Fire Warning!


CGOTTS

New member
It's that time of the year again, when the temperatures are in the high 90's and up, and engine fires are happening all around. This is a very sad subject, especially since I have just seen another Westy go up in flames and was not close enough to do anything about helping this person. This is something that really needs to be checked closely. I personally have had this happen to me and I can all but say, it was a bit scarey. Nothing is more terrifying than to see flames in the back window as you are looking in the mirror. So why do these happen? Well, of course, fuel is very flammable, but with age, hoses that this fuel goes through becomes hard & brittle, and even breaks. All of the Vanagons we love to drive are at least 10 to 20 years old by now, and if the hoses haven't ever been changed, really need to be. All fuel injected engines have at least 45 - 80 psi of fuel pressure going through these lines and if it breaks, you just started a fuel fed fire, like spraying gas out of a fire hydrant hose into a burning house. The exhaust in our Vanagons do get really hot, and since the injectors, & hoses are very close to these, can be a very serious situation. So here are some suggestions to consider. #1, if you smell gas when you walk past the engine - check it out immediately - this is the first tall tale sign you have a problem. #2, if engine just quits while driving, don't try to restart until you check to see that you didn't quit due to a fuel hose break. This was my problem, my Westy quit, I tried a restart, and all this time, I was just pumping fuel to the fire (remember, we have electric fuel pumps that work when you turn the key to start). #3, always make sure you have a good fire extinguisher on hand - this saved my Westy, I only had to replace fuel lines, and some of the wiring harness. #4, never try to remove the engine deck lid if you have a fire. You will just allow the fire to get into the rear of the bus that much easier, let alone get yourself burned. Always shoot the fire extinguisher through the license plate hole, so as to contain the fire quicker. #5, if you have people in the bus, get them out first and then try to save the vehicle - cars are easier to replace then family. #6, on the newer Vanagons, around '84 and on, they came with a composite / fiberglass deck lid covers. When a fire happens, these only last just a short period of time before they melt, as well as produce toxic smoke. Replace these with a metal one found in earlier models, like in an '81, etc. Metal ones don't melt and will keep the flames out of the inside of the vehicle. #7, Turn off the key before attempting to put out a fire. So to make this message a little shorter - replace those old & worn fuel injection hoses with new. Another caution - don't replace with just regular fuel hose! Make sure you are getting a high quality fuel injection, high pressure hose. There are two ways to go here - either the original 7 mm fuel hose from the VW dealership, which is a cloth braided rubber hose, or the American made 5/16 fuel injection hose (make sure it is stamped on the side of the hose, that it says, "high pressure fuel injection hose."). I personally recommend the American made hose, due to the fact I had installed the VW hose about a 1 & 1/2 years before, and it was the reason for my fire. Since then, I have used the American made hose, and haven't had a failure yet after over 2 years - each to his only experience, I say. Anyway, either type is going to better than the old stuff, so get them replaced. Normally, my '85 Westy took about 17 feet of the hose to do the whole engine compartment. My '89 Vanagon took about 22 feet of hose to do the whole engine compartment and to the fuel pump and tank. The cost of around $80 to $100 for the fuel hose & clamps is well worth the cost of a total. Insurance companies are really bad at giving you what your Vanagon is worth in a situation like this. I do hope this suggestion comes before someone else loses their pride and joy, let alone their loved ones (does a Vanagon count as a loved one?!??) I have posted this in the archives about 2 years ago, and being that most of us don't take the time to search the archive much, felt it is worth the time to get us educated again. Good luck and happy trails for our Vanagons.
icon_razz.gif
"Is that a barbeque I smell?" CGOTTS

[This message was edited by Capt. Mike on April 27, 2003 at 07:20 AM.]
 

Capt. Mike

Moderator
I'll add a fire source that happened to my folks, and nearly to me. The A/C fuse panel. On Vanagon Westies, it's located behind the column inside the closet; on non-Westies, it's behind the plastic quarter panel.

The fuse is a 40 AMP exposed metal bar style. It gets hot! Mine got hot enough to distort the plastic fuse mounting block; my folk's caught fire and did significant damage. And they had a fire extinquisher on hand with immediate help!

As the fuse heats & cools every time the A/C is turned on, the expansion can work the screws lose and become an additional resistance. So take a minute and check yours for tightness and that NOTHING is anywhere close to it!

For closeted Westies, pull the little button retainers pins on the top front side of the middle shelf, then you can lift up & remove the shelf. Remove the 2 larger Phillips head screws from the top & bottom brackets holding the vertical column so the brackets remain in the car.
 

