Watching A Burning RV Drive Itself Into Trees Is Alarming But There’s An Explanation That Doesn’t Involve Ghosts


An RV on fire is widely considered a bad thing in most cultures. It’s one of those things, like head nodding, that widely diverse groups all over the globe seem to agree on: we prefer our RVs non-burning. There are degrees of lousiness to RV burning (I mean ones with no one inside, we’re not talking about humans being physically hurt here), and there’s a great example of a rare, especially shitty scenario that was captured on video last month, in New Zealand: a burning RV that manages to drive itself, setting more things on fire. How does this happen? What’s going on here? Are ghosts involved, as the video description suggests? I don’t think so. And I do have a theory about what is happening.

First, you should probably watch the video itself, because it’s absolutely bonkers for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the odd calmness of the Kiwis watching it happen.

If you’re impatient, the part where the bus actually starts up and drives on its own happens at about 3:25 as you can see and hear the bus attempting to start, and then actually getting rolling along there, where it crosses the street, hops the curb, and sets some trees aflame by the tennis courts that are on that side of the road.

This actually worked out well for the RV’s owner, as it got the vehicle away from his house, even if it did end up setting even more stuff on fire.

So, why did this RV decide to become a very short-lived Level 5 automated vehicle with FSD (Flaming Self Driving) for the last few seconds of its life? Even though the video description reads

“Bizarrely we witness a bus burst into an inferno. The fire quickly got out of control and spread rapidly towards the neighbour house, the major worry whist the owner stood by was the LPG bottle being cause of an astronomical explosion . Suddenly at this moment the lights mysteriously turned on and the engine started then the bus began to drive away and saving the house from imminent destruction eventually crashing into the tennis court across the road. The owner believed it was his wife who loved travelling on the bus but had died 3 years earlier. The incident remains a mystery.”

…nothing about this is really a mystery, and, in fact the clues to what is going on are mentioned right in that description. Specifically, when they talk about the lights turning on. We also get audio clues in the video from the horn blasting a final mournful wail, and the sound the engine makes as its being cranked over.

Tellingly, all of these events that happened as the bus burned – lights flashing on, horn sounding, and the engine cranking – are electrical.

What’s going on here is that as the bus is burning, plastic and rubber insulation from the electrical wiring is being melted away. The 12V battery in this RV is very likely mounted pretty low in the body of the RV, and the fire is raging primarily in the upper section. That means it’s likely the battery is still relatively intact and providing voltage while everything is on fire.

What appears to be happening is that wires to various electrical systems, like the lights, is having insulation melted off, which will allow bare, conductive wire to make contact with other insulation-deprived wires that are hot, electrically and literally, carrying 12V from the battery.

When these touch, it’s like closing a switch, so the headlights can blink on as their uninsulated wires contact 12V lines, same for the horn, which honks when its bare wires contact 12V wires, and finally, the starter motor can crank the engine when its thick, heavy gauge 12V line direct to the battery loses its insulation and makes contact with some other bit of wire or metal that closes the circuit to the starter motor.

This being New Zealand, it’s very likely this RV has a manual transmission. And, it’s likely it’s parked while left in first gear, and the parking brake does not seem to be on or particularly effective. So, when that starter motor’s circuit is closed, the starter is turning the engine, attempting to start it, and the RV is in gear, so that turning engine is spinning first gear which is turning the driveshaft and the wheels and the result is the burning RV ends up driving itself.

You can hear the telltale sound of an engine attempting to start while being cranked by the starter motor, and it continues until (and a bit after) the RV hits the trees on the other side of the road. The engine is too damaged to actually start, but the starter motor is strong enough to keep spinning it and moving the whole burning mess.

I’ve heard about this happening before with other burning cars, and while it’s always weird, it’s not a mystery, and it’s not a ghost. I don’t know for certain that this is the explanation for what happened, but I’m pretty damn confident, based on everything you can see here.

It’s always kind of fascinating and shocking when this happens, because if a huge van on fire makes you uneasy, a huge van on fire driving mindlessly with no control is far, far worse.


Share on facebook
Share on whatsapp
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on reddit

43 Responses

  1. This story reminds of an article I read years ago in one of the muscle car magazines about a ’68-69 Mercury Cyclone that was in a garage fire–lights came on, started up and drove out of the garage on fire…

  2. This reminds me of a bumper sticker the creator of Adrian’s Undead Diary sold. Picture of a zombie caught in a swing trying to walk forward with the chains holding him back. Says, ‘At least he’s not on fire!’

