January 23, 2018
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Car fire not something to take lightly

By Tom and Ray Magliozzi, Special to the BDN

Dear Tom and Ray:

Last week my fiancee’s father was driving his 1987 Buick from the farm into town. A couple of hundred yards away from the house (and about 0.1 mile from the highway) on the gravel road, the car caught fire. Her dad, instead of using his cell phone to call the fire department, left the car on the road and walked home to tell his wife. He told her it’d burn itself out. A short while later, they were in the kitchen and were — seriously — surprised to see the fire department outside putting out the blazing car. So, (1) what the heck kind of family am I marrying into? And (2) we know  that it’s toxic, in poor taste and dangerous, but would the car actually have pulled a “movie moment” and exploded? Or, like her father says, would it have burned itself out? — Seth

Tom: I think Pops REALLY wants a new Buick, Seth. He was afraid that if he put out the fire, they’d somehow be able to patch up his car, and he’d have to drive it for another five years. So he walked away to make sure it had ample time to caramelize.

Ray: That’s a very dangerous thing to do. It certainly can explode. What happens is that fires usually start in the engine compartment. Sometimes they can burn themselves out, if they run out of nearby materials to combust.

Tom: But lots of times they keep burning. And then they spread to the undercarriage, and then the tires, and the interior. Once a fire spreads, it easily can melt the fuel lines, or cause the pressure in the fuel tank to rise so much that the tank breaks.

Ray: And even if the car doesn’t explode like the Death Star in “Star Wars,” any rupture in the fuel lines or fuel tank will result in a huge and violent increase in flames.

Tom: That could set nearby fields, and then houses, on fire, which won’t endear Pops to his neighbors.

Ray: So, whenever you have a car that catches fire that you can’t address immediately with the proper fire extinguisher, you should move away from the car and call the fire department.

Tom: What kind of family are you marrying into, Seth? One that needs to work on its communication skills. If Pops had been able to say, “Ma, I really want one of them new Buicks,” perhaps this could have been avoided.

Dear Tom and Ray:

Can you please tell us which vehicles recirculate all of their inside air, rather than pulling in outside air? My wife is extremely allergic to smells, so pulling outside air into the car absolutely will not do. We were told that some Acura models recirculate the air continuously from the time the engine is started. Such recirculation would benefit us. On the other hand, we understand that the Lincoln MKZ has a switch that must be activated to recirculate the air; otherwise, it will pull in outside air. It is very important to us that no outside air get into the car’s interior, due to my wife’s sensitive condition. Can you please name any particular makes and models that might keep out truck exhaust, road tar, bus fumes, etc.? This presents a serious health issue for us, and we sincerely appreciate your advice. — Roy

Tom: Gee, Roy, I’m not aware of any vehicles that completely shut out the outside air. Unless they’re made by NASA.

Ray: Right. Without any outside air at all, you’d eventually suffocate in the car. And carmakers would never do that to their customers.

Tom:Heavens, no. Think of all the lost repair income!

Ray: Most cars have two settings for air that you can select from: Fresh (outside air) and Recirculate (inside air). Usually, there’s a switch or button that allows you to choose one or the other.

Tom: But even the Recirculate setting allows some amount of outside air to come in (I would guess it’s 10 percent), for the respiratory reasons stated above. So using the Recirculate setting certainly would cut down on the outside odors, but it wouldn’t eliminate them completely.

Ray: Almost all cars also have cabin air filters that can stop certain allergens and dust particles. But the molecules that carry smells are too small to be stopped by such filters.

Tom: The only solution, if you really can’t breathe ANY outside air, is to provide your own tanked air, like astronauts or scuba divers do.

Ray: But then you’d need a car with large front foot wells so that when your wife wears her scuba gear, she’ll be able to sit comfortably in her fins.

Tom: Seriously, Roy, I don’t know of any car that will completely block out all outside air. If your wife can handle some outside air, then any car with a Recirculate setting (and that’s almost every car) should help. But if that’s not good enough, then a doctor may be of more help than a couple of lousy mechanics. We wish you the best of luck!

You want to buy a used car, but how do you find a good one? Tom and Ray can help! Order “How to Buy a Great Used Car: Secrets Only Your Mechanic Knows.” Send $4.75 (check or money order) to Used Car, P.O. Box 536475, Orlando, FL 32853-6475. Get more Click and Clack in their new book, “Ask Click and Clack: Answers from Car Talk.” Got a question about cars? Write to Click and Clack in care of this newspaper, or email them by visiting the Car Talk website at www.cartalk.com.

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