Geoff Barnes

New member
Has anyone thought of installing a simple home-type smoke detector in the engine compartment? I'm thinking that the alarm sound would carry easily into the cabin.

Time is of the essence when a fire starts and, rather than waiting for flames to appear in the rear view mirror, I'm thinking that an instant warning would be very handy should the worst case come to pass.

Also on this subject, since the portable home fire extinguishers are quite inexpensive, has anyone put any thought into a way to jury-rig one which would sit in the engine compartment, but which could be activated from the driver's seat?

Might be awfully handy to be able to be alerted to the emergency, pull off the road, shut off the ignition, and handle the situation, all in a matter of seconds, perhaps avoiding expensive repairs and, more importantly, keeping the driver/passengers physically away from the fire itself.
 

Capt. Mike

Moderator
The problem one faces a smoke detector is the constant amount of exhaust, road and -- let's face it, VW's all leak -- engine fumes. I'm sure you'd have false alarms by the score. Even splashes in rain on the hot exhaust create enough smoke to set off most alarms.

However, a fire extinquishing system activited by a pull ring from the driver's compartment is an old concept and has been around for years. Most any good race shop or race car supply should be able to fix you right up. Similar systems are common in air & marine applications so open additional sources.

What I'd look at concurrently is a fuel system shut-off. The catastrophic fires are almost always the result of the fuel system getting ignited.
 

lono

New member
Another problem with home smoke detectors is that they are not rated for the high temperatures in the engine compartment. I have talked to a couple of detector manufacturers and they didn't know of any detectors suitibable for installing near the engine.

Neverless I put a cheap smoke detector on the left hand side of my 1985 Vanogan's engine, below the side vent. It has given some false alarms when I started the engine which lasted about four beeps. I glued a piece of aluminum foil over the top to keep the rain off. Once it got so wet that it gave off a continuous alarm when it was parked in my driveway.

I went to an extinguisher distributitor and bought an expensive halon extinguisher to carry.($125) When you are putting out a fire in your vehical you probably aren't thinking about the damage you are causing the ozone layer.

My one experience of putting our a bilge fire in my sail boat convinced me that it is the only type to use. The fire was started by a cable short under the engine. One short spirt of the extinguisher extinquished several burning oil socks below the engine. I learned not to use oil socks.

lono,
Sunnyvale, CA

Halon fumes are toxic to breathe. One short squirt through the hole behind the license plate should put out a major engine fire and keep it out.
 
Last edited by a moderator:

dajabr

New member
I must strongly suggest that you do not put a regular household smoke detector in your engine compartment. The plastic and circuitry used in these units has little or no heat rating, and can be destroyed by engine heat alone. They are designed for homes that are not as hot as an engine compartment, and have more open space for smoke to reach them before they melt.

First; the circuits will quickly fry and the unit will not work. Waste of money. I work with servers, we go to great ends to make sure equipment doesn't raise the temp in it's enclosed room or closet to fry itself.

Second; if it doesn't just become misshapen, the whole thing may eventually MELT. You may have a glob of potentially combustible running plastic next to a very hot engine, and it is a good bet it is a matter of time before one or two drips land somewhere hot enough to waste a formerly Westy shaped chunk of money.

I saw a house that had burned down, the firemen routinely remove the smoke detectors to check if they were operational at the time of the fire. The detector they left on this driveway was melted from heat but not charred from direct flames.
You should get an automotive specific system or chances are you may cause the fire you're trying to avoid.
 
Last edited by a moderator:

bunzissimo

New member
For the engine fire warning section:

Watch the foam seal around the engine. Depending on your muffler type, if it gets too hot, the foam will melt and drip down onto the muffler, eventually igniting, especially if it has been soaked with oil, like most foam seals I have seen.
 

Capt. Mike

Moderator
Transferred to consolidate similar topics.

Fire Safety Tips!

76Heat Wagen Member # 3252 posted 02-06-2002 04:13 PM

This is a Westy-owners worst nightmare. Not only does the engine blow flames behind you, you find out when the heat is so high, the engine is already toast. Here are some suggestions, that I did not see in recent posts - please let me know how it works for you.

1) The dreaded filler-to-tank hose. Now available at bus depot. These things love to initiate a nasty fire. With age, they become brittle and leak. The best way to check it is to remove your ECU or, through that circular access hole cover near the ECU. (Not too sure if this is the same setup in Vanagons). Check that thing thoroughly, it's a pain, but best to replace it. If you have an access hole where your fuel sender is, open it up during a fill-up and take a whiff. If you smell a strong gas odor. Stop in your tracks and replace it.

