On Sunday afternoon, Sharif Abdelbaset was driving his 2017 Nissan GT-R Nismo on the famously windy road known as Tail of the Dragon when his engine cut out. Just minutes later, his car was engulfed in flames.
Abdelbaset, manager of Forged Performance (a tuning shop that specializes in GT-Rs), headed out to Deals Gap on the border of North Carolina and Tennessee this past weekend to drive his beautiful 2017 Nissan GT-R Nismo. The car (his daily driver, which only had basic bolt-on modifications—rotors, calipers, suspension parts, wheels and tires, exhaust—and a mostly stock engine) was performing great, when, in a remote area with little cell coverage, dash warning lights showed up and the engine cut off just as he turned a corner.
Abdelbaset told me over the phone that he sat stranded in the car for a few minutes, but the situation didn’t seem too dire:
I didn’t smell anything, didn’t see anything; no smell of fuel, no smoke...I was literally sitting in the car.
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That’s when his buddy following on a motorcycle knocked on the GT-R’s window and said “I see smoke and a fire coming from your car.” Abdelbaset, who thought his friend was joking, hopped out and saw a bit of smoke coming from the right rear quarter of the trunk.
He opened the lid, and saw a small “smoldering fire” in the right rear corner of the trunk; the carpet was beginning to burn. As people drove by, some handed Abdelbaset fire extinguishers, but the extinguishers—along with water that Abdelbaset tried to use—weren’t enough to put out the fire, which seemed to be coming from below the trunk, somewhere in the brake/wheel well/underbody area.
It seemed like within about two or three minutes of Abdelbaset spotting the fire, it was out of control and could not be stopped. When Abdelbaset realized this, he ran to the car’s cabin, grabbed his laptop, backpack and other belongings, and sat on the side of the hill near the road, feeling that “hopeless sense of ‘there’s nothing you can do.’”
Because of Abdelbaset’s remote location, the police arrived at the GT-R about 15 minutes after the fire started; 30 minutes after that, a fire truck showed up, but as Abdelbaset told me, it was too late:
By the time the fire truck got there, it was really just a small fire at that point; everything had pretty much burned up.
He said it really only took about five minutes for the fire to consume the back half of the car, and after about eight minutes, just about the whole car was engulfed in a giant fireball.
Abdelbaset says he thinks the leaves on the road (which have caused problems before with engine cooling as they block grille openings) may have been channeled by the brake guides into the vicinity of the brakes, exhaust and transmission. “The back of the GT-R gets really hot in general,” Abdelbaset told me, so if a bunch of leaves accumulated in that area, that could very well have been the cause of the fire, which may have melted an electrical harness and caused the car to shut off.
The good news is that nobody was hurt, the forest made it by unscathed, and the road was only closed for a couple of hours. Abdelbaset told me he learned a lot from this experience, telling me that fires aren’t like they seem in the movies, saying:
It just started really small and ...gradually just consumed more and more of the car...It’s pretty scary to watch.
He went on, saying “most car fires..they start as very small fires like this,” and you’ve really only got about a minute or two to react, or it will be too late.
The Georgia-based performance shop manager and ECU tuner told me that, in the future, he plans to have a bigger fire extinguisher on him, as well as first aid equipment. This experience convinced him that small extinguishers just aren’t enough, and that having a hose attachment is crucial in order to actually shoot the propellant directly at the flame, which—in this case—was hidden in a tight spot at the bottom corner of the car.
The GT-R Nismo, which Abdelbaset had only owned since June, was insured, and he plans to get another one in the near future. So really, even though this whole situation was hugely unfortunate, it could have turned out a lot worse.