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article imageOp-Ed: Do modern vehicles burn more quickly?

By Ken Hanly     Apr 24, 2013 in Technology
Detroit - The author of a recent article in the Detroit News was test driving a brand spanking new 2013 Dodge Ram 1500 when it caught fire on the Dallas North Tollway and quickly became a charred out hulk.
The author of the article, Terry Box, concludes that modern vehicles burn more quickly than older vehicles. Writing in the Dallas Star originally, Terry gives a detailed, positive description of the vehicle he was driving, a Ram Longhorn Edition, with a Hemi V-8, crew cab, leather seats, 20 inch wheels, 4-wheel drive and an 8 speed automatic transmission. He thought it an ideal vehicle for cruising the plains of North Texas. The cost was a mere $54,335, no doubt in Canada it would be a lot more.
Box was headed home just before 7 PM. The truck had run flawlessly up until this trip. Box thought it was "serious competition" for Ford or Chev competitors. Box smelled a whiff of gasoline which he assumed came from an older clunker ahead of him. Then all of a sudden the Ram began to lose power and also speed, dropping to 50, 30 and then even 20 mph. Box was halfway up an exit ramp when the truck ran out of steam. Box thought that there must be some computer problem and that he could just shut off the truck and reboot everything.
As he undid his seat belt, he noticed a women. Stephanie Swindell, in a Ford Explorer gesturing at him from the passenger side of the vehicle She was trying to tell Box that his truck was on fire. As soon as he opened the door he saw flames shooting from under the left front wheel well. Swindell's fiance Daniel Fleming who was driving the Explorer knew that Box was in serious trouble: "I was in the middle lane probably 100 yards behind you, and I saw cars quickly trying to get around you, like they wanted to get away from you. I could see flames literally dripping off the truck. They came all the way out the back and seemed to grow and retract, like you were pushing on the gas or something."
When Box stepped out of the truck Daniel and Stephanie who already stopped ahead of him, urged Box to run. He did in spite of having some problems doing so because of recent foot surgery and heavy boots.
However he realized that he had left his workout bag and his laptop in the back seat. He thought only about 20 seconds had passed since he left the truck. When he opened the back door thick clouds of smoke obscured everything and the front seats, dashboard, etc. appeared to be in flames. He retreated to the back seat of the Explorer. Stephanie and Dan had already summoned help through calling 911. Dan said he was surprised at how quickly the truck burned. Box thought that the $50,000 plus truck burned up in about three minutes.
Box claims it is rare for modern vehicles to catch fire but it can happen. He claims that the truck burned faster than older vehicles for two main reasons. Thirty years ago, he says, most of the pieces under the hood were made of metal and hence resistant to fire. Nowadays you will find all sorts of plastic such as containers for various liquids, caps, and even valve covers. Secondly newer vehicles have high-pressure fuel pumps and other features designed to make fuel-injection equipment more efficient. Box thinks that somehow the fuel line came loose from the engine.
Perhaps the features of newer cars Box mentions do cause modern vehicles to burn faster than older ones, particularly if the fire starts under the hood. However, it would be more convincing if we had actual data collected that confirmed this. Tests could actually be made to test his thesis. Perhaps older models had fires more frequently. My own experience was that I did have a few fires that burned wiring in the early days back when I was a teenager and bought old clunks from the thirties and late forties.
Perhaps the speed of this fire was caused by the fact that it was fuel that caught fire. The burning would have been much longer than three minutes, if you counted the time when it originally caught fire. The fire started some time before he stopped. If the cause had been different the speed of the fire too could have varied considerably. Box did not intend his story to be an indictment of the truck, which he obviously liked a great deal. Rather as another article notes it is meant as a cautionary tale about how fast modern vehicles can burn. Perhaps it is a reminder too of basic equipment that one should take along even in a modern vehicle:"...this is probably a good reminder for all of us to give some serious thought to what safety equipment to keep in our rigs. We take along a few tools, a flashlight, a small fire extinguisher, some WD-40, a tire gauge, and a roll of duct tape (we like Gorilla Tape too) when we travel. " A cell phone to phone 911 might help as well.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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