A car fire is an incredibly dangerous event when every ounce of preparedness you have pays off.
Keeping your cool in an emergency is essential, but you need the right tools to get the job done; that’s where the car fire extinguisher comes into play.
Our buyer’s guide comes complete with suggested products and a basic overview of maintaining and using your car fire extinguisher.
Our Top Pick
First Alert Pro5
The First Alert Pro5 will give you the best bang for your buck.
Carries five pounds of chemical and comes with a reassuring twelve-year warranty.Check On Amazon
What Goes Into a Good Car Fire Extinguisher?
Before I jump into which extinguishers to buy, I want to give you one vital bit of information: not all fire extinguishers are good at putting out all fires.
In fact, fire extinguishers are given ratings for what they are and are not capable of safely extinguishing or repelling. Some countries use a different ranking system, but all are based on a set-up using Classes and ordered (mostly) alphabetically.
A comparison of fire classes is as follows:
|American||European||UK||Australian and Asian||Fuel or Heat Source|
|Class A||Class A||Class A||Class A||Ordinary combustibles|
|Class B||Class B|
|Class C||Not Classified||Not Classified||Class E||Electrical Equipment|
|Class D||Class D||Class D||Class D||Combustible Metals|
|Class K||Class F||Class F||Class F||Cooking oils, fats|
The fire extinguisher you keep in the kitchen is great for regular household uses, but it won’t work for cars? Why not?
Because car fires contain dangerous materials like oils, gasolines, electrical materials, and upholstery, all of which burn at a very different rate and intensity than ordinary combustible materials.
The type of extinguisher you need for car fires must be rated for Class A, B, C, or E fires (check that chart for where you’re located).
Why Fire Extinguisher Compositions Matter
The classes listed above relate to the composition and material inside of a fire extinguisher. While we generally are interested in four main types, there are eight types of compositions in extinguishers. The Fire Equipment Manufacturers’ Association outlines them as follows:
- Water and Foam: Functions by separating oxygen from the fire and eliminating the heat element of a fire, for Class A fires only
- Carbon Dioxide: Removes both oxygen and heat from a fire with an extremely cold discharge for Class B and C fires and ineffective against Class A fires
- Dry Chemical: Interrupts the chemical reactions of fire by placing a barrier between fire and fuel for Class A, B, and C fires
- Wet Chemical: Removes the heat of fire by placing a barrier between oxygen and fuel for Class K fires (usually used in commercial kitchens for its utility against grease fires)
- Clean Agent: Uses halon agents to interrupt the chemical reactions of a fire like Dry Chemicals but is a more environmentally friendly solution, usually Class A, B, and C, though smaller units are only fit for Class B and C fires
- Dry Powder: Functions like a dry chemical extinguisher but is only effective on combustible metal fires; for Class D fires only
- Water Mist: Used in place of a Clean Agent extinguisher when halon contamination is a concern, primarily used for Class A fires but safe to use for Class C
- Cartridge Operated Dry Chemical: Eliminates the chemical reaction in a fire and places a barrier between oxygen and fuel source, used for Class A, B, and C fires
You’ll generally want a dry chemical type of extinguisher to maximize effectiveness. Water and foam-based extinguishers can spread flammable material like gasoline or could cause an electric shock hazard. Dry-based extinguishers will not spread liquid materials and do not pose a shock hazard.
Since automobiles have gasoline, oil, and a host of electronic equipment, it’s vital to use them properly rated and designed extinguishers for car fires.
We’ll jump into the extinguishers now but stay tuned to read more about how to use that extinguisher and how to maintain it.
Keep It Somewhere Accessible
Mounting kits (Amazon Link) are available to safely stow away your car fire extinguisher in an out-of-the-way location. One of these extinguishers is a vital element of any emergency car kit, but it’s worthless if you can’t reach it during an emergency.
These mounting kits and brackets place the extinguisher somewhere safe, so when you need it, it’s right there for you.
The Best Car Fire Extinguishers
First Alert Pro5
An extinguisher carrying five pounds of chemical and sporting a familiar design and shape, the First Alert is a solid choice if you’ve got the room for it in your vehicle. It carries a beefy 12-year limited warranty, better than many other similar products.
