A young father wrenched his melted seat belt off and jumped from his burning car with seconds to spare before the vehicle was engulfed in flames.
Howick electrician Adam Holt, 32, believes he was moments away from death and thankful his young daughter wasn't in the car as her car seat caught fire first.
Holt was planning on surprising his wife Megan with a weekend away in the city when his plans went horribly awry on Saturday evening.
As he was driving along the Pakuranga Highway toward the hotel he had booked to start preparing his romantic surprise, cars began tooting, but Holt didn't immediately realise what was wrong.
"I had my radio on so I didn't hear anything... then I looked behind me and thought, 'Oh my god'.
I literally just saw flames," he told the Herald.
In the back seat, Holt's 2-year-old daughter Ava's car seat had caught fire, and the thought she could have been in it at the time still haunts him.
"If she was in the back and I couldn't get her out ... any father would do the same, you'd go down with your kid," he said, tearing up.
Holt was terrified the car, a 1987 Holden Calais turbo, would blow up while surrounded by backed up traffic on the highway.
"The whole back was on fire, and that's when I just knew it was going to go up. I started to panic when I saw kids in cars going past, I thought I can't leave this here."
He managed to pull the car into Pakuranga Plaza, by which time flames had made their way to the front of the car and were licking at his feet.
He went to escape the vehicle but realised his seat belt buckle wouldn't open.
"In a split second my heart sank. I gave up on myself. It went from dead panic to dead calm. I thought 'This is it'.
"The seat belt buckle was jammed because it had melted - it literally broke when I pulled it, it must have been melted over," Holt said.
"I yanked it pretty hard - if it didn't melt enough [to break] I would have been screwed."
Seconds after he got out, the uninsured car was engulfed in flames, something an eyewitness confirmed.
"I lost everything - I lost my phone, my clothes... I lost $15,000 to $20,000 that day," Holt said.
Four good Samaritans supported Holt after the incident, including one woman who gave him $100, an act of kindness he said he would never forget.
"I thought, 'Wow, there are really genuinely good people out there, people who really, really care."
Holt's face was still "a bit red" from the flames today but he was otherwise unhurt.
He wasn't sure what caused the fire.
"With the heat and the fire you can't even tell where it started."
Fire services attended from Mt Wellington to put out the fire. They had investigated the burnt out vehicle but it was so badly damaged they couldn't tell where the fire started either, Holt said.
A fire service spokesman said it would be unlikely they would need to investigate the incident further.
The experience showed how quickly a fire could spread and Holt was now questioning whether fire extinguishers should be mandatory in cars.
"All I'm saying is things would have been much different if I'd had one."
He had intended to buy insurance for the newly-bought car on Monday , but was trying to focus on