How your car could start the next big wildfire

MEDFORD, Ore. — Ray Egbert says he’s had a number of people stop by his Medford exhaust shop, “J & L Muffler,” with the same problem during fire season… a catalytic converter that’s no longer working.

If you don’t know what a catalytic converter is, Egbert says every car from the ’70s on has one. The device helps reduce toxic gases and pollutants from a vehicle’s engine leading to cleaner emissions.

But when it overheats, it’s dangerous.

“It will bounce out the tailpipe, hit the side of the freeway in the dry brush, and that’s where you get your spot fires going down the highway,” he said.

And it’s a lot more common than you’d think.

Bill Smith of the Oregon Department of Forestry says every fire season they have to put out flames after a catalytic converter breaks down.

“Every catalytic converter is eventually going to go bad,” said Smith. “It’s just a matter of time and use.”

He says there are many ways it can happen. From not keeping up on your vehicle’s maintenance, to pulling over your car onto a bed of tall, dry grass.

“It doesn’t have to be a hot day even… all it has to be is a hot vehicle and dry fuel,” he said.

Jay Wolfman from Kelly’s Automotive Center in Medford says he’s also seen it first-hand.

“The catalytic converter… the parts inside the catalyst itself it heats up [and] was actually coming apart… coming out the exhaust in pieces flaming hot pieces of metal,” he said.

Wolfman says a basic vehicle inspection could not only save your life but others as well.

“We want to do everything we all can do to keep those fire levels down. And properly maintaining your vehicle, is one way we can do that,” he said.

However, catalytic converters are just one way that cars create wildfires.

Last year’s devastating Carr Fire in Redding started after rims scraped asphalt creating sparks. While in southern Oregon, we’ve seen fires start from vehicles dragging chains along I-5.

For more tips on vehicle safety this fire season, click here.

© 2023 KOBI-TV NBC5. All rights reserved unless otherwise stated.

Skip to content