Vehicle fire research and testing informs origin and cause analyses

JENSEN HUGHES engineers investigate vehicle fires for a wide range of clients including the US government (DOT/NHTSA), individuals and manufacturers. Engineering disciplines cover mechanical and electrical systems and fire protection systems. Experts are certified vehicle fire investigators (CVFI) via the National Association of Fire Investigators (NAFI). Previous assessments have covered the spectrum of vehicles from passenger cars and transit buses to heavy equipment used in agricultural and excavating/mining industries. JENSEN HUGHES personnel have assisted the US government (DOD) in assessing a number of vehicle fire suppression systems for a range of applications. Our knowledge gained through research has proven to be invaluable in determining the origin and cause of vehicle fires and the capabilities of installed systems.

Application of Fire Science

Although the principles of fire dynamics are the same in vehicle fires as in a structure fires, the relatively small compartment sizes of vehicles and the large quantities of plastic material can result in more rapid fire growth. The sources of ignition energy in motor vehicle fires can be similar to those associated with structural fires such as arcs, mechanical sparks, overloaded wiring, open flames, and smoking materials. However, unique sources do exist such as hot surfaces from exhaust manifolds and pipes, catalytic converters, mufflers, brakes, bearings, and turbochargers. JENSEN HUGHES engineers understand the physics associated with analyzing varied ignition sources and the conditions required for them to initiate a fire. Assessing the origin and cause of a fire requires an understanding of the ignition phenomenon, flame spread, fire growth/fire dynamics and the overall fire physics. The fire or damage patterns remaining on the body panels, vehicle frames, and in the interior of the vehicle can be used to locate potential point(s) of origin. However, the use of fire patterns to determine origin should be used with caution. The interpretations drawn from these patterns should be verified by witness interviews, laboratory analysis of evidence, service records indicating mechanical or electrical faults, factory recall notices, or complaints and service bulletins that can be obtained from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the Center for Auto Safety, and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS).

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