Firstly, it is NOT common for a Nissan GT-R to catch fire . However, in the rare occasions that this has happened it has become an understandable talking point within the GT-R community. We see more GT-Rs than anyone in the UK and we take the responsibility of looking after our customer cars very serious so naturally we share their concerns. Fire and its prevention has always been important to us and in 25+ years of business we have only seen a few fires.
We have seen cars catch fire online when they are being used inappropriately like “popping & Banging” and owners are trying to make flames while the car is stationary but we’ll ignore these as they are intentionally generating excessive heat with no air flow from a very unhappy, bore washed engines. We have also seen cars have fires at the front from failed engines/fuel systems and this is one of the reasons our kits have always been routed away from the heat source. We have even seen a few from aftermarket daylight running lights. These are not the type of fires our customers have been concerned about.
We service and tune around 7-10 different Nissan R35 GT-Rs every day since 2008 and so far we’re aware of 5 cars in the UK and 1 in Europe that have unfortunately caught fire and a couple of these could not be saved. We have had a number of these car recovered into our workshop for investigation and/or repair and we had built up an understanding of what might be happening but as you can imagine it is often difficult to pinpoint the cause with the extensive damage that fire creates. However recently we had a GT-R in that had a separate fault and on further inspection it was clearly about to have a more serious fire and it therefore gave a valuable insight into what might be happening.
We thought we should put this information onto our website blog along with our suggested solutions to act as a resource for concerned owners along with our position for online discussions.
All the cars we have seen catching fire in this manner have a 2017+ onwards rear bumpers and Titanium exhausts. We have seen it happen to a standard car which caught fire in traffic during the 40degree heatwave of the summer of 2022 shortly after filling up the car with fuel. The other cars have had varying degrees of modifications and power levels. We have also seen a number of 2017+ GT-Rs with staining around the fuel filler cap from the hot fuel vapour leaking.
The fires typically occur behind the rear drivers side bumper (on a Right Hand Drive car). This area has a number of possible causes and flammable items close to the exhaust system. There is wiring looms for the fuel pump controllers, fabric wheel arch liners, polystyrene bumper supports, plastic and rubber vent and the engine/fuel tank charcoal canister.
Some of these cars have also had our fuel tank breather tank but on each instance the fire was further back from this and the tanks still contained small amounts of fuel which had not ignited and the inside of the plastic caps were undamaged. Even so it was and is an additional concern.
Our thoughts varied on the cause with each car we saw but the general conclusion was that the heat from the exhaust had melted the plastic charcoal canister (itself full of fuel soaked charcoal) behind the bumper. We have also seen the charcoal canisters come away (mainly on track cars) as they only slot into place and when they become loose and hang down they hang close to the exhaust. The wiring in this area could also short and cause an ignition point which is why we have not seen fires on the other side of the car but as mentioned before it’s hard to tell after the fact.
We have a good customer that has had us work on his GT-Rs since 2012 and over the years his 2nd 2017 GT-R has had upgrades that have created a 1,000+bhp monster. The car had been running a titanium exhaust and this kind of power since early 2021 but recently it had developed an issue with its’ Air Ride system (also mounted in the right rear of the boot) then an intermittent fuel pump problem. The car was brought into us for inspection and when we removed the rear carpet we discovered the wiring had begun to melt in the right hand corner. We removed the rear bumper we were surprised to see how close the car had come to catching alight.
From the back of the car there was evidence of soot up behind the bumper and the sealant on the underside of the boot floor had started to become burnt.
The rear boot has a set of release vents on either side which allow pressure to escape from behind the bumper when the boot is closed. These vents use a soft rubber flaps that are held in place by a plastic case. This cars’ right hand vent had the plastic completely melt away and the rubber flap is distorted from the heat. The wiring loom for the fuel pump controllers has begun to melt the outer plastic cover and this was the cause of the intermittent fuel pump issue. Further along the fabric wheel arch liner has started to burn away with the heat and this left the internal white fabric exposed.
When you view the car from the rear without the bumper you can see a perfect corridor for the heat from the exhaust to travel down; under the body sealant, past the wiring and vent before finishing on exactly the spot where the wheel arch liner has begun to burn!
Interestingly this corridor is blocked off on the earlier GT-R models by their different bumper design. The MY17+ bumpers also have more prominent edges which are designed to improve the aerodynamics. We found with some of our track cars this does help and creates more of a vacuum at the rear of the car. While improving drag and downforce it also reduces airflow around the back of the bumper and this will retain more heat. The adoption of Titanium exhausts on the MY17+ cars (like the standard car that caught fire) and the aftermarket ones that have had fires will also radiate more heat.
Like so many mechanical issues it is often not just the case of one stand out fault that can cause this type of problem but a combination of factors. Warm weather and more trapped heat all conspire to make conditions more susceptible to fire. Maybe the cars that have caught fire had experienced similar conditions for long periods and eventually their wiring looms failed which caused the spark needed to create the ignition source. We’ll never really know but at least we can try and reduce the vulnerability of the area.
Solutions moving forward
The simple solution is to block the path for the heat to travel and for this we have produced a pre-formed metal heat shield which bolts securely behind the rear crash bar. This cost effective fix (£45+vat) helps stop the heat travelling backwards along the corridor. The install requires the rear bumper to be removed but it only takes a couple of hours to complete the work. With the bumper removed we also place heat reflective tape on the underside of the polystyrene bumper support. Polystyrene is very flammable and for the sake of 10mins and some tape it seems a sensible addition.
We would also recommend wrapping the rear section of the exhaust especially if it is Titanium system or the car is running additional power. To combat a separate problem, we have already produced new exhaust heat shields which neatly bolt above most systems (including larger 102mm pipes) to help reduce the transfer of heat into the fuel system when cars are used on track however these will also help reduce heat building up in general.
The charcoal canisters can be made to sit in position more securely and additional heat protection for bigger power cars would be worthwhile. We will be adding additional securing measures, free of charge, anytime we’re working or servicing in this area. On older cars we have seen the charcoal canister become blocked overtime which affects the way the fuel system breaths but they are also a secondary source of fuel should a fire start. Our technicians have all been advised to pay particular attention to these areas when working on a GT-R.
We think on many sports cars and especially one as quick and popular on track as the GT-R should all be carrying a decent handheld fire extinguisher. GT-Rs that are used extensively on track should consider installing a motorsport extinguisher system.
We are always happy to talk through any concerns owners may have but remember these fires have happened to a tiny percentage of very unlucky owners.
Drive safely and let us know any questions.