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Will your car insurance cover you if your car catches fire?

Most car fires aren’t caused by accidents, but by poor car maintenance. Leaks, electrical or mechanical failure and  worn-out parts are the most common causes of car fires.

A car can easily catch fire due to the following:

  • Mistakenly leaving a high voltage connection loose.
  • Incorrect installation of non-standard lights and car audio systems.
  • Incorrectly installing a starter motor.
  • Incorrect installation of batteries.

Other causes of car fires

  • Fires resulting from the build-up of petroleum products – certain parts of a car such as the rear-end differentials, power steering, transmission, and engine all contain oil and if not properly checked, it can build-up and cause a fire. All it needs is a spark. Oil-based fires are not easily contained.
  • Fires originating from the exhaust system – improper installation of heat shields or a lack thereof is the major cause of car fires of this nature. These kinds of car fires can also happen when the vehicles catalytic converter becomes clogged over time.
  • Fuel-based car fires – fires of this nature mostly originate in the fuel rail where the pressure regulators and fuel injectors meet. With lots of oxygen and other fire components in the area, all that is required to start a fire is contact with a source of ignition.

What do most policy ‘terms & conditions’ stipulate?

To answer the question of whether a car insurance policy will cover vehicle fire, it’s best to refer to some of the wording found in car insurance policies. The most common types of car policies are comprehensive and third party, fire and theft policies.

Let’s take a look at some interpretations of Comprehensive Insurance policy wordings:

  • Comprehensive insurance covers your vehicle for losses other than collision. This can include covering you if your car is stolen, damaged by flood, fire or even animals among other things. Without this cover and with only third-party liability cover on your vehicle, a fire of unknown origin will not be covered.
  • Your comprehensive insurance policy covers unplanned, catastrophic events, NOT mechanical failure.  If a mechanical failure ends up causing another event like a fire, then only the damage caused by the fire will be covered.
  • Every car insurance policy has a list of events that are covered. Collision covers exactly that: collisions with other vehicles. Comprehensive covers factors such as vandalism, flooding, hurricanes, theft and fire. The cause of the engine failure must be a covered event. For instance: if collision or vandalism causes the failure, then it would be covered. However, if the failure is caused by low oil levels, then it would not be covered.

Third Party, Fire and Theft insurance

This is a less expensive policy which indemnifies you only if your vehicle is damaged or destroyed by fire or theft (NOT as a result of a motor accident ), or if some third party alleges a claim against you as a result of your negligent driving of the vehicle.

From the above it becomes clear that the answer to the question is to be found with reference to the cause of the fire.

The engine is regarded as a mechanical item which will fail most likely due to poor maintenance or lack of oil or water from an unrepaired leak or even from over-revving. If these are the causes of the engine fire – normal car insurance will not cover you.

Are there other ways to protect yourself from engine fires and mechanical failure?

It’s important to differentiate between an insurance policy and a warranty. A warranty will protect you from mechanical failure – a car insurance policy will not.

Normal car insurance, even comprehensive car insurance, does not cover mechanical or electrical breakdown. Once your car’s warranty has expired and you wish to protect yourself from vehicle failure – you will need to consider your options.

You could decide to do nothing, extend your vehicle warranty or take out Mechanical Breakdown Insurance.

There are many insurers offering Mechanical Breakdown Insurance.

The cover and benefits will vary depending on the type of policy you take out and can include any or all of the following:

  • Engine
  • Electrical system
  • Gearbox
  • Differential
  • Drive shafts
  • Steering
  • Fuel system
  • Air-conditioner
  • Electronic ignition
  • Braking and cooling systems

Should you decide to go with this option, we suggest you also closely scrutinize the terms & conditions of Mechanical Breakdown Insurance.  A number of exclusions could apply. As the car owner, you’ll always be responsible for fair wear and tear and will therefore be expected to pay for any maintenance items such as seals, wheel bearings, clutch plates, pressure plates and release bearings.

Advice to Vehicle Owners

It’s best to prevent and avoid engine fires and vehicle failure through proper vehicle maintenance.

Failure to do so will increase not only the risk of losing your vehicle but will also risk the lives of your passengers and other road users.

Most comprehensive policies are written with specific exclusions related to fire damage. Be sure to check what your policy says and feel free to contact us on 044 382 0550 to find out what additional cover you can buy to protect yourself more adequately against unexpected fire claims.

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