Can a Car Engine Explode? How to Prevent it?

The explosion of a car engine is nothing like some firecracker. Sometimes it just smokes with a blown-out motor, or fire due to overheating and oil leaks, which can get quite messy.    

Either way, a car engine can explode and for multiple reasons. And in this article, we will discuss the reasons and different ways to prevent a car engine from exploding.     

Can a Car Engine Explode?

A car engine can explode but in a slightly different way than it is shown to us. Unlike movies where a car flies in the air due to a massive explosion, in real life, you might have a random fire due to oil leaks. Or maybe the battery blows up due to overcharging.

Or your engine can also get extremely stressed and cracks open spurting all the fuel like those youtube videos. In some cases of overheating, meltdowns of engines also happen. In any scenario, it takes more than some engine malfunction to blow up the engine completely. 

That’s because they are designed to contain explosions. An internal combustion engine has over 100s of small explosions every minute. These are precisely controlled explosions that happen in a very confined space. So if there are any malfunctions with engine operation they would just shut down. 

But car engines do explode with a pop and a fire. So when does that happen? And how? 

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When Can a Car Engine Explode? 

As I mentioned, a car engine can explode due to multiple reasons. These can result differently in different scenarios. 

Overheating Engine: 

Overheating is one of the most common reasons for engine fires. While overheating itself doesn’t do much, car engines have enough inflammable materials that with slight heat can burst into flames. 

In case of overheating which can be regular or excessive at once, the engine temps rise at an incredible rate. This increases the overall ambient temperature by boiling the coolant and oil inside. Usually, this results in engine bay smoke and you find out. 

But when you don’t, the excessive heat produced can not only spurt the hot coolant and oil out. The high temp and pressure crack the cylinder blocks and cause multiple leaks from the engine itself. So when the oil, fuel meets the hot engine surface, it suddenly bursts into fire.  

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How to prevent overheating? 

Overheating doesn’t happen casually. An engine overheats when the cooling system fails to work. Generally, any engine uses oil and coolant to keep it cool. So if oil or coolant leaks or forms sludge, the heat won’t dissipate and result in overheating. 

Regular maintenance of the engine with the proper oil and coolant levels is the best way to prevent overheating. 

Engine Oil/Coolant/fluid Leak:

Again, oil and coolant leak causes overheating which can result in an engine fire. But they are not the only reason. In any car, you have different types of fluid moving in different parts. You have engine oil, engine coolant, transmission fluid, brake fluid, steering fluid all of which are flammable. 

As these fluids have their separate secure lines/plumbing they hardly have any chance of leaking. However in an unlikely scenario with a failed pump, cut lines or even collision can damage their plumbing and cause leak. With the engine’s hot temperature and its flammable nature, fire is usually the result.   

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How to prevent Oil/Coolant/fluid leak?

Oil and coolant leaks are easier to identify. Your engine will run hot, you get smokes, and the performance becomes harsh. However, with other fluids that have very little chance of leaking. Identifying those leaks is necessary when you might have an accident, had a rough drive or if a certain function feels odd. 

For example, a brake fluid leak can cause brake failure or a lack of braking power. Steering gets hard and rash if your power steering fluid drops to zero. 

Engine Battery Pack:

Exploding batteries are nothing new. A sudden mixture of chemicals can result in quite the fireworks. In the automotive industry, the battery we use is called lead-acid as they have lead submerged into sulphuric acid. 

The battery gives us electrical energy that helps in the ignition and operation of other electronic components. But when a battery is charged/discharged, it produces hydrogen gas. 

So when a battery is either completely discharged or overcharged, the hydrogen can get ignited due to ignition action or high voltage, which given its nature results in a big explosion. 

The most common reason for battery explosion, however, is dirty battery posts/ cables which create an electrical arc. Most explosions happen either while igniting or jumpstarting. 

How to prevent Battery explosion?   

A battery explosion doesn’t happen daily. So there isn’t much to do to prevent it. However, caution is needed when performing battery-related operations. Unless you know enough, it is better to leave that to the professionals. Regular cleanup of the battery post and checking on the wires are good enough precautions.  

Cut Fuel line/Fuel leak:

Engine fires and explosions due to fuel leak is the most understandable and obvious reason. Since the fuel is the most flammable substance in an automobile they are ensured to never leak. Fuel tanks are reinforced and fuel pipes are pressurized to ensure proper flow. 

However, fuel leaks can still happen and they are not easily identified. While it is rare for fuel to leak inside the engine bay, the fuel pipe goes all the way to the ground which can lead the fire to the engine bay or the fuel tank.   

Fuel leaks can occur due to rotten fuel tanks, cut fuel lines, or bad/faulty fuel injectors and pressure regulators. Small fuel puddles under the car and smell are the most common symptoms of a fuel leak. 

How to prevent fuel leaks? 

Fuel leaks aren’t something to be prevented as they happen randomly. It can only be identified and fixed. If you have had regular fuel leaks, changing the fuel tank and pipes is a safer solution.  

If you notice a fuel leak for the first time, try to keep your vehicle away from any sort of heat source and get professional help. In case of an accident, if you have a fuel leak, STEP AWAY.      

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Are there any Engines that are More Likely to Explode? 

Well, engines aren’t made to explode, but certain engines have quite the history. Most of which is due to manufacturers’ failures, for which the manufacturers had to make recalls. 

Recently both Kia and Hyundai had to recall an overall 600,000 vehicles over potential fire issues. Similarly, Toyota’s 4Runner, Chrysler 300, BMW 3 /and 4series, Mercedes C-class, GMC sierra are some of the vehicles that have been recalled before in the US. 

The cars that are more prone to explosions are also the ones with the least engine reliability ratings. These cars according to Consumer Reports are 2013 Hyundai Sante Fe, 2012 Subaru Forester, 2011 Audi A4, 2011 Chevrolet Equinox, 2013 BMW X3, 2015 Ford Mustang.  

Can a Car Engine Explode without a Reason? 

No, nothing happens without a reason. For an explosion to happen you need air, fuel, and a spark or heat source. While the engine has all three, it is inside the engine in a controlled environment. 

For that to happen big enough to cause an engine explosion, any of the above-mentioned situations needs to happen. The least needed for an engine explosion is an overheated engine with a blown head gasket.     

What Other Car Parts can Explode?

Other than the engine, you have the massive fuel tank, tire, muffler of the exhaust, battery packs if you have EV, oil filter, airbags, and CNG cylinders can explode. The things that can cause fire are the fuel tank, battery, and gas cylinders only.     

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Can You Prevent Your Car Parts from Explosion?

Explosions in-car usually happen either due to lack of information where the driver has no idea of what is going on. Or if you have a major collision. 

Following traffic laws with healthy driving practices is good enough to save you from collisions and traffic accidents. As for preventing unwanted explosions, having proper maintenance is more than good enough. Also not ignoring any engine faults, warning lights, oil, and coolant leaks are the best way to keep your engine safe from any sort of explosion.