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Here are some tips from industry professionals, lawyers, insurance agents and first responders to help you after a car fire.
- Immediately
- On-Site Medical Treatment
- What to Document
- When You Get Home
- Have Insurance
- Don't Have Insurance
- Injuries

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Immediately

Fire While Driving

  1. Be safe, be smart.
  2. Pull over and stop your car immediately.
  3. Turn off the ignition.
  4. Get yourself and all other persons out of the vehicle.
  5. Get far away from the vehicle and stay away from it. Keep others away.
    • Even if there aren’t visible flames, the car may be VERY hot. It may also be releasing toxic fumes, gases, and smoke. Stay far away to be safe. The AAA (American Automobile Association) recommends staying at least 100 feet away.
    • Don't attempt to try to put out the fire yourself.

    WHN TIP: Safety First

    Keep the hood and trunk closed. More oxygen can make the fire larger. The fire, smoke and heat can also harm your face and body.

  6. Call and report the fire to 9-1-1. Include the exact location, number of people, vehicles involved and any injuries.
    • Think someone needs help right away? Tell the 9-1-1 operator what’s happening and take advice from them.
    • No cell phone? Ask a witness to make the call. Get their contact information in case the police or your insurance company needs to speak with them later.
  7. Stay off the roadway and out of the way of moving traffic.
  8. WHN TIP: Where You Stand

    Other drivers may not see you until it’s too late. Don't stand in front of a pulled-over car; it may be hit from the rear.

  9. Call a tow company if your car looks to be inoperable or needs repairs. Before you allow a tow truck driver to pick up your car, be sure to ask how much it will cost and tell the driver where to take the car. Write down:
    • Name of driver and company
    • Company address
    • Tow truck license plate number
    • Phone number


Fire While Refueling

  1. Be safe, be smart.
  2. Do NOT pull the nozzle out of the vehicle or gas pump. Leave it and move away.
  3. Get yourself and all other persons out of the vehicle.
  4. Get far away from the vehicle and stay away.
    • Even if there aren’t visible flames, the car may be VERY hot. The car may also be releasing toxic fumes, gases, and smoke. The AAA (American Automobile Association) recommends staying at least over 100 feet away.
  5. Alert the gas station attendant and ask them to turn off the gas pumps.
  6. Warn other drivers and bystanders.
  7. Don't attempt to try to put out the fire yourself.

    WHN TIP: Closed!

    Keep the hood closed. More oxygen can make the fire larger. The fire, smoke and heat can also harm your face and body.

  8. Call and report the fire and any injuries to 9-1-1. Include the exact location, number of people, vehicles involved, and any injuries.
    • No cell phone? Ask a witness or the station attendent to make the call, if they haven’t already. Be sure to get their contact information in case the police or insurance company needs to speak with them later.
    • Think someone needs help right away? Tell the 9-1-1 operator what’s happening and take advice from them.
  9. Call a tow truck company if your car looks to be inoperable or needs repairs. Before you allow a tow truck driver to pick up your car, be sure to ask the driver how much it will cost and tell the driver where to take the car. If the driver doesn't have a business card, write down:
    • Name of driver and company
    • Company address
    • Tow truck license plate number
    • Phone number

On-Site Medical Treatment

  1. An ambulance on the scene:
    • Emergency personnel will need to check for burns and smoke damage. Allow yourself to be examined, even if you think you’re okay.
    • Should your condition change, refusal of treatment at the scene may be used as evidence that the fire is not to blame for your pain.
  2. If you are taken to the hospital:
    • if possible, give your treating physician information about the accident.
    • Describe in detail all pain and discomfort, as well as your ability or inability to use injured area(s). Even minor physical problems should be mentioned; they may develop into serious injuries.
  3. If an ambulance arrives but medical personnel decide not to take you to the hospital, or no ambulance arrives;
    • make an appointment to have your doctor perform an examination as soon after the accident as possible.
    • At your appointment, describe in detail all pain and discomfort, as well as your ability or inability to use injured area(s). Even minor physical problems should be mentioned; they may develop into serious injuries.