This is a suitable backup extinguisher to store in your trunk, although a small unit mounted underneath your seat is your go-to option to get out of the way of danger. All around, this is the best car fire extinguisher for your buck.
- Bigger capacity for larger fires
- Easy-to-read gauge
- Extended warranty
- Too large to store in front of vehicle
First Alert AUTO5
This extinguisher is rated for B and C-Class fires, making it ideal for engine fires involving the alternator and other “dry” fires. This is an excellent product for those handy around an automobile and an engine.
Check Prices on Amazon
While this extinguisher is great for select uses, it shouldn’t be used as your go-to option for general emergencies and is best utilized by the mechanically inclined.
- Focused and specific use makes it ideal in some situations when used by a knowledgeable wielder
- Not the best choice for emergencies
H3R Performance Extinguisher
A bit pricey but an excellent option for your automobile. This is another Class B, and C-rated extinguisher and is great for engine fires and any situation where regular combustibles are not of concern.
If there’s a downside, it is that this product has no warranty. Though its quality is superb, the lack of a warranty can be problematic.
- Sturdy construction
- One-hand operation
- No warranty
- Unfamiliar brand name
Buckeye Multipurpose ABC Fire Extinguisher
A high-quality design with the endorsement of active and retired firefighters, the Buckeye is made with good-quality hardware.
Check Prices on Amazon
It carries 2.5 pounds of chemical in a relatively streamlined design and is intended for use in various scenarios, making it ideal for novice and expert alike.
Their warranty system is a little suspect; it isn’t listed anywhere, and my attempts to contact the manufacturer have not been replied to. Still, it’s a good quality product and worth the purchase.
- Great craftsmanship
- Good amount of chemical
- Not refillable
- No known warranty
How to Use a Car Fire Extinguisher
#1. Call 911 (or your country’s emergency telephone number)
#2. If the fire or smoke is coming from the rear of the vehicle, immediately evacuate the vicinity.
The first rule should be an obvious one. It’s impossible to understate the dangers of a car fire, and you will want trained professionals on their way as soon as possible.
It may be firefighters to guarantee a fire is extinguished or medical personnel to assess any injuries or smoke inhalation people have experienced.
The second rule is regarding the origin of the flames and what it’s likely to meet (i.e., the gas tank). If a fire is burning on the interior of the cabin or in the engine compartment, it’s “safer” to attempt to extinguish it, so get out that extinguisher and do your thing.
Extinguishing a fire works more effectively when you spray the nozzle at the base of the flames. In a car fire, that’s not always so easy to spot, but you can generally aim the nozzle into the engine compartment to reach the source of the flames.
Pull the pin from the nozzle, aim the extinguisher, spray, and sweep side to side. It’s an acronym known as P.A.S.S. and is the United States Department of Labor’s standard for putting out a fire.
Want to see it in action? Check out this link from the Oklahoma City Fire Department for another explanation of how to use an extinguisher.
What about a car fire?
Not quite as easy, but the principle remains the same—another video demonstration recorded by a car fire in the wild.
Notice that the extinguisher operator calmly sprays the extinguisher and does not panic or spray wildly. Emergency services arrived minutes after the video.
Maintaining Your Car Fire Extinguisher
The Fire Equipment Manufacturers Association recommends an annual inspection of your extinguisher to check for expiration dates, intact mechanics, and a good pressure. Many fire departments will refill extinguishers for free or for a nominal charge; it makes their life easier, so why the heck not?
I’d recommend an additional once-a-month inspection of your extinguishers, in the car or at home. Just a quick once-over to ensure it is still filled, that the pin is intact, and not showing signs of wear or damage.
Always refill or replace your extinguisher after it’s been used once to ensure safe, continued operation.
Keep It Handy and Be Prepared
These are the top car fire extinguishers on the market, but using them effectively is dependent on you and your ability to keep cool in a hot situation. Keeping one of these handy could be the difference between total disaster and avoiding a catastrophe.