I found out the hard way, so here's a supplemental tip to #1, as I already experienced the wrath! After a fill-up,you have a rear passenger, an open window and repeatedly get complaints (particularly during hard left turns) of fuel odor...stop the bus. This is how mine caught fire years ago. But, I was casually ignoring the fuel-smell, as I thought the charcoal container was cracked or it was venting related. NOT. Fuel came pouring out of that black access panel for the tank, by the ECU, and various access or wire holes. Although most are sealed to the firewall...trust me they are not water tight!

2)Fuel Pressure Regulator: '75 and up. Check out the fuel injection posts and get a little acquainted with this thing, if you haven't already. They now sell (I'll post the site where I bought mine when I dig up the receipt) fuel pressure regulators that completely shut down your fuel pump as soon as it detects a sudden drop of fuel pressure. It kills the electricity to the pump, preventing the spraying of fuel everywhere, should a hose rupture. It has some kind of electronic intelligence built into it, as it won't cut out under full throttle when the pressure drastically drops. You do need to match both your engine vacuum and AFC fuel injection pressure specs to adjust the regulator to your system.

3) Rubbing/vibration/sawing/melting: Follow your fuel lines and make sure that the rubber grommets are still in place, preventing rubbing. "sawing" - some people think it's a good idea to relocate the fuel pump. Sometimes it is. However, make sure that your hoses do not come in contact with the top of the clutch cable, or the parking brake cables (if they are exposed). Finally, make sure that the engine compartment area near the accelerator cable/throttle assly. has no fuel hose near it. It saws through rubber fairly quick. Pancakers are a bit more protected than 1600's because the line is usually steel, but who knows what retrofits exist out there. Melting speaks for itself.

FINAL THOUGHT REGARDING FIRES: I will be researching the concept of how airplane pilots find out thier rear-most engine is on fire. Of course, it is a very expensive proposition. But, I'm sure the concept can be inexpensively adapted to a rear-engine vehicle.

I figured I would refresh this section a bit, although hot weather is a definate contributor to fires, my opinion is that cold weather is worse. Driving with all your windows shut, radio blasting, aux battery charging...gas heat chugging away; you usually find out too late.

One of the keys to saving your V-dub, should it insist on catching fire --- is early detection. Prevention helps a bit too.

Happy motoring to all - and I hope these tips help. Be safe!
 

belargehair

New member
Hello everyone!
I'm looking to get my first westy in 5 months time...wish me luck.

I have worked in the fire detection field for some time, and have a pretty good knowledge base on detectors.
There are smoke detectors and heat detectors.
There are diferent types of smoke detectors. Some are ion detectors which measure the level of ionization in the air (measures the products of combustion) and some only measure smoke levels ( visible smoke). There is an industrial type detector that has environmental settings on it. For example, office, warehouse, etc. Some settings are for dirty enviroments. These setting mostly rely upon heat levels. This is a really interesting challenge. The only option I see is to use an ir detector (flame detector). A simple circuit could be set up for this purpose, and a soleniod to trigger an extinguisher. Just some thoughts!

PS...
Halon is banned (at least in Canada). There are still Halon systems in place but they can't be refilled if they are released. The Halon replacement is called FM-200. It is not harmful to the ozone or as harmful to people.
 

tvp

New member
Beware of nightmare mechanics. I took my '84 Westy to a shop owner, to check the smell of fuel I was getting and just could not locate. He pointed out that there was fuel dripping into the gravel by the time I got to his shop, three blocks away. That was a mind-blower. But it gets better. I left it with him to replace whatever fuel line had croaked, and he showed up at my door two hours later, ashen-faced. Despite the obvious fuel leak, he had later started the Westy to drive it to his hoist and... kaboom! Fried all the mega-expensive electronics, and the hoses. My liability insurance didn't cover it. Three weeks and $2,000 later, I got the van back. And the moronic shop owner? He contributed $250. BE CAREFUL OUT THERE!!!
 

Capt. Mike

Moderator
Transferred to consolidate same topic.

lono Power Member Posted August 08, 2007 04:56 PM

We were traveling from Bozeman MT to Great Falls MT via White Sulfer Springs when just outside of White Sulfer an oil hose broke. A fire started and apparently the fuel hose melted feeding the fire with gasolene.
Fortunatly the rear hatch was locked or I would have faced a roaring fire. The fire extinguisher was inefective.

While I was trying to extinguish the fire my wife was throwing things, including her purse out. The resultant grass fire consumed everything she had thrown out.

The Sheriff and Firemen came and put the fire out but the van and all of our posessions were destroyed.

