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Case Studies | Vehicle Fires


Vehicle Fires

Identifying Potential Liability

A fire occurred in the engine compartment of a pickup truck while it was parked outside a restaurant with the ignition off. The owner had been inside the restaurant for two minutes when she was alerted by another customer that her truck was on fire. The fire rendered the truck a total loss and damaged the exterior facade of the restaurant. Amset origin and cause investigators were asked by the insurance company of the pickup truck to investigate for any potential negligence leading to additional liability.  


Inspection of burn patterns quickly verified that the fire started within the engine bay, but the extent of the fire damages obscured many of the patterns that would further indicate the point of origin (see photograph 1). The electrical system throughout the engine bay was inspected and did not reveal any evidence of an electrical failure. Discussions with the vehicle owner, inspection of maintenance records, and visual examination of the vehicle failed to show any evidence of a mechanical failure.

Closer inspection revealed the presence of acorn nuts in various areas of the engine bay.  Burn patterns further revealed that the acorns had been present during the fire. Careful excavation of debris from the top of the engine revealed many more acorns, along with leaves, sections of twine, and torn paper towels (see photograph 2). The center of the "V" on the top of an engine is a common place for rodents to nest due to the warmth of the engine and protection provided by covers and other engine components.


 Amset determined that the fire was caused by the nesting debris igniting due to contact with the hot surfaces shortly after the truck was shut off. Through our investigation, Amset was able to rule out arson and any negligence which could have resulted in the truck owner being held liable for the damages to the restaurant.

  • Lower Left

    Photograph 1

  • Lower Right

    Photograph 2

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