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MG MGF Technical - MGF Car Fire

As part of my duties I attended a car fire today, on the M6 in Birmingham. An R Reg 1.8i had sustained a total burn out. The Fire Brigade stated the seat of the fire was the inlet manifold/Air Box area, obviously petrol based. The owner said that the car had failed to start twice the previous week, both flooded engine, the second RAC call out had the car relayed to his local MG dealer in Coventry. They diagnosed Oxygen sensor problems, replaced same. He now thinks they probably have caused far to rich a mixture in the inlet, and the surplus of petrol ignited with catastrophic results. Intresting to see what a bare shell looked like with everything removed !!
On a lighter note he is now looking forward to ordering a 2000 car in replacement.
Peter Evans

Forgot to ask you earlier Pete, was there any indication of whether the original air filter assembly was used, or was there a clamp on unit or something else?

Roger Parker

Rog....It was all original, no mods
Peter Evans

Woeful tale...

Just wondering about personal fire extinguishers. As a sprinter I have a 1.75l unit bolted to the floor in the car. Are there many (any?) circumstances where it would be wise to use? I've always assumed that when faced with a real car fire of any magnitude I'd try and get as far away from the car as possible (assuming that everybody was out of it). I wouldn't put myself in harms way to save an adequetly insured car!

Graeme Bishko


>I'd try and get as far away from the car as possible

That's what I'd like to do too, but generally, people are so curious that they prefer slowing down to have a look ! Just wait and see if the car will explode ! Same thing when there's a crash on the motorway, we like to see blood and flesh .... crazy human beeings ....


That is a really good question Graeme!

Usually advice is to set off the extinguisher through the front grille of the engine bay- and under no circumstances open the bonnet (which would allow more air entry and more furious combustion).

None of us can have failed to notice that there is no easy external access to the MGFs engine bay. The side grilles would be of no use (the left sided one is in continuity with the engine air intake, and the right hand side is full of fan and ducting- constituting rather alot of obsticle). To make matters worse is the proximity of the plastic fuel tank- sandwiched between the engine and passenger cell.

I think that Graeme's advice of making a run for it is extremely sensible.

I pray that no one else should ever be in this situation.

Rob Bell

>>>> The side grilles would be of no use (the left sided one is in continuity with the engine air intake...
Actually that's rather a good place to squirt first, as the case that started this thread was one of the air filter catching alight. The only car fire I have ever had to put out (hope it stays that way) was also started in the air filter, on a Sylva Striker at Colerne sprint a couple of years ago.
David Smith

Wearing my fire safety engineer hat here....

There is a developing opinion amongst fire brigades and fire safety engineers that fire extinguishers are a waste of space. The average user of an extinguisher has no experience of dealing with a fire and will only manage to put the fire out if they are lucky. Therefore, if they fail to put out the fire all that using an extinguisher has done is make the user stay near a developing fire instead of doing something sensible (ie getting out and calling the fire brigade). That is the situation for buildings, but I cannot imagine that life is any different when tackling a car fire. That being the case there is no doubt that the only sensible course of action is Graeme's advice to run.

P715 XTN
Chris Reeves

Chris, agreed. In addition there is a real danger that carrying an extinguisher makes people feel 'safe' without realising the training needed to use it effectively. (Also many car units are too small and have no margin if the fire re-starts).
However, many motorsport enthusiasts do a bit of marshalling sometime, and this opens doors to the free training days arranged by various motor clubs, Regional Associations etc which use real fires in real cars to give practical experience. (thanks to the firemen who donate their time to run these events)
BTW, if you quit the scene of fire (or accident for that matter) DON'T RUN. Try to stay calm, and walk, avoiding the tendency to act without thought and do something else daft (like running into the path of a gawping driver, or like the guy who jumped over a barrier in fog, and died when he hit the deck 30 feet down - he was on a flyover).
David Smith

Dave, I'd be amazed if any of the extinguisher material would make it up to the filter from that grille- it has to travel nearly a metre in distance, and change direction (90 degree bends) on no less than 3 occasions. Chances of success: close to zero.

Add in a high pressure fuel injection system to the scenario, then evacuating the area ASAP is the most sensible course of action.

I take your point of being careful of where you go to be 'safe'- jumping off flyovers ain't sensible!

Rob Bell

I know this case (seemed) to be a fuel fault, but I suspect most car auto fires are electrical faults.

Certainly, both the 2 I've seen have been. One (a teenager who's borrowed his dad's nearly new Renalt!) was in the fuse box. The other on my own m/c was a wiring loom fault.

In the case of the car, it burnt out. Various people put made sure the engine wasn't on fire with extinguishers, but the inside went completely.

On the bike a good spray from a fire extinguisher kept it cool for long enough to enable me to disconnect the battery. (Yes, I'd have let it burn if I hadn't been 3 feet from a building - I hated that GT750!)

