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328 GTS Fire!!! Serious Help needed

Discussion in 'Technical Q&A' started by slong, Feb 14, 2004.

  1. slong

    slong Rookie

    Feb 14, 2004
    17
    After 1 month of not being driven, I took my 1989 328 GTS out for a spin. Acceleration was sluggish and "Slow Down" light was on...after 4 miles I pulled over and noticed flames shooting out of the back bumper, near the left exhaust pipe (not out of the pipe). After throwing dirt, yes dirt, at the fire, it finally went out...before the fire dept arrived. Rear bumper is a total loss with soot and hopefully only minor flame damage to the rear panel. Any thoughts as to cause? I'm in the process of shipping it to IFS (near Boston, MA) to fix. Any comments or suggestions would be highly welcome. Thank you in advance.
     
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  3. Mike328

    Mike328 F1 Rookie
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    Oct 19, 2002
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    Very, very sorry to hear about your unfortunate situation. Bad luck, but you're fortunate: things could have been worse.

    The direct cause of your fire was you driving four miles with the "Slow Down" light on. That light illuminates when the temperature of your front or rear bank exhaust flow is too hot; the temperature is (on my 308 anyway) taken at the catalytic converters.

    What happened (my opinion) was that you lost ignition on a bank due to a distributor failure or ignition coil failure, or something to cause the coils to fail (for example, alternator or alternator voltage regulator failing).

    By ignoring the light, you continued to "dump" uncombusted fuel down your engine's cylinders on the affected bank (since the fuel was not igniting due to the ignition problem in one of the banks). This uncombusted fuel then did in fact combust in your exhaust pipe, notably, at the catalytic converters which were probably approaching on the order of 1400 degrees Fahrenheit when the slow down light first lit up. (Slow down lights light up when the temperature reaches a certain point; before they stay fully lit up, I believe, the flash.)

    Quite literally, not stopping, you continued to feed the hot cats with this unburned fuel, throwing "fuel on the fire" so to speak, and at some point the cats themselves caught on fire and started to burn.

    The exact same thing happened to me in New Mexico on my 1978 308, back in November of 2002. If I had stopped when the slow down light lit up, I'd have had no problem (other than fixing the underlying problem). Fortunately, 1/2mi later when things were already "ablaze," a cowboy in a pickup, travelling with me down I-25, yelled "FIRE!" which got me to pull over. If not, the car would have burned to the ground because I, too, did not know to stop when the slow down light illuminated.

    Consider yourself lucky, then, that you caught it when you did.

    You probably have, in addition to cosmetic damage, a trashed catalytic converter, possibly a damaged or destroyed exhaust header on the affected bank (front or rear, rear for me); and possibly a destroyed temperature sensor ("Thermocouple?") on the affected cat. There is probably other damage, too: fuel hoses, oil intercooler, some thick oil hoses, everything back there needs to be thoroughly inspected.

    The root cause could have been an ignition failure, again, due to improperly operating ignition coils, or to a catastrophic distributor failure (or wiring around the distributor).

    There may be other explanations a well, and others should chime in with their thoughts.

    I would strongly recommend 1. Looking at your battery. How's water levels? Are the caps blown off (too much voltage). 2. Bench testing your alternator. 3. Testing your ignition coils. 4. Inspecting distributors.

    Many would recommend Wide World of Cars (in NY, I believe), a FerrariChat sponsor, as a very reputable Ferrari shop relatively near to you, to help you restore your car.

    By the way, I called my insurance company recently and asked about "What if my car catches on fire going down the highway?" It's covered (State Farm) under comprehensive, for me anyway, or at least that's what they tell me. My insurance agent herself had a Celica or something in college whose engine caught on fire :).

    I wish you luck in figuring out the root cause of the problem, and in restoring your 328. An 89 328, like all 328s, is an amazing machine.


    --Mike
     
  4. henryk

    henryk Formula Junior

    Dec 9, 2003
    479
    Door County, WI
    Could be as simple as a loose coil wire, after the engine got fully warmed. The gas flooded the hot cat......causing the slow down lite to come on...... and a fire starts. This happened to my TR, by the previous owner. Fortunately, damage was minimal........burnt paint on a frame cross member........bumper was OK.

    This would be something to check in addition to the obvious things, like loose fuel connections.

    If a fuel pump goes, then one will have sluggish performance, but no fire.......due to no fuel.
     
  5. GrigioGuy

    GrigioGuy Splenda Daddy
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    Nov 26, 2001
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    The situation you describe is symptomatic of a dead ignition on 1 bank of the motor. The engine is essentially 2 four cylinder motors with a common crank, and has 2 ignition systems. If 1 of the ignition systems is dead then that side of the motor doesn't burn fuel, but rather passes it through.

    That unburnt fuel lights off in the catalytic converter, and you know the results. The slow down light comes on when the temperature in the cat exceeds (I believe) 900 degrees.

    The poor acceleration is due to the car being down 4 cylinders and the light was due to the overheating of the cat with the fuel igniting in it. Many Ferrari fires are caused exactly this way.

    Sorry to hear this happened, but at least you caught it before you lost the whole car.
     
  6. henryk

    henryk Formula Junior

    Dec 9, 2003
    479
    Door County, WI
    An excellent reason for test pipes!!!!!!!!!!!!!
     
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  8. slong

    slong Rookie

    Feb 14, 2004
    17
    Thank you for your thorough and quick responses...extremely helpful! Indeed I was fortunate that the fire damage was "minimal", but it still hurts. I will hopefully provide photos late tomorrow...pls return to view and comment. Again, thank you very much. SML
     
  9. Ricambi America

    Ricambi America F1 World Champ
    Sponsor Owner

    Do test pipes really prevent this? I assume you'd still have a failed bank with fuel rushing through it. While the cat might not ignite (since it doesn't exist when pipes are used!), don't all the conditions still exist for something else to go up in flames? Further, if the slow down lights are really driven from temperatures in the cat, does that mean the lights are basically useless when pipes are in place?