A man found a diafram and a short piece of frayed connected hose a few hundred yards down the hiway. He said that there was a streak of oil on the hiway. The crowd which gathered kept shouting at me to get away as there may be an explosion. A woman came up to my wife and handed her a fist full of $20 bills; $200.
The Sheriff offerded to buy lunch and put us up in a motel. We called my Uncle in Great Falls and he drove the 100 miles to White Sulfer and took us back to Great Falls.

We faced the problem on how to fly to our home in Sunnyvale, CA without a picture ID. The airlines said we would need a statement from the local police explaining the loss of a picture ID. Lt John Swoel of the Great Falls Police called the security people at the airport and instructed the office in Great Falls to give us the indenification.

All of our medications were destroyed. Walgreen's drug in Great Falls sent a message to Kaiser in California requesting our precriptions on the same day of our accident. Three days later with the help of our personal Doctor we got the precriptions.

Lono
 

James Westfall

New member
Our newly purchased 1976 westy just caught fire this AM (June 08) It was a nightmare!! We sold the thing to a mechanic and won't be getting a new one. We are lucky we got the dog out in time and the thing didn't blow because it just wouldn't stop burning ... took LA fireman to put it out. WHAT A NIGHTMARE. We are going to find something else small to camp in.
 

frito

New member
Really a sad circumstance. I will double check my gas lines etc. Sorry for the loss but lucky that everyone is ok.
 

Capt. Mike

Moderator
Maintenance & wear defects

We are, indeed, sorry for your loss. I hope you are willing to accept that the fire was not caused by any inherent defect in design or equipment. The Westy equipment, supplied by US companies, has proven extremely reliable and safe. Since the equipment was from major US suppliers to the RV industry (Manchester LP, Dometic, etc.), anything else you choose is likely to have the same suppliers.

Your Westy was 32 years old. We don't know the history and more importantly, don't know what YOU did to have it inspected and tested for safe LP when you purchased it. Tanks rust, lines get damaged, fitting break and seals get hard and leak. Like anything mechanical, Westies need constant vigil and regular maintenance, especially the LP system. The tremendous number of Westies -- during the 1970's era about half of all US sold buses were Westies -- that are still serving admirably is proof the design was sound.

RV fires in other brands are equally possible -- in fact there have been numerous recalls for fire related defects in US RVs. There has never been one for a Westy's camping equipment. I hope you found the cause and will share it with us. :confused:
 
Last edited:

JLT

New member
We are, indeed, sorry for your loss. I hope you are willing to accept that the fire was not caused by any inherent defect in design or equipment.

I'll second that. My second bus, a 1970, caught fire, and the fire was evidently caused by the fuel line that goes from the fuel pump to the carb ... either the line itself, or any of the junctions at the fuel pump, carb, and fuel filter. The fire department was there within minutes, so I was able to salvage the bus (and even put another 100K on it), but everything in the engine compartment was a total loss. A mechanic I talked to later said that this hose was the source of maybe ninety percent of the VW engine fires he'd seen.

After that, I always used clamps on the hoses and always changed the hoses once a year, whether they needed it or not. And every time the engine came out for whatever reason (every three years or so), I changed the hose that goes from the tank to the fuel pump. Cheap insurance!

I don't know if those fabric/rubber fuel lines constitute a "design defect" in the sense you mean, but they have always been a continual trouble spot for air-cooled Vee-Dubs, so any extra effort counteracting the weakness is well spent.

--JLT
 

Capt. Mike

Moderator
The Westy's fuel line longevity and replacement is probably no more or no less than any other. What folks may be experiencing -- as our Westies age out -- is that many have old fuel lines prior to the new gasahol blends. Because of oxygenation and other EPA related requirements many fuels have ethanol (alcohol) in them, which attacks natural rubbers. This may explain fuel line failure that result in fires. This would be compounded if they have already been replaced to unknown aftermarket lines, which may be price motivated. Vendors of discount aftermarket did not switch over when the manufacturers did; you can even find questionable hoses today. One of the reasons I stay with OEM.

You can be more confident of VW's after the newer hose compounds when the recommendation to use unleaded showed up in the owner's manual -- that's about when the first gashols also began showing up. Otherwise assume you have the older compound and should replace them.

Replacement on a fixed interval is fine. I prefer to do mine more on inspection, looking for spiderwebbing in the ends, hardining and loss of flexibility. I will concede that VW's fabric wrap makes visual inspection of the whole line more difficult but it also provides strength, wear resistance, protection from chaffing and support against hose bulging. Like anything, it's a compromise & choice. Discussion of fuel lines belongs in the FUEL SYSTEM forum, not here.
 
Last edited:

Top