Planning fire protection for your collector car

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Prewar Bugatti, original artwork by Wallace Wyss.

[Editor’s note: While authorities are still at work determining the death toll in the recent California fires, some thought is already being given by homeowners in regards to further protection of their four-wheeled valuables from the next fire. Car writer/collector/fine artist Wallace Wyss sent us this article.]

Having had the unique experience of driving my Mercedes-Benz 300SL Gullwing out of a burning building, I can add a little advice on protecting your classic car from the threat of fire. Here are 10 tips to keep in mind:

1. Store it with the key in it, or at least readily accessible.

True, a thief could break in your garage or the garage working on your car and steal it, but believe me — when the building is on fire, no one is going to take too long to search for the keys.

2. Make sure neighbors know how to start your car and get it in gear.

Let’s face it — in 2018, driving a manual transmission vehicle is a dying skill. Wouldn’t it be a shame if your Porsche or Ferrari roasted because someone didn’t know how to let out the clutch, or even put the car in neutral?

3. Move it at the first sign of fire.

Even if the fire is five miles away, move the car if you live in high-risk fire area. One report I read from Malibu cited a Ferrari Testarossa owner who moved his car to the beach; true, it will get covered by ash and salt-laden dew at night, but there’s less chance of it burning in a cement parking lot than in a wood-frame garage surrounded by shrubbery.

4. Always keep the car on four wheels.

Having the original wheels repainted? Put “slave” wheels on with old tires, thus enabling the car to be moved. A car can’t be rolled out of the garage if it’s on jackstands.

5. Don’t pile stuff on it.

You’ve let your non-running car become a shelf for boxes of old magazines and clothes? If a fire is coming, who has time to move all that (combustible) stuff?

6. Don’t have non-valuable cars obstructing the path of valuable ones.

An acquaintance has a pricey Italian sports car — worth more than his three-bedroom home — but it’s blocked by three or four junkyard cars in his driveway, likely worth little more than their salvage value. The pathway for rolling out the valuable car should remain unimpeded the whole time — don’t let a sentimental attachment cause you a financial hardship.

7. Aim the car outward.

Even if your significant other or neighbor can’t drive a stick, they can easily roll the car if it’s aimed out of the garage. Keep the wheels pointed forward, too — if the keys are lost and the steering wheel locks, the car may not make it out the door otherwise.

8. Take neighbors for rides in non-fire season (assuming there IS a non-fire season).

Let them drive your collector car, and put it in reverse from a standstill. You may be 50 miles away when the fire alert comes, so having a dependable and knowledgeable neighbor — who can move your car out of harm’s way — gives peace of mind.

9. Reduce combustible clutter in your garage.

Minimize the amount of rags and drop cloths you keep on hand, and never store things like oily rags in your garage. Try to minimize the amount of combustible liquid, too, and beware of storing dangerous and highly reactive chemicals — like pool chlorine — in the garage.

10. Keep an A-B-C rated fire extinguisher on hand.

Though it won’t do much good in a wildfire, a fire extinguisher rated for A (trash, wood, and paper), B (flammable liquids), and C (electrical equipment) could be the difference between a minor inconvenience and a major insurance claim. Make sure it’s mounted in an easily accessible place inside the garage, and checked regularly since extinguishers will lose pressure over time. It’s a good idea to practice with an extinguisher as well — putting out burning gasoline isn’t as easy as it looks.

THE AUTHOR/ARTIST Wallace Wyss is the author of 18 car histories. As a fine artist, he is currently painting portraits of collector cars, like the Bugatti above. He can be reached at mendoart7@gmail.com.

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