What to Document

Having important information documented will help you file an insurance claim and understand how the fire occurred. You do not need to wait for law enforcement to arrive to begin.

  1. Don’t be shy. Ask bystanders for what you need: pen, paper (napkins can work in a pinch) and a camera/camera phone/PDA.
  2. Begin taking photographs
    • If you have a camera and it is accessible, begin taking pictures of the fire site before vehicles are moved (images of vehicles and any property that may have been damaged, etc.).
    • If someone is uncomfortable handing over their camera, ask them to take pictures for you. Get their contact information (name, e-mail, phone number) so you can get copies of the pictures at a later date.
  3. Photos need to show the overall context of the accident so you can make your case to a claims adjuster.

    WHN TIP: Safety First

    Stay far away from your car until you have been told it is safe to approach.

  4. Write down the information about the fire:
    • Date
    • Time
    • Location
    • Nearest intersection
    • Weather conditions
  5. Write down what you noticed about your car before the fire (sounds, smoke, malfunctions, etc.)
  6. Vehicle damage
  7. Name/Address/Phone/injuries of people involved (passengers)
  8. If possible, get contact information from witnesses including name, phone, email
  9. Photographs should be continuing throughout this process.
  10. Once the authorities or medical personnel arrive on the scene, request a fire/accident report.

    WHN TIP: Police Report

    A police report often helps insurance companies speed up the claims process.

  11. You also need to get the :
    • Police officers' names and badge numbers
    • Paramedics' names and badge numbers
    • Keep a copy of all the information in a file for yourself.

When You Get Home

WHN TIP: Keep a Record of Everything

When you get home, make a "fire file". This will include all of your notes, contact information, messages and other pertinent information. This can be an envelope, file folder, binder — whatever works best for you.

  1. At home, write down exactly what happened. This will include all of the information you and witnesses gathered and the names and contact numbers of the people you spoke with. File this in your "fire" file.
  2. Read your car insurance policy. The insurance process will be easier to navigate if you know the details of your coverage. Check your policy for specifics and document every action you take.
  3. Keep a copy of everything. Police, lawyers and insurance companies may request copies (don't give away your last copy!).
  4. Request a copy of the official police report for your records.
  5. Consider another mode of transportation until your car has been repaired or you get a new car.

WHN TIP: Alternate Transportation

If there is a public transit system in your area and you’re new to the bus/train system, call their customer service line. Operators are trained to work with and address the questions and concerns of first-time riders.

Have Insurance

When you get home or as soon as possible after the fire, phone your insurance agent (or have a family member or friend do this). Do this as soon as possible even if you're far from home. Have the following items ready:

  1. Your car insurance policy number
  2. Your police case number
  3. Your fire file with detailed information about the fire
  4. Document and keep all conversations in your folder; they should all include the following:
    • Date and time of the phone call
    • Who you called or who called you (insurance agent, mechanic, police officers, doctor, attorney, etc).
    • Full name of the person you spoke with
    • List of the items and decisions discussed
    • Next steps, deadline for completion and who is responsible for each step
    • Your claim number
  5. Ask your agent how to proceed and what forms or documents will be needed to support your claim.
    • The insurance company may require a proof-of-loss form, as well as documents relating to your claim, such as medical and auto repair bills/ receipts and a copy of the police report.
    • Ask your agent if your policy covers the cost of a rental car while your car is being repaired. If so, ask the allowed time of the car rental (days, weeks, etc.) and what rental car agencies will be compatible with your policy coverage.
    • Supply the information your insurer needs.
    • Be sure you keep copies of what you are sending out — don’t give away your last copy!
    • Keep records of the expenses you incur as a result of a fire. You may be reimbursed under your policy. This could include medical and hospital expenses, lost wages and at least part of your costs if you have to hire a temporary housekeeper. Ask your insurance agent if your policy covers this.
    • Regardless of policy coverage — keep records of your expenses.

