The Car Fire Conundrum

Last weekend after dropping James back with his Mum, Vicki and I drove home. We clocked a car on the other side of the road, stopped with hazard lights on. Inside was a young woman, on the phone, and looking a little panicked. It wasn’t just someone broken down – there was smoke coming from the front of the car, pluming by the tyres. It looked like the start of a fire. People were driving past her and not stopping to help, so I swung the car around, parked up behind her and jumped out.

I tapped on the window with some urgency, I tried the door, but it was locked. The lady inside looked for the door unlock button, pressed it, and I swung open the door.

“Your car is on fire!” I shouted.




“I know!!” She replied.

I was stunned for a second – that wasn’t the response I expected.

“Right, you need to get out – Can you pop the bonnet for me?”

She fumbled around the footwell on her side, I looked in the passenger side..

“Uhm, I think it’s on your side?” She offered.

I felt around – there wasn’t a bonnet release on this side. Feeling the urge to do something, I went to the front of the car and put my hand on the bonnet. I can’t remember where I’d seen this before, but it was apparently a way to tell if there was a fire under the bonnet. It felt hot, but not ‘on fire’ hot.

I went back to her, still sat in the car..

“I don’t know what to do!” She exclaimed, sounding a little upset.

I realised that it was obviously a fairly upsetting situation, she was only young, so I calmed my tone a bit.

“Okay, well take another look for the bonnet release and we’ll get you sorted.”

She felt around in her footwell.. “Ahh!” Clunk “That’s it!”

I went back to the front of the car and opened the bonnet. I was confronted with a hot, smoking engine – it was soaked in bubbling oil. The oil filler cap wasn’t there, and there was oil splashed all over the inside of the bonnet. It was a mess. I went back to her in the car.

“Okay, well it’s NOT on fire, however, you don’t have an oil filler cap, and there is oil all over your engine. That’s what was making the smoke.”

She went very white and spluttered – “Oh.. I, erm, well, the oil light came on yesterday, so I filled it up with oil.”

“Riiiiiiggggghhhht..” I nodded.

“The oil light was on again today, it’s been flickering and the car hasn’t been driving very well, then it just died here!”

It was all starting to make sense now.

“What should I do?!” She asked.

“Okay, do you have any breakdown cover?”

“No..”

She explained that she lived about 5 minutes away with her boyfriend. When she’d filled the car up with oil, she’d literally filled it up. No checking levels, just glugged in a whole bottle. She wasn’t sure if she’d put the cap on correctly either.

She’d broken down at a fairly busy junction, so leaving the car in situ wasn’t an option.

“Right, okay we’ll have push you somewhere!”

By this time Vicki had come to help, she knew the area better than me, and just around the corner there was a car park, where the car could sit out of the way. I turned the key, opened the drivers window, let off the handbrake, and went outside the car, pushing and steering with Vicki at the back. The car started to move slowly, and I steered it around the corner.

“Wow! I don’t think I could push a CAR!” I heard from the other side. It was the car’s owner, walking slowly beside it, not ACTUALLY helping, just admiring our strength. I stopped the urge of shouting back “Perhaps you could fucking try?” it wouldn’t have been helpful. The road sloped downwards, and the car was rolling. I pulled back, trying to stop it, but also trying to steer it across the road into the car park.

It was getting faster, and nearing the wall at the edge of the car park.

I jumped in quickly and stamped on the brake, stopping just a matter of inches from the wall.

“What should I do?” she asked. Clearly hoping that in the few minutes that had gone by I’d have worked up a helpful solution.

Vicki asked if her boyfriend had any breakdown cover, he did apparently. She suggested starting with them and seeing if they’d come out. I did mention that whilst too little oil is a bad thing, too much oil can cause damage too. With that, Vicki and I had to go – Duggee was still sat in our car around the corner, and probably getting very upset.

What have we learnt from this experience? Check your oil level, if it’s low – top it up slowly, don’t throw in ALL the oil. When you’re done, make sure the fill cap is back on properly. Plus, as unnecessary as breakdown cover feels, even on a newish car (this was only 6 years old) – have some. Finally, most importantly – if you think your car is on fire, get out. Don’t wait for an idiot to shout at you to do it.

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