Installing Lifeline’s Compact, Efficient Novec 1230 Fire-Suppression System | Project LS-Powered 350Z

Tom
Update by Tom Suddard to the Nissan 350Z project car
Feb 15, 2021

Sure, our LS-powered Nissan 350Z could now move under its own power, but that created a whole new set of potential problems: fiery problems.

Time trials competition doesn’t require an onboard fire-suppression system, but one can literally be the difference between a minor setback and a full-on carbeque, never mind the potential for injury.

We really don’t want to watch our sweet race car go up in flames, especially if we’re watching from its driver’s seat. This point was driven home while watching some video shared by BimmerWorld’s James Clay: At an IMSA race at Sebring, a leaky fuel rail caused a big fire that quickly became an extinguished fire thanks to the car’s onboard fire-suppression system.

We were so impressed that we called James and asked for whatever he was having, which is how we found ourselves installing a Lifeline Zero 360 FIA 3.0 kg Novec 1230 fire system in our 350Z. In addition to BimmerWorld, James owns LifelineUSA as well. 

We’ll start with prices. Lifeline’s least expensive fire system costs $249. “The $249 system works when SFI or FIA isn't required and is better than nothing,” James notes, “which isn't Chump, Lemons, BMW, Porsche, NASA, SCCA, etc.” The company’s FIA-rated systems start at $399, while the one we installed sells for $1400. Lifeline systems can also be found in many of today’s homologated race cars from the likes of Aston Martin, Audi, Bentley, BMW, Cupra, Dallara, Ford, GM, Hyundai, Lexus, Ligier, Mazda, Mercedes-Benz, Nissan, Oreca, Seat, Toyota and Volkswagen.

What do those extra dollars get? 

  • Electrical vs. Mechanical Activation: $249 gets you a pair of 6-foot-long pull cables, which will look familiar if you’ve ever activated the brakes on a bicycle. Installation is simple: Mount one cable for the driver and one for the first responders. But that’s not as easy as it sounds: To guarantee that the cables move freely and can actually be pulled in a fire, you have to be quite careful when mounting the bottle, routing the cables, and choosing locations for the pull handles. Make sure you keep the cables lubricated and mount the handles secure, by the way, as we’ve heard horror stories of corner workers yanking off the red handles without activating the bottle. All this care takes up space and gets in the way of other stuff. We wanted to mount our bottle in the 350Z’s trunk for better weight distribution, which would have meant buying longer cables and running them the length of the car. The system we chose is electrically activated, meaning you can put the bottle and the buttons anywhere that can be reached by two small wires. A small, battery-powered control box mounts on the dash to tell us if the system is working and armed, and also lets us test the buttons without firing the system. In our mind, electrical activation is much easier to install, easier to test before each race, and at least as reliable as a mechanical system.

  • Eight Nozzles vs. Two Nozzles: More is better, right? It’s actually a matter of looking at the entire system. “Did you know that our industry-leading FIA 8865-spec Zero275 system killed the fire before the tester could click the stopwatch—and has one nozzle?” James notes. “The deal here is an engineered system that has the correct number of nozzles for the given system pressure, nozzle design, system capacity, etc. If the pressure and extinguishant volume stays the same—more nozzles equals less discharge per nozzle and less pressure—you have to increase volume. So it's all about an engineered system, which is what Lifeline does best. The $249 system is designed to feed two nozzles, while ours came with eight. The extra nozzles let us dedicate four to the engine bay and four to us in the driver’s seat, increasing our chances of saving the car in a fire and escaping unscathed.”

  • Aluminum vs. Steel Bottle: We’ve gone out of our way throughout this project to save weight, and that trend continues with this fire system. The $249 option is made from steel, while our bottle is aluminum. Our entire system, including a full bottle and all tubing/accessories, weighs less than 12 pounds. It’s actually a bit lighter, since we didn’t need all of the included tubing for our 350Z.

  • AFFF vs. Novec 1230: AFFF, or aqueous film-forming foam, is a common suppression agent now that Halon is no longer legal to manufacture. It’s pretty good at putting out fires, and the foam cleans up easily with water. AFFF can be found in the $249 system’s bottle, but there’s a better option: Novec 1230, a fancy liquid that discharges as a gas and leaves no residue once the fire is out; it simply evaporates. That’s the agent in our system, and Lifeline says it’s better at putting out fires, too. That means a Novec 1230 system can be half the size and weight of an AFFF system while remaining equally effective. Novec is also non-conductive. “I could send you a $100 container of it to drop your phone and tablet in, and they'd love it,” James says. “A nice cooling bath. That also means when you spray your race car electronics, it won't fry them. If you were the Ferrari racing at the Petit Le Mans a few years ago, Novec would have given you the ability to put out a quick fueling fire and keep fighting for a podium, versus the AFFF that fried $50K of electronics and ended your race.”
  • Lots of Extinguishant vs. Just Enough: The $249 system holds 2.25 liters of AFFF and is designed to meet club requirements for a system equivalent to a 5-pound bottle. Lifeline says sports cars should have at least a 4.0-liter AFFF system, while ours holds the equivalent extinguishant of a 5-liter AFFF system.
  • Inert vs. Maintenance Intensive: “Any homologated fire system is required to be serviced every two years, and Novec is a pretty straightforward service,” James explains. “[Servicing] AFFF is an absolute requirement to maintain efficiency, whether homologation is required or not, because the salts settle out and grow a crystaline formation on the dip tube which prevents proper operation.” In the long run, he adds, the AFFF system can often be more expensive to maintain due to typically required service parts. 

