Poor maintenance behind many car fires in Singapore

A Mercedes that went up in flames on the Ayer Rajah Expressway near Jurong Pier Road last month. Factors that could lead to car fires include overloading the vehicle with electronic gadgets. -- PHOTO: STOMP
A Mercedes that went up in flames on the Ayer Rajah Expressway near Jurong Pier Road last month. Factors that could lead to car fires include overloading the vehicle with electronic gadgets. -- PHOTO: STOMP

Experts urge regular servicing and greater awareness of risk factors

The increase in vehicle fires over the past few years has raised concern among drivers, with the authorities and the industry saying more can be done to improve vehicle maintenance and awareness.

The latest statistics from the Singapore Civil Defence Force reveal there were 218 car fires last year, up from 202 in 2012 and 188 in 2011.

In the first half of this year, 114 vehicles caught fire, 20 per cent more than in this period last year.

Just last week, two cars burst into flames, in Victoria Street and Havelock Road.

Pictures and videos of cars, buses and rubbish trucks on fire are shared regularly on social media.

Last month alone, users of citizen journalism site Stomp sent in shots of 10 separate cases of vehicle fires.

So what exactly is causing these incidents?

Industry experts say that while it is often hard to pinpoint the exact cause because of the charred and damaged state of the vehicles, there are some common factors that lead to vehicle fires.

They include poor and irregular maintenance and overloading the car with electronic gadgets.

Mr Francis Lim, president of the Singapore Motor Workshop Association, noted that most car fires result from bad maintenance.

"Cars need regular, thorough servicing, given the wear and tear they go through," he said.

Maintenance is especially crucial now as the number of older cars on the road has increased with the rise in certificate of entitlement (COE) prices, he said.

Items that should be checked include rubber insulation over wires, which can harden over time, turn brittle or even fall off. Two or more exposed wires touching can cause sparks.

Such sparks can then ignite a fluid drip or leaked vapours, said Associate Professor David Butler from the school of mechanical and aerospace engineering at Nanyang Technological University.

"A single spark could quickly turn into an electrical fire that would usually spread to other wiring nearby," he said.

Fuel lines are also susceptible to wear and tear, noted experts, and if fuel leaking from the line touches anything hot such as the exhaust, it will catch fire.

Although regular maintenance of electrical wires and fuel lines would help reduce the chance of a fire, many owners tend to skimp on regular servicing, especially as the car gets older, said Mr Lim.

Mr Joey Lim, managing director of Harmony Motor, said: "They think the workshop is out to swindle them when they notice their bill has grown. They don't realise that as cars get older or have more features added, more things need to be repaired or replaced, which drives up the cost."

Experts said another common cause of fires is the overloading of vehicles with additional devices such as in-car cameras, rear sensors and entertainment systems.

Such gadgets put more strain on the vehicle's power system and increase the risk of an electrical fault, especially when they are not properly fitted, said Mr Bernard Tay, president of the Automobile Association of Singapore.

lesterh@sph.com.sg