Building a custom off-roader is a fun exercise in design and fabrication, but safety can’t be overlooked. It’s probably a good idea to stick to name-brand parts, and you’ve gotta install everything right. After all, your life depends on it when you get in hairy situations.
Just ask the guy who tried reversing his rock crawler out of Devil’s Hot Tub in Moab about a week ago. Despite careful design and good parts, the rock crawler attempting to overcome the obstacle flipped on its back, catching fire almost instantly with the driver still inside. He came out mostly unscathed, but the cause of the accident was unusual to stay the least.
The video was posted to the Beat Not Babied Facebook page, and some context was provided by one commenter named Rory Irish. We got in contact with Irish, who witnessed the accident and was the first on-site with a fire extinguisher to quell the flames. He gave an explanation of how the accident likely happened.
The fire itself can be seen in the video that’s embedded below. After a few attempts to escape the rock feature—Irish tells us the driver specifically wanted to reverse out of Devil’s Hot Tub—the vehicle accidentally flips on its lid, which seems to trigger a fire almost instantly. According to Irish, the vent tube for the fuel cell was routed up out of the tank and then back down under the passenger’s seat, which is the same place where the battery was bolted down.
“The impact was so hard it caved the top of the fuel cell up, pushing fuel and vapors out of the vent tube,” Irish told us. “It also bent the battery hold-down bracket just enough to cause the battery to shift and arc out on the mount.”
The driver wasn’t knocked unconscious or trapped in the vehicle when it flipped, and he quickly got out. Irish thinks the vehicle’s safety equipment—the cage and harness—likely saved the driver’s life. As soon as he was safe, Irish says he contained the flames with an extinguisher he retrieved from his vehicle along with another bystander. “We doused the whole area with two extinguishers to make sure it was out,” he told us.
The driver of the vehicle was not burned and escaped mostly unharmed. Apparently, the harness straps left some bruises when the vehicle flipped, but besides that, he was fine. The crawler was also relatively free of injury.
“We flipped the car over with two winches and I used my buggy to pull it out of the hot tub and onto level ground,” Irish explained. “We straightened the [battery] mount and repositioned the battery. [We also] fixed a crack in the cooling line, and the car was able to drive back to the trailhead and go on a trailer.”
Despite the fire and the damage from the rollover, the vehicle was still in drivable condition.
Although the fire’s sudden ignition inside the vehicle was shocking, Irish was quick to defend the design of the crawler, especially when dealing with commenters on social media.
“I see everyone on Facebook and Instagram saying it was improperly installed equipment or shoddy work. I call bullshit,” he told us. “The fuel cell was a name brand and mounted correctly, the battery mount was a name brand and mounted correctly.”
“That car held up great, did exactly like it was supposed to, and nobody could’ve planned or seen that coming,” he explained. “It was just that hard of an impact that it caused unforeseen things to shift and happen.”
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