What’s the bottom line? In exchange for the money, our system offers less weight, easier activation, easier installation, and far more firefighting ability. It should pay for itself the first time our 350Z catches on fire, but hopefully we never get the chance to recoup this investment. We spent a few afternoons in the garage carefully installing nozzles and tubing according to the included instructions, then mounted the bottle between the rear shock towers.

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Comments
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Tom1200
Tom1200 SuperDork
2/11/21 9:36 a.m.

My D-Sports Racer once grenaded the engine at a private test day; the subsequent oil fire was quite exciting.

Our friends Corvette burnt to the ground at a PCA track day; the car went from small fire to fully engulfed in 20 seconds. the car was not equipped with a fire system.

 

 

Tom Suddard
Tom Suddard GRM+ Memberand Director of Marketing & Digital Assets
2/11/21 9:51 a.m.

Yeah, I've never had a close call myself, but I've seen unexpected fires too many times and I try not to take any chances as a result.

A few years back, I was at Willow Springs to do a story on a car that won't be named built by a flagship aftermarket parts manufacturer that also won't be named. The driver took it out "just to put a few laps on and make sure the gauges look good" before I was to take it out in the next session. After two laps, flames shot out of the hood, but the driver was able to pull over, grab the extinguisher mounted to the passenger seat, and put out the massive oil fire. It was a completely unexpected failure that I would have bet was impossible. The car's day was over at that point thanks to all the powder all over the engine, but if he hadn't had a bottle the car would have almost certainly burned before the firetruck made it to the corner.

If he'd had a Novec system instead of a traditional extinguisher, we probably would have been able to fix the car that morning and gone back out on track.

What really stuck with me? He was only wearing a helmet; I'd told him he didn't need to bother putting a suit on since it wouldn't show in photos and fire gear wasn't required at the test day. Yeah, it would have been pretty stupid to get burned while your fire suit is sitting in the trailer. These days, I try to wear my suit whenever I go on a track. It's free, and it could save my life. And while good fire systems like what I installed in the 350Z are definitely not free, they're cheaper than the cost of a wasted race weekend's fuel/entry fees/food/hotel room, way cheaper than the cost of a new car, and WAAAAAAY cheaper than burn treatment.

David S. Wallens
David S. Wallens Editorial Director
2/11/21 10:06 a.m.

Fire burns just as hot on test days as it does on race days. 

I believe Charles Espenlaub said this. 

Tom1200
Tom1200 SuperDork
2/11/21 10:23 a.m.

Our friend in the Vette was wearing an open faced helmet, when he opened the drivers door to leap out he was greeted by a wall of fire and burnt the skin on his nose.

As for the sports racer fire; it was almost 20 years ago and I still have a keen mental image of seeing flames travel through the side pod and pour out the slats in the front fender. Knowing there was a fire system made the situation unnerving rather than terrifying. Keep in mind I road raced motorcycles before switching to cars so my unnerving likely qualifies as frightening.

DennisDoesEverything
DennisDoesEverything New Reader
2/11/21 10:25 a.m.

I used to work in a building that overlooked an interstate off-ramp-up-to-overpass that for some reason people picked for a getting off point if their car was on fire.  It happened three times in the less than two years I worked there.

First time the car went out on its own, and I joined a group of people helping the owner push the car up the off ramp.  Second car made it to the gas station across the street and burned to the ground (the car not the gas station).  I watched it out my office window.

The third time was tragic. Thankfully I didn't see it in person because I was working from home.  The company paid for therapy if they wanted it for those who had been there.

A man driving a minivan with a fire under the hood made it all the way to the blue painted disability parking space by the building.  His wife was disabled/obese/wheelchair bound (one or all of those things) and needed help getting out.  But before he could get her out or anyone in the building could react, the fire flared up and consumed the whole minivan.  She burned to death and he was badly burned.  It was hot enough had to replace windows on the building up to the second story.

People, if you have a car fire do not "look for a place to pull over" or try to get to an off-ramp.  You get to the shoulder at max lane changing and braking velocity and get out.  You don't know how much time you have and should assume it is zero seconds.

David S. Wallens
David S. Wallens Editorial Director
2/11/21 10:31 a.m.

In reply to DennisDoesEverything :

I don't know the specifics, but we had something similar happen at a club race: car caught fire, and the driver drove alllllllll the way back to pit lane. He passed away from injuries. 

Do not pass go. If there's a fire, stop, drop and roll. GTFO. 

Tom1200
Tom1200 SuperDork
2/11/21 12:26 p.m.
David S. Wallens said:

Do not pass go. If there's a fire, stop, drop and roll. GTFO. 