    A newbie looking for answers...

    -Daniel
    (who's 348 has test pipes)
     
  10. GrigioGuy

    GrigioGuy Splenda Daddy
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    Yes, unburned fuel is always a problem, but the difference is that the cats are designed to burn hotter than the rest of the exhaust system. If that additonal heat source is removed, there's less chance of igniting that unburned fuel.

    The lights are not neccessarily useless. On my 328, the Stebro test pipe has the proper fittings to keep the thermocouple and other sensors functioning. There's less need for them, because the test pipe shouldn't get anywhere near the operating temps of the cat.
     
  11. henryk

    henryk Formula Junior

    Dec 9, 2003
    479
    Door County, WI
    I had test pipes on my TR, this summer. The thermocouple, which measures the heat, was in place........in the pre-cats (gutted), so the light could theoretically still come on. I feel a LOT safer with the test pipes.
     
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  13. JSL

    JSL Formula 3

    Jan 5, 2002
    2,212
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    J.S. Leonard
    Really sorry to hear about the fire. Hope it gets fixed quickly and you are back enjoying the beauty of your car. I loved my 89 328, one of the best cars I have owned. Good luck.
     
  14. Auraraptor

    Auraraptor F1 World Champ
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    Sep 25, 2002
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    Thats horrible to hear! At least you are ok.
     
  15. Mike328

    Mike328 F1 Rookie
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    FYI: I'm fairly certain the Slow Down lights come on around 1300 degrees. 900 degrees is, I believe, way too low. My own engine gas temperature guage shows typically 1250 degrees at the header during cruise!
     
  16. DGS

    DGS Four Time F1 World Champ
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    According to the 328 tech specs, the "slow down" light blinks at 900 +/- 20 degC, and comes one solid at 940 +/- 20 degC. That's Celcius, not Farenheit.
     
  17. zebra308

    zebra308 Formula 3

    Jan 14, 2004
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    Ruffis Leekin
    Really sorry to hear about your misfortune. Glad to hear you caught it before something more serious developed. Hope that everything gets sorted out quickly for you. Thanks for posting this so other owners can be aware of this condition.
     
  18. TOM B

    TOM B Formula 3

    Jul 24, 2003
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    Thomas Buckley
    Are you sure ? The Stebro pipe for my 3.2 Mondial only had a hole for the O2 sensor. I was told by Stebro that the therocouple only turned on the slow-down light which was now not necessary due to my removal of the cat. They said to just tie the thermocouple out of the way.

    Tom
     
  19. GrigioGuy

    GrigioGuy Splenda Daddy
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    Well, that's what I was told by the mechanic, but I didn't put it in myself. I'll poke under there soon, see for myself and report back. Thanks for the correction if I'm wrong
     
  20. mk e

    mk e F1 World Champ

    Oct 31, 2003
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    My car did the same thing 6 weeks after I got it except my slow down light didn't light and I drove it about 20 miles. The quote from Ferrari was $18500
    :(
     
  21. Mike328

    Mike328 F1 Rookie
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    Insurance covered this?
     
  22. mk e

    mk e F1 World Champ

    Oct 31, 2003
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    Yes, mostly. They settled at $16400 if I recall. It all worked out fine in the end. As long as I was working on it I switched to euro bumpers, rebuilt the engine and added EFI and supercharger #1. I still haven't fixed the carpet in the truck though....maybe this year.
     
  23. Auraraptor

    Auraraptor F1 World Champ
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    Sep 25, 2002
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    If you have test pipe, then is the only way to tell if you have ignition bank due to a distributor failure, ignition coil failure, other coil failure, a "gas-y" exhaust smell?
     
  24. rob lay

    rob lay Administrator
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    Dec 1, 2000
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    I had this same thing happen. Car still runs smooth, but only revs half way. I drove it about 4-5 miles before pulling over and then noticed the exhaust was orange hot. Root cause was an oil leak in the distributor cap that blocked the spark. This is really common with the 328 until the part is updated. The updated part doesn't leak oil. Luckily I didn't have any damage as there was no fire.
     
  25. Mike328

    Mike328 F1 Rookie
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    If you lose a bank (fully or intermittently), you will have:
    1. Always sluggish or intermittently regular/sluggish acceleration.
    2. A smooth runnign engine; the firing order + crank setup means that losing a bank still results in a fairly smooth running engine.
    3. Your slow down light come on, if you 1. have the ECU hooked up to a thermocouple somewhere (Read: if you still have cats). Otherwise, no slow down light.

    You may have:
    1. Extra rich smell out the back
    2. Glowing hot headers or exhaust component
    3. Fire
     
  26. Auraraptor

    Auraraptor F1 World Champ
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    Sep 25, 2002
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    When you say sluggish what do u mean? My car never had much the way of torque to speak of, at least not compared to my NSX....

    It revs like a rocket in optimal gear, would it just be "hella" slow even in optimal gear?

    If they did turn out to be bad, would it be the right time to upgrade to distibutor less ignition?
     
  27. rob lay

    rob lay Administrator
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    It won't rev above 4k or so. 4k in 5th gear is still pretty fast though.
     
  28. DBR328&330

    DBR328&330 Formula Junior

    May 31, 2001
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    Winchester, VA
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    Daniel Reese
    I really feel for you man. I just bought a halon fire extinguisher this week for use when I started my car for the first time in 6 weeks- it seems my concerns were justified, although I didnt need to use it. Good luck to you and hope to hear you are on the road again soon,

    Dan
     

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