So.... Is it more sense to have a battery isolator that you don't have to open the boot and then the bonnet to use (once again a racing-type of thing....)? Maybe cable-operated from inside the "cabin", so it can't be messed with by oiks?


Yes, "run" is a careless turn of phrase! Doing as you say is much wiser. [Slightly off the subject: One of the lectures I give to the final years is about escape dynamics and the crazy things people do when confronted with a fire. Running is much preferred to the stupid things people do in reality!]

The training by a qualified firefighter in the use of an extinguisher is a good idea.

P715 XTN
Chris Reeves

Much as I suspected to be honest. I guess the motorsport reason for having an extinguisher is as much about helping another competitor as about using it on your own car. Its quite likely that in a really serious smash (where its obvious that a race will be stopped) other competitors can be on the scene as fast as marshals.

If any of those more knowledgeable can give a few tips on using a hand held extinguisher (beyond point at base of fire and squirt!) it would be interesting.

Graeme Bishko

To carry an fireextinguisher "on board" is fine for saving lifes , to save any property with a powder - ext. one can just as well let it burn ! Any car-engine or interior covered in hot powder will be such a pig to clean again that it simply isn´t worth it ! In the old days of Halon -ext. it was another case...

PS, whats used in UK - is it mainly powder or is Halon still OK. Saw some gaspowered forklifters in UK some years ago , all fitted with Halon ext. We use 2 kg powder on "Roadsport " cars over here. If something happends and ext. is used it turns in to a mess taking ages to clean !

Regards , Carl.

> If any of those more knowledgeable can give a few
> tips on using a hand held extinguisher (beyond point
> at base of fire and squirt!) it would be interesting.

That is precisely the problem, pointing at the base of the fire and squirting is about the best advice that can be given. However, there are many problems with that. It must really be at the base of the fire, not somewhere near, and most people are nervous at getting close enough to the fire to really hit the target (or by the time they do the extinguisher is nearly discharged). There is also the danger that hitting the base of the fire may just spread burning material all over the immediate environment, thus neatly spreading the fire. It takes experience to recognise that type of circumstance, and the reality is that only fire fighters have such experience.

You will appreciate I am talking from the point of view of what I know about, which is fires in buildings. I presume that the marshalls at a motor sport event will have some form of training by fire fighters. As for other competitors helping, it would be a sorry day if people did not want to help. However, it is self evidently the best thing is to get professional fire fighters involved as soon as possible.

P715 XTN
Chris Reeves

There are specific issues with vehicle fires that have not been mentioned and these have the greatest bearing on any potential outcome. This is all gained from actual experience of so many vehicle fires that I really can't assess the number.

The first point is that very few fires are actually detected by the vehicles occupants. Occasionally another driver will be able to both see a hint of flame and also be able to cause the driver of the vehicle on fire to pull over. Most drivers refuse to respond to other drivers waving, flashing etc, at least initially thinking that they are some ar*e--le!

The majority of incidents have this scenario. Driving normally in the traffic with no obvious signs of problem, no smoke and usually no visible flame. The fire has by this time started to get a hold and soon causes sufficient damage to cause the engine to stop. Driver pulls over to the side of the road and as soon as the car is stationary and the rush of air is not controlling the flame front, you suddenly see both flame and smoke start to issue, usually from the engine compartment.

If you can access the engine compartement at this stage - unlikely - then you have about 10 to 15 seconds from the time that you come to a halt to get an extinguisher acting on the seat of the fire. Beyond that time, and I really do mean that short time, the fire will have a too strong a hold and the only safe thing to do is retire away from both the vehicle and the traffic flow.

You can try and warn others to the hazard, but the smoke is usually far more of a visual clue that you waving your arms and legs, so you run the greater risk of being flattened! The other fact is that drivers will still ignore you, and I have even seen them drive through flames!!

Within 2 minutes of stopping you will have seen the number plates at each end curl up then melt into a blob before catching fire. This gives an indication on how fast the fire spreads through the car. In reality if your car does go up in smoke and you can't get it out in the first 30 seconds then let the whole thing go and be a write off, no heros, burnt human smells just like burnt pork!!!!

In recent year my personal opinion is that there are probably more car fires than there used to be. Many may have electrical sources of ignition, but often leaking fuel has been the basic causation factor. I did notice that the severity of fires seemed to increase in line with the rise in use of unleaded fuels, and I noticed that brigades were having to work harder to extinguish them.

I think that it will be found that most seats of fires will be engine compartment based and as such this gives an opportunity for those really set on fire prevention methods to gear their systems to that area. I seem to recall a plastic pipe filled with extinuishing medium that was mounted inside the engine compartment. In the event of fire the heat melted through the pipe and since this was the hottest point it caused the extinuisher to vent onto the seat of the fire at a very early time in the event. I wonder whether such devices are still about and how they have developed. I know of other 'Fire Eater' systems that are pre installed into the engine compartment and these too should be effective.