Continuing on this theme I jumped out of the sports racer while it was still traveling about 1/2 mph, it rolled about 30ft from me. The fire had gone within a second but I wasn't taking any chances on it reigniting. I didn't go back to the car until the crew showed up with a large fire extinguisher in hand.

My view of fire systems is they are their to give me time to exit the car............I don't give a crap about the car.

 

codrus (Forum Supporter)
codrus (Forum Supporter) GRM+ Memberand PowerDork
2/11/21 12:56 p.m.
Tom1200 said:

My view of fire systems is they are their to give me time to exit the car............I don't give a crap about the car.

That's my understanding too.  If you catch the fire early while it's small then maybe it'll save the car, but that's definitely not the point.

 

350z247
350z247 New Reader
2/11/21 1:45 p.m.

While I am in no way arguing against fire suppression systems, I just don't see $1,400 worth of parts there. The piece of mind and safety are worth it, BUT more people would use them if they were more reasonably priced. It just seems like a bit of price gouging to take advantage of valid fears of death (to car or driver) by fire.

codrus (Forum Supporter)
codrus (Forum Supporter) GRM+ Memberand PowerDork
2/11/21 1:59 p.m.
350z247 said:

While I am in no way arguing against fire suppression systems, I just don't see $1,400 worth of parts there. The piece of mind and safety are worth it, BUT more people would use them if they were more reasonably priced. It just seems like a bit of price gouging to take advantage of valid fears of death (to car or driver) by fire.

The NOVEC suppression agent is quite a bit more expensive than AFFF

 

ross2004
ross2004 Reader
2/11/21 2:20 p.m.
350z247 said:

, BUT more people would use them if they were more reasonably priced. 

$400 is fairly cheap insurance, for what could potentially save your life. 

http://www.lifeline-fire.com/lifelinezero200040ltrfiremarshalsteelfiresuppressionsystem.aspx

Tom Suddard
Tom Suddard GRM+ Memberand Director of Marketing & Digital Assets
2/11/21 2:33 p.m.

Yeah, the Novec is quite a bit more expensive than AFFF. You can get a solid system for $400, but the difference between the two systems is what I discussed in the article.

wae
wae UberDork
2/11/21 2:41 p.m.

I don't think I could ever cost-justify putting a $1,400 system in my rallycross car (even considering my history), but that $249 system seems like something I could talk myself in to pretty easily.

350z247
350z247 Reader
2/11/21 3:30 p.m.

In reply to ross2004 :

Like I said, $400 to save my life makes total sense, but there just aren't $400 worth of parts there. Their profit margins have got to be substantial.

Tom1200
Tom1200 SuperDork
2/11/21 4:06 p.m.

Both my cars have the lower priced systems in it. The aforementioned sports racer had a lower priced system in it.

Fires do happen; in the last 30 years of racing I've seen 4 cars catch on fire as well as it having happen to me.  In addition to that my cousin had to bail out of his P2 car at the Runoffs several years ago. So that's 6 club racers I personally know that had this happen. Three of these cars were prepped to extremely high standards & the other three were solidly maintained.

I will share my incident in case anyone doesn't think a system is worth it: 

At Spring Mountain Motorsports I was coming into the fast sweeper at the end of the back stretch (it's now the pit in), braking from 130 down to 100 mph the motor grenades and a split second I saw fire light up the inside of the side pod and roar out of the front fender. All of this is going on while I'm trying to keep the car from spinning, still traveling at over 100 mph. I turned off the ignition and pulled the fire bottle handle in the middle of sawing at the wheel.

This car pulled 3Gs on the brakes and as such the stopping distance was shorter than any production car , even with that I'm sure it took 4-5 seconds to get the car under control and  bring it to a stop. A production based car would likely have taken another 2-3 seconds, so we're are taking as much as 8 seconds before you could bail out. 

Further, how much composure do you think you'll have trying to bringing a burning car to a stop if you have no way to suppress the fire?

$400 for a basic system is worth it and wouldn't question $1,400 for a second.

 

 

 

matthewmcl (Forum Supporter)
matthewmcl (Forum Supporter) HalfDork
2/12/21 8:03 a.m.
350z247 said:

In reply to ross2004 :

Like I said, $400 to save my life makes total sense, but there just aren't $400 worth of parts there. Their profit margins have got to be substantial.

Isn't something like 90% of the cost of making a high school football helmet the liability insurance payment?  Lots of things do not have total price reflected in their parts.  I do not know how much goes into their rainy day fund, but making safety equipment is a risky business in our litigious society.

codrus (Forum Supporter)
codrus (Forum Supporter) GRM+ Memberand PowerDork
2/12/21 10:08 a.m.
matthewmcl (Forum Supporter) said:
350z247 said:

In reply to ross2004 :

Like I said, $400 to save my life makes total sense, but there just aren't $400 worth of parts there. Their profit margins have got to be substantial.

Isn't something like 90% of the cost of making a high school football helmet the liability insurance payment?  Lots of things do not have total price reflected in their parts.  I do not know how much goes into their rainy day fund, but making safety equipment is a risky business in our litigious society.

Certifications are also not cheap.

 

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