There’s one way you can ruin your weekend ride that’s especially slow and painful. It’s called “burning your UTV to the ground.” If you’re lucky, you get to watch your machine slowly melt and sputter from several feet away. If you’re unlucky, you might be too busy nursing your crispy fingers to care about your impromptu $20,000 bonfire.
So let’s talk about how to keep your family safe, how to keep your vehicle from going up, and how to avoid starting fires altogether.
Fire drills are a very straightforward way to make sure your family is safe in case of a fire. It might sound silly, but if you’re like us, you’ve got some heavy-duty 5-point harnesses on your machine that aren’t as easy to unclasp as the factory 3-point seat belts are.
The issue is made worse by the fact that most fires start in the rear of the machine where you won’t see or smell anything until it’s already raging. Sometimes there are mere seconds between when you first notice you’re on fire and when it erupts to fill the cab.
You, and whoever rides with you regularly, should practice getting out of the vehicle as quickly as possible. It’s easy especially considering you get out of the cab all the time when you’re riding normally. Practice is especially important with younger kids who may not be able to intuit the best course of action during an emergency. If you have a four-seater, this is doubly important since your kids will likely be stationed in the back row, closest to the firestarter… er, engine.
With younger kids, it can pay to turn it into a game. First one out of the cab and to the tree over there gets to hold the steering wheel (in a flat open space) for a little bit, or gets a pack of M&Ms, or gets a nice cold can of beer (of the root variety). They’ll have fun and they won’t even realize you’re teaching them a critical safety skill.
After a fire does start and your passengers are a safe distance away, only then can you worry about saving your investment. If you don’t want to start a bucket line to the nearest mud hole, you’ll need to use a UTV fire extinguisher.
There are four fire extinguisher classes—A, B, C, and D—and they’re each designed for a different kind of fire. ABC extinguishers are designed to put out ordinary combustibles like wood or leaves (class A), flammable liquids like oil and gas (class B), and electrical fires (class C). The only thing it doesn’t do is put out flammable metals like magnesium (class D).
An ABC extinguisher is what you want for a UTV. It’ll cover all the fires associated with an off-road vehicle. Get a small, easy-to-handle one for your machine and learn it. Read the label and understand the steps needed to use it properly. With a fire extinguisher mounted on your machine, you’re safer already.
You need to mount your fire extinguisher in the right spot on your machine. The right spot is somewhere it won’t get damaged, somewhere easy to reach, and somewhere you won’t bang your head on it. It also needs to be mounted securely—in a rollover, an unsecured extinguisher can turn into a real head conker.
Our mounting location of choice is on the back of the rearmost cage tube. That location tends to be safe from rollovers on most vehicles, and well out of the cab so you won’t accidentally knock against it while you’re riding. You should be able to easily find a spot like that on any side-by-side. Just remember, you’re going to roll over more than you’re going to catch on fire, so keep that fire extinguisher safe!
You should make your fire extinguisher part of your pre-ride inspection. Make sure the pressure is in the green zone and check for dirt and grime in the nozzle. Also, make sure it isn’t damaged. Get it refilled if the pressure’s too low, clean it if it’s dirty, and replace it if it’s damaged. Easy peasy.
A lot of folks like to carry gas cans out with them on the trail. It’s a great way to extend your range and your weekend, but it does come with some inherent risks. Gas has to be safely secured, leakproof, and safely transportable.
Don’t show up on the trail with a milk jug full of gasoline and expect to have a good time. You need a good metal or plastic gas can that’s designed for gas and properly labeled.
If you get a metal “safety can,” be sure it’s UL or FM approved. That will tell you that it’s not going to spill, leak, or explode. To meet certification, they must have flame arresters, self-closing lids, pressure relief mechanisms, and they have to withstand leak testing.
Standard plastic cans don’t get the same certification or have the same requirements, but you should look for some of the same safety features. The nozzle should be self closing and still vent vapors.
And make sure your cans are red. Style doesn’t matter when it comes to color choices—red is for gas.
Gas cans are not like other cans, so you may be wondering how to fill one up. Whenever you fill up a gas can, you need to put it on the ground. This prevents static charge buildup from a plastic can rubbing on a plastic bed liner and dissipates any static charge you might’ve picked up. You should also make sure you touch the gas nozzle to the can you’re filling up. That will help prevent an electrostatic discharge as well.
Most cans have a fill line marked on them as well. Don’t fill up past this line. Leave room for expansion and contraction as temperatures fluctuate to avoid any leaks or spills.
Before you fly down the trail with 10 gallons of gas sloshing around on the back of your Maverick, ask yourself if you really need all this gas. Are you going to get that far away from camp? Are you really going get through a whole tank of gas before you make a pit stop?
If the answer is “no,” keep your gas back at the campground (in a shaded, well ventilated area) and just use them to fill up when you get back. There’s no reason to increase your risk just because.
You can’t just throw your gas can in the bed of your RZR, run a bungee cord through the handle, and call it good. On a rugged ride, there’s no way it’ll stay upright. If a nozzle breaks or leaks, you’ll have gas pouring directly down on your hot engine, and then you’ve got a serious situation.
You could use some ratchet straps to keep them secure, but it would be better to invest in a rack or box that’s designed specifically to keep gas cans on a UTV. Remember, you don’t want friction, and using ratchet straps
You can also get gas cans that are built just for rugged off-road use. Companies like Rotopax make cans that can be mounted to your spare tire, roll cage, or a number of other locations.
What’s the best way to add insult to injury if your UTV turns into a barbecue? Let it catch the brush and trees around it on fire. A wildfire is a way bigger problem than your new insurance claim. A wildfire can ruin your favorite trail, cause millions of dollars in damage, put hundreds or thousands of people in danger, and land you in the slammer.
Once it’s clear that you’re not going to contain the fire on your machine, you should start clearing brush, building fire breaks, and throwing dirt on any fire that makes the leap from your vehicle to the greenery around your vehicle. As a wise bear once said, “you’re the one that can keep the forest from catching on fire.” Or something like that.
A little common sense combined with the right tools for the job can keep you safe and cool on all your rides. Fire safety is no joke, but being prepared is half the battle. Be sure to check your VIN for any recalls, too. And if your crew is ready to jump out of their seats in a moments notice to fight a side-by-side fire, then that’s one less thing you have to worry about.
Off-roading is all about being cool—and you definitely don’t want to be the person that’s hot.