  3. If you have ever gone in a bathroom after a Kiwi has been in there, you’d stand back and let the holding
    tank burn too. Actually the same for any bedding they used if the slept in the RV. 😉

    Sorry, in all fairness, they are so much better than the Aussies. FLAME WAR!

  4. 1st generation VW Golfs/rabbits would sometimes, when caught in the rain, engage the starter motor and drive themselves into whatever garage they were parked in front of. FACT!

    1. IIRC water would run down the radio antenna lead past the grommet and drip into the fuse box/place the relays plugged in and things would misbehave. There was a North America recall for it, it got the Scirocco too.

  5. Over six minutes for the fire department to arrive seems fairly long. I wonder how far they had to drive to get there? The firefighters also seemed very casual when they did arrive.

    1. This is on the Kāpiti Coast which is a rural/semi-rural string of towns and settlements north of Wellington. Depending on exactly where this happened it might have been a bit of a drive for whichever fire brigade was closest. It may also have been a volunteer crew (80% of New Zealand firefighters are volunteers) who would have needed to get to the station and gear up in response to the call.

  6. I know this is 100% off topic, but I just saw the Doug Demuro review of the Aston Martin cignet, “brought to us” by the Autopian (including shout-outs to D.T. and J.T.).

    Congrats on your inevitable march towards world domination!

  7. My father had his own flaming self-driving car experience way back in 1984. He was driving his 1972 Saab 96 to work one morning when he smelled burning and noticed the paint bubbling on the hood. He made it to work (the giant parking lot of a giant factory) by which time it was obvious there was a fire under the hood. He shut it off, and being a Saab, put it in reverse to take the key out and got the hell out. When the ignition wires melted together the car started itself back up and did reverse donuts in the parking lot until hitting a guard rail and stalling out.

  8. You can spout your sensible theories all day Torch…This thing is possessed. Have you never seen the movie Christine? Seriously I have looked/seen lots of these type fires a ton of times and never saw any shit like this happen. I think the damn RV just had a bad attitude, and wanted to end it all…

  9. I like the flaming, melted plastic goo dripping off the back. Also, can’t believe guy stood there and filmed this for that long. He was bound and determined to get a fantastic explosion on camera which never came.

  10. We have large fire extinguishers in all of our vehicles. However, we do live in the flammable foothills of California. More than once in the past I have stopped to put out a fire on the side of the road. At least now I am prepared. Flapping shirts doesn’t work well. Stomping gets hot fast.

  11. “The owner believed it was his wife who loved traveling on the bus but had died 3 years earlier. ”

    Sir, I’m afraid I have some bad news for you, if that’s the ghost of your wife in that burning inferno she wasn’t the good person you thought she was 🙁

  12. Sees headline:
    “Watching A Burning RV Drive Itself Into Trees Is Alarming But There’s An Explanation That Doesn’t Involve Ghosts”

    Before reading article:
    “Is it Gravity + Momentum? I bet it’s Gravity + Momentum”

    Started reading article, sees part about RV starting up on its own:
    I guess Nic Cage decided to go on a vacation?

    Continues reading article:
    “with FSD (Flaming Self Driving)”
    *Orson Welles Clapping.gif”

    Reads the block quote:
    Thinks to self, “Why did I default to reading this in Sir David Attenborough’s voice?”

  13. Ah, my typically understated people, with a bit of that extra chilled-out factor that comes from being woken up at one in the morning to watch something truly bizarre with your neighbours.

    Listened in close and had to feel bad for the sixtysomething owner. He’d just spent $5000 on mechanical work to get ready for a Warrant of Fitness roadworthiness inspection – which would be what, $3k American, but over here it’s, well, it’s five grand which does not go as far as it used to. It failed its last WOF back in May too, according to CarJam (could just make out the plate in the clip). On top of leaving all his work gear in the bus. My heart sank at all those anguished “oofs”.

    That and memories of travelling with his wife burning in front of him and he’s got every right to ask the neighbour for a cup of coffee to cope with it all at 1am.

    1. Ouch. Torch mentioned traveling in it with his wife, but all that work & money-and his gear, too. I sure hope he doesn’t read the yt comments: sure to be brutal on top of that pain
      This would be a great marketing opportunity for some RV manufacturer: give him one to replace it.

      1. The gentleman who uploaded the video kindly left comments off, we need more people on the Internet like that…

        I haven’t seen this turn up in much news coverage here but it would be a nice gesture for someone to hook him up with a new small camper. RVs per se are mainly for the wealthy here, but the ‘grey nomad’ set are quite fond of Toyota Coasters like this one, or the ever-present Mitsubishi Rosa.

Leave a Reply