Manitoba Public Insurance wants the public to check on their extension cords after several vehicle fires have been attributed to faulty or broken extension cords.

Each year, approximately 1,000 vehicles are damaged by problematic extension cords and block heater cords, said MPI.

The majority of the blazes take place in winter.

Cracked or damaged extension cords or block heater cords, or cords with corroded plugs can result in an electrical arc that can quickly spark a fire. Corrosion can occur thanks to moisture, dirt, and road salts, and damage can occur due to driving over the cord or pulling away while the car is still plugged in.

George Murray, a fire investigator for MPI, said that people don’t realize that they’ve likely caused damage each time they drive away with their extension cord still attached to their vehicle.

“When you plug it in, if you hear that sizzling noise or any sparking whatsoever, that means you've got a short going on. You've got a problem, a big problem,” said Murray. “The colder the weather gets, of course the more people are plugging in their vehicles, and the more fires we're getting from extension cords and block heater cords.”

MPI also recommends that people not plug in their vehicle when it is parked in a garage or enclosed structure. They say that the shelter provided by being parked indoors should be enough to start a vehicle even in the coldest temperatures.

Cars that are involved in a fire are inspected by an MPI fire investigator, who checks for the cause of the fire. In some cases, the blaze is determined to be deliberate, which causes further investigation by MPI’s special investigation unit, said officials.

MPI offers these safety tips for checking on your extension cords and block heater plugs:

  • Don't drive over your extension cord. This can cause cracking/breaking during bitterly cold weather.
  • Cover your block heater plug-in with its protective cover.
  • Unplug your block heater by using the hard, rubber end. Pulling on the electrical cord can cause breakage and potential electrical issues.
  • Have your block heater cord inspected each fall by a qualified mechanic.