Inside The Car Responsible For Jay Leno's Severe Burns

Jay Leno is currently in the hospital after receiving severe burns on Sunday. The comedian received burns to the left side of his face following an incident at his garage in Burbank, California. The burns occurred when one of the steam cars from his collection — a 1907 White Steam Car, according to TMZ — doused him in gasoline. The fuel then ignited, causing injuries bad enough to hospitalize Leno. Although the burns are described as "severe" and require a hospital stay, they are not considered life-threatening. In a statement to SlashGear, Leno described the incident that caused the injuries as a "gasoline fire" and said "I am ok. Just need a week or two to get back on my feet." Although the presenter's face and hands were burned, both his left eye and left ear are thought to have avoided being damaged during the accident. 

The former "Tonight Show" host's engagements for the week were canceled following the incident, including a scheduled appearance at The Financial Brand conference. Leno is currently receiving treatment at the Grossman Burn Center, which is widely considered to be the best burn unit in the United States, if not the world. Speaking to Fox News Digital, a representative from the West Hills Hospital & Medical Center, where the Grossman Burn Center is based, described Leno's condition as "stable" and added "He is in good humor and is touched by all the inquiries into his condition and well wishes. He wants to let everyone know he is doing well and is in 'the best burn center in the United States." A mechanic from Leno's garage also described the 72-year-old as a "tough guy" and said he is going to be okay, although it may "take a while."

What is a steam car?

Leno's injuries were reportedly caused by a spray of gas from a steam car. Steam cars have a unique design which has some similarities to a standard internal combustion engine (ICE) and some major differences. Both types of engines use mechanical power generated from pistons to turn their wheels, and the key difference is in how the pistons are operated. An ICE ignites a mixture of air and fuel inside the engine's cylinder which forces its pistons up. A steam car uses a boiler to heat water, which is then used to power the engine's pistons (via Stanley Motor Carriage).

While the technology didn't catch on for a few reasons, steam cars do have some advantages. They were incredibly fast for their time. Leno himself is on film cruising past a Chevy Camaro in one of his steam cars, albeit on the street. Back in the day, steam cars were setting records, with a Stanley Steamer clocking a 28.2-second mile in 1906. The downsides include the time it takes to get a steam car started. You can't just turn a key and go like you do with an electric vehicle, as it takes about 10 minutes for enough heat and pressure to build up to get the car going. Leno detailed the process in an episode of "Jay Leno's Garage" dedicated to his 1907 White Steam Car.

Unlike steam trains, which tend to use coal to generate steam, steam cars use gasoline, which leads to other dangers including the ones that probably led to Leno's injuries (via Barron's). As with all steam-powered vehicles, pressure is also a consideration. While high pressures are needed to make the vehicles function, go too far and you're basically driving around on an enormous pipe bomb. The more affordable and arguably more practical Ford Model T eventually spelled the end of the steam car era, but several examples of the unique vehicle remain.

Leno's fans have probably seen his steam cars before

Leno is the owner of multiple steam cars and other steam-powered vehicles, including six Stanley cars, a few White units, and a pair of Doble vehicles as of 2021, according to Barron's. The cars are stored in the "steam room" section of his garage, and several have been featured on his YouTube Channel "Jay Leno's Garage." Most of the steam cars in Leno's collection are very rare, even by classic car standards. Only a few thousand were made, and many of those have been scrapped or destroyed in the decades since, Leno explains on his channel.

According to Barron's, Leno has also managed to get into trouble in one of his classic steamers. He was pulled over on California's route 405 while driving his 1906 Stanley Steamer. He claims the officer was more intrigued than anything about what may be the oldest car ever pulled over for speeding in California. Leno also claims he didn't get a ticket for the incident.

Leno was also well aware of the dangers which led to his accident. In an episode of "My Classic Car" the comedian features in, the intro includes him noting the enormous amount of gasoline running out under the boiler, and later in the episode, the "backfiring" Stanley almost "took [the host's] mustache off." Leno also gives a demonstration of how the cars are started. First, a pilot flame is lit, then excess water is drained from the cylinders. Finally, a valve is turned and vaporized gas is sprayed onto the pilot flame. Looking at the process, it is likely Leno was injured while trying to start one of his steam cars, rather than due to a malfunction or while working on one.