Yesterday, the day after Christmas, I travelled from Cape Town to Oudtshoorn and saw in the distance thick white smoke with traffic coming to a near standstill. On approaching the cause of the congested traffic my heart went out to a gentleman standing next to a vehicle that suffered severe damage from engine fire!
I could not help but reflect on how different this Christmas time turned out for him and how he might recover from this loss… Would he be able to repair the vehicle or claim damages from some car insurance product or someone?
What is causing the fire?
This is unfortunately something that occurs at roadside far more frequent than is necessary – in most cases vehicle fire is indeed preventable!
Most car fires aren’t caused by accidents, but by poor car maintenance. According to the National Fire Protection Association, collisions or turnovers caused only three percent of vehicle fires. Leaks, breaks in parts, electrical or mechanical failure and even worn-out parts are the more common causes of car fires.
On the Arrive Alive website we find information on how to prevent vehicle fire in a section titled Escape and Safety from Vehicle fire
What does the policy terms and conditions stipulate?
To answer the question of whether car insurance will cover vehicle fire, it is best to refer to some of the wording to be found in car insurance policies. The most common car insurance policies are comprehensive car insurance and policies for third party, fire and theft. We would like to refer to some of these descriptions:
- “Comprehensive covers your vehicle for losses other than collision. This can include covering for your car if it is stolen, damaged by flood, fire or animals among other things. Without this coverage and with only liability on your vehicle, unfortunately a fire of unknown origin would not be covered.
- “Your insurance policy covers unplanned, catastrophic events, not mechanical failure. Now if a mechanical failure ends up causing another event like a fire, then that is covered, but only the fire damage.”
- “Every car insurance policy has a list of events that are covered. Collision covers exactly that: collisions with other vehicles. Comprehensive covers factors such as vandalism, flooding, hurricanes, theft and fire. The cause of the engine failure must be a covered event. For instance, if collision or vandalism caused the failure, then it would be covered by your insurance. However, if the failure were caused by low oil levels, then it would not be covered.”
- If the mechanical damage is not as a result of an insured event (peril) that is covered under your Comprehensive Short Term Insurance Policy, you cannot claim for the mechanical damages. If however, you were involved in an accident that caused mechanical damage, your comprehensive policy will cover these damages.
What does the Ombudsman say about damage by mechanical failure?
“ ‘Comprehensive’ does not really mean what it says, but a Comprehensive Motor Policy is intended to indemnify the Insured against most of the ordinary ways in which his vehicle can be lost or damaged, and also against the claims of third parties for loss of or damage to their vehicles, or as a result of personal injury or death not covered by Road Accident Fund, or loss of or damage to other people’s property as a result of a motor accident.
Thus, with the usual Comprehensive Policy you will be covered against loss of the vehicle or damage to it, which happens as a result of an accident, and you will also be covered if the vehicle is stolen or hijacked, or if anybody makes a claim against you for damage to their property as a result of a motor accident in which you vehicle is involved.
“Third Party, Fire and Theft insurance”
This is a less expensive Policy which indemnifies you only if your vehicle is damaged or destroyed by fire or theft ( NOT as a result of a motor accident ), or if some third party alleges a claim against you as a result of your negligent driving of the vehicle.”
From the above it becomes clear that the answer to the question is to be found with reference to the cause of the fire. The engine is regarded as a mechanical item that fails most likely due to poor maintenance or lack of oil from an unrepaired leak or even from over-revving. If these are the causes of the engine fire – normal car insurance will not cover you!
Are there alternatives to finding protection for vehicle fire and mechanical failure?
It is important to differentiate between an insurance policy and a warranty. A warranty protects the vehicle owner from mechanical failure – a car insurance policy does not – but rather protects from damage suffered as a result of accidents, theft and hijacking!
Normal car insurance, even comprehensive car insurance does not cover mechanical or electrical breakdown. Once your car’s warranty has expired and you wish to protect yourself from vehicle failure – you will need to consider your options.
- decide to do nothing,
- extend your vehicle warranty or
- take out mechanical breakdown insurance.
There are many insurers offering Mechanical Breakdown Insurance
The cover and benefits will vary depending on the type of policy you take out and can include any, or all, of the following: engine, electrical system, gearbox, differential, drive shafts, steering, fuel system, air-conditioner, electronic ignition and braking and cooling systems.
We would like to alert vehicle owners to also closely scrutinize the terms and conditions of mechanical breakdown insurance. A number of exclusions could apply. The owner is usually responsible for fair wear and tear and will also pay for any maintenance items such as seals, wheel bearings, clutch plate, pressure plate and release bearing.
Advice to Vehicle Owners
It is best to rather prevent and avoid engine fire and vehicle failure through proper vehicle maintenance. Failure to do so will increase not only the risk of losing your vehicle – but also risk the lives of passengers, other road users and even threaten environmental safety!