is because the exhaust may remain hot enough to ignite the fire long after the car is shut down. This is also why those tiny hand held fire extinguishers are pretty much useless. Those extinguishers typically don’t cool, or don’t have the capacity to cool the ignition source so that the fire doesn’t return.

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