Detection of accelerant products in motor vehicle arson : background study and interpretation of positive results

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The significance of the presence of petrol in motor vehicle fires has been challenged due to the possibility of a natural occurrence of petrol residues inside the vehicle. This study was undertaken to investigate the background levels of petrol on carpet in motor vehicles, and the potential transfer and persistence of petrol onto vehicle carpets through the 'normal' usage of motor vehicles. The research was conducted via three studies: transfer and persistence studies were conducted to determine the transfer, evaporation and persistence of unleaded petrol on carpet; a known history study was conducted by the insertion of carpet mats into vehicles, for up to six months, with subsequent analysis for the presence of petrol; an unknown history study was conducted via the analysis of 300 carpet or carpet mat samples from vehicles, both before and after burning. The results indicate that: small volumes of petrol are unlikely to be detected on carpet after 24 hours, and; only a small proportion of motor vehicles will exhibit the presence of petrol. in their original state, and then as evaporated petrol. None of the satnples were found to contain petrol after burning. These results demonstrate the significance of finding a large volume of fresh or slightly evaporated petrol on car carpet. As only trace levels are generally found without good reason, this may indicate the intentional addition of petrol to the vehicle interior.
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