Post Collision fuel-fed fires can have catastrophic results for occupants of these vehicles.
In each of these types of cases, the automotive engineer must first try to eliminate the hazard, or at least break the fire triangle. The fire triangle is the presence of oxygen, fuel and an ignition source. However, since the ignition factor oxygen, is near impossible to eliminate in a real world collision the most likely engineering solution lies in the protection of the fuel system or “fuel containment.” Preventing a crash induced fuel spill is the purpose of fuel system integrity engineering.
According to the Highway Safety Research Institute, up to 3,500 deaths each year can be contributed to post-collision fuel fed fires and over 10,000 suffer some form of burns each year in such collisions. However, other studies believe the death rate is closer to 400-700 per year.
The risks of fuel fed fires go up dramatically as the speed of the impact increases. At the same time the size of the vehicle also contributes to the frequency and survivability of post-collision fuel fed fires.
The majority of automotive fuel tanks are constructed low carbon hot rolled sheet steel and protected from corrosion with a material most known as “terne coating.” Most tanks are stamped in two pieces (halves), fitted with the fuel line fittings, and holes, with a steel bafle welded inside the tank. Then the two halves are seem welded together to complete the tank. The tanks are then pressure tested for leaks.
The safest location for fuel tanks is the area, which is least likely to be impacted or intruded during a crash. Through years of studying crashes, two locations have been formed to be the “safest.” These are “over the rear axle and forward the rear axle” and conversely, the two most dangerous locations have been the placement “rear mounted under the floor pan” and side mounted outside vehicle’s protective frame (see), because of the frequency of rear end collisions the rear mounted fuel tanks under the floor pans are particularly dangerous due to close proximity of the crash zone from rear end collisions. Therefore, many manufacturers have been forced to move the tanks further away from the rear bumper or provided protective shields to prevent their rapture.
Fuel Tanks and Fuel Systems fail due to well-known and well-documented reasons:
Relocation, location and/or shielding of rupture or puncture are the single and most practical solution to fuel fed fires. It is no secret that the more potential for fires. Another practical solution is the shielding or guarding from intrusions into the tank zone. Beginning in 1977 in some vehicles a high density, plastic shield was placed under or against the tank to prevent puncture by the differential or drive draft during a collision. Other designs included bladders located in the fuel tanks, high density polyethylene plastic tanks and breakaway fittings on the filler pipe to allow.
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