By Bill Crowley, Chubb & Son
What’s the biggest financial exposure that owners of valuable automobiles confront? Leaving aside a depressed sales market, a collision is the top risk followed by fire. There is a sea of difference between these two threats, however. A collision will bang up just one owned vehicle (at a time), but a fire can destroy or otherwise damage several cars in one fell swoop, assuming they’re all stored in the same place. Financially, the outcome can be devastating.
There are two basic fire risks—the “internal” and the “external,” I’ll call them. The former is a fire that is caused by something inside or connected to the vehicle, such as a battery charger that overheats or a fuel system that leaks and ignites. The latter is a premises fire that spreads. Chubb recently experienced a claim for a car collection that was seriously damaged by fire. The culprit—overloaded circuits in the electrical system of the steel building in which the vehicles were stored. Even though the metal structure itself didn’t burn, the insulation went up in flames and fell on the cars. Chubb covered the cost of new paintjobs and replacing the cars’ interiors, many of which were damaged because the tops were down on the convertible cars.
There are several ways to reduce the risk of fire, chief among them is to take a penetrating look at the storage facility, whether you own or lease it. Does it have upgraded wiring? How is the building maintained? Is it cluttered with flammable materials or combustible automotive supplies like gasoline and oil? Does it have a fire detection system? If it has a fire detection system, is it connected to a central alarm station or does it just simply ring a bell that no one may hear? Is there a sprinkler system on site?
Beyond these simple precautions are other mitigating factors to consider. For example, in the event of fire, what is the evacuation plan? If one vehicle cannot start will it block the others from exiting? Are there several, different modes of egress if more than one vehicle is housed in the structure? And these are just the “external” risks.
With regard to “internal” fire threats, routine attention and care must be given an automobile’s electrical system. Chubb recently handled a claim filed by the owner of a 40-year-old MG with 40-year-old wires—some of them bare of insulation because of their age. A periodic inspection would have uncovered this wear and tear. Evaluating the automobile’s fuel system is similarly advised—from the fuel tank to the carburetion or fuel injection system—prowling for deteriorating hoses and small holes. If the fuel system is pressurized, even the tiniest puncture can create a dangerous situation.
A caveat to owners storing their prized and pricey car collections at home—consider sheltering the vehicles in a structure separate from the residence to contain the spread of fire. Not everything has to go up in smoke!
About the Author – Bill Crowley has been racing cars since his late teens and has restored several vintage British automobiles. Today, he owns an open-cockpit D Sports Racer and regularly competes at Watkins Glen International and other tracks. For the past 34 years, Bill’s “day job” has been at Chubb & Son, a leading insurer of valuable vintage vehicles and other collectible cars for more than four decades. As its worldwide automobile claim manager, he has seen his share of unusual losses—insured and uninsured. As someone who knows cars inside out, he has unique insight and singular wisdom on how to avoid them. Visit www.chubbcollectorcar.com for more information about classic car insurance.