I consider the small standard extinuishers really a waste of time. We carry extinuishers that are about 10 to 15 times the capacity of the usual Halfords/Rover types and even these are often defeated simply from the time aspect. Only when we have had the opportunity to be able to act within that 15 to 30 seconds after the car has stopped is there any real chance of doing any good.

Roger Parker

In my view, for normal road use the fire extinguisher is only really of use for dashboard fires etc. Error number one in a engine fire situation is to open the bonnet (boot in this case). For most of us, if we get an engine fire we get out of the car and stand well back, informing the emergency services if possible.

The dealer I got the car from fitted the fire extinguisher in the boot, which is the most stupid place to put it. As stated previously the last thing you want to do is open the boot lid in case of an engine fire. My extinguisher is now fitted in the passenger floor well for easy access.

A burnt out car is much better than a burnt out driver.
Tony Smith

There are too many sensible people here talking sense!! However this is in the cold light of sitting in front of a screen and not under the extreme stress of finding your pride and joy on fire. This has a very wide affect on different people and normal sensible thought is often lost. For example many do evacuate the car and stand back for a few seconds and then suddenly have a brain storm and think that the 'brief case' or 'shopping bag' is so vital that they have to try and retrieve this. It happens!

On a different tack I have given a little thought to the process that could quite possibly have led to this vehcile catching fire, and it is one that is not specific to the MGF, K series engined cars, but all petrol engined cars.

The base problem is often one where the engine is running badly. A simple misfire it not usually severe enough to create the conditions for fire, but a severe misfire that sees the engine splutter and backfire most certainly is. What is needed is for the airflow in the inlet to reverse and this is why you need a backfire, which has enough energy to reverse the flow for a brief second.

Normally with modern injected cars you have fuel added to the air only at the cylinder head end of the inlet manifold, which is some distance away from the throttle and air filter. However with a backfire you can end up with a 'slug of fuel and air being 'spat' back up the inlet and if the throttle is open then the first restriction reached is the air filter element. This will soak up the fuel and if the process is repeated so the filter can become quite flamable.

The ignition to this cocktail comes from a backfire and once started in the plastic airfilter body it doesn't take long for the unit to melt and the results decribed here to occur. I would also point out that the actual airflow will in 99+% of occasions also extinguish a burning filter before damage was caused.

Roger Parker


As someone that was once involved in a very serious car fire I was very interested in this thread.
The MGF is the first car I've had that I haven't got the largest standard Fire Extinguisher for and bolted it to the Passenger Seat front at floor level as I'm not sure about what is there that I may drill through.

Many years ago I was a rear seat passenger in a car that suffered a tire burst. It span and went backwards/sideways into a telegraph pole.

Sadly both the petrol tank and the engine were at the rear. It wasn't quite like the films but both the rear-seat passengers were injured when the petrol and hot engine mixed, especially as the tank extended under the rear seats.

I've only owned the MGF for 8 months and haven't needed to crawl under it or get into the engine compartment as it has been trouble free (P reg - see later). How are the petrol tank and the engine/exhaust situated relative to each other? Could this happen in the MG?



PS. The honeymoon period may be over. First service in my ownership and the first MOT. I'm picking up a workshop manual at the same time but I'm hoping never to need it! I'll be able to check this sort of thing out then. So far no problems........

PPS. Great sunny day today (SE Essex). Guess who was working !

Simon Pawson

The fuel tank is located behind the passenger and in front of the rear axle line to provide the best protection. The fact that the engine is in reasonably close proximity is a factor that may or may not alter potential risks, depending on so many variables.

Nothing is impossible but here the design factors have been used to reduce, as far as reasonably practicable, the potential risks.

Roger Parker

Just to add to the previous comments, I thought this would be of interest:

from Dudley Express & Star, 11th Feb

<headline>Passing motorist puts out van fire

A builder grabbed a gas bottle and tools from his blazing van while a passing motorist stopped and put out the fire with an extinguisher he had in his car. The blaze happened on the A491 motorway feeder road near Hagley yesterday.
The van's engine compartment had burst into flames.
Fire crews from Kidderminster and Stourbridge were called but found that the motorist had already put out the fire and left the scene.
Kidderminster sub-officer Mick Rowlands said the builder, based in Frankley, Birmingham, had managed to salvage all his equipment from inside the van, which was badly damaged.
"He had grabbed a gas bottle, tools and pieces of wood and got them out onto the lay-by" he said.
"A passing motorist had used a dry foam extinguisher to put out the fire and then drove off. It was all over when we got there."

Seems from the previous comments that in this case the builder was very lucky that someone stopped very quickly and, with an extinguisher, and he was able to use it effectively. Not sure of the wisdom of diving into a blazing van to grab a gas bottle and pieces of wood (pieces of wood - must have been expensive pieces of wood). Do Brummie builders qualify for Darwin awards?


"Do Brummie builders qualify for Darwin awards?"



Roger Parker

This thread was discussed between 24/01/2000 and 13/02/2000

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