WHN TIP: Keep Copies

Again, store copies of all paperwork in your folder, you may need to refer to it later. Keep copies of receipts and financial notes with your accident info, but in its own envelope in the folder.

The Car

  1. Do not have your car repaired until an attorney or insurance representative has inspected the car.
    • Confirm next steps with your insurance agency.
    • Get an estimate for full repairs and replacement of all damage from the repair shop recommended by your insurance company. You may also get your own estimate, but your insurance company must approve it.

    WHN TIP: Totaled

    If the total cost to repair your car exceeds a certain percentage of the insurance company’s estimates of its worth, you car is considered a total loss or "totaled". Instead of covering the cost of repairs, the insurance company will pay you the car’s actual cash value, minus any deductible you have with your coverage.

  2. Keep the receipts and bids.
  3. All of this information should be recorded in your file.

WHN TIP: The Value of Your Car

The insurance company will make an offer of the value of your car. Be sure to do your research first before accepting. Look up the value of your car online on at least three different sites and check the Kelley Blue Book as well. Present this information to your insurance company.

Don't Have Insurance

  1. Keep the police case number with you at all times.
  2. Consider another mode of transportation until your car has been repaired or you get a new car.

The Car

  1. With no insurance, repairing your car is up to you (financially and who repairs it).
  2. If you retain an attorney, do not have your car repaired until the attorney inspects the car. Confirm next steps with your attorney.
  3. Get an estimate for full repairs and replacement of all damage, etc. from the repair shop you or you and your attorney agree upon.
  4. Keep the receipts. You may be able to deduct the expenses on your income tax return, consult a tax accountant about this.
  5. All of this information and process should be recorded in your fire file.

Injuries

Injury Diary

An injury diary might be useful for insurance and legal purposes - ask your agent or lawyer for further advice on how to keep an accurate account of your recovery.

  1. Date every entry you make — if you make several entries for one day, add the time of the entry.
    Your diary should contain:
    • Information and descriptions of your injuries.
    • A pain scale. Rate your injuries on a daily/hourly basis. For instance, no pain = 0 and excruciating pain = 10.
    • Information about how your injuries are affecting your ability to work (job performance), as well as any social and family events that you are unable to attend or participate in because of your injuries.
    • Detailed effects of your injuries on your normal daily routine.
    • Consider taking photographs of your injuries. Photos can help your claim and your case.
    • Request a copy of the official police report for your medical records.

Doctor Visits

WHN TIP: Keep a Detailed Record

Ask your doctor’s office to start a personal injury subfolder for you. Tell them all visits should be filed in this folder until further notice. This allows you to submit claims to your car insurance, rather than your medical insurance. The doctor’s office may need to copy your car insurance card.

  1. If appropriate, ask your doctor to write a letter to your insurance company explaining the findings of your examination and prescribing further care.
  2. Bring your fire file each time you see the doctor, and add the following information:
    • Doctor’s name
    • Specialty
    • Practice/hospital
    • Date seen
    • Diagnosis/care given
    • Next steps/appointment
    • Note recovery efforts as well, including time spent in physical therapy or other treatment.

    WHN TIP: Handy Form

    Print and take your "Tracking Form" with you. This way you can track each appointment and your progress. Fill out the form and add it to your accident file after each appointment.

  3. If appropriate, ask your doctor to write a letter to your insurance company explaining the findings of your examination and prescribing further care.

WHN TIP: Print This Out!

Print this out and place it in the car, so you will have it with you next time you drive.

Additional Information

Remember ...

The information provided here is not meant to be a substitute for professional legal or medical advice. These tips are from first responders, lawyers, insurance agents and people who have shared real-life advice; always check with a doctor, lawyer or appropriate professional you trust before making any legal or health-related decisions.

Thank you ...

A special thank you to the industry professionals, lawyers, insurance agents, first responders and people who gave us their time, insight and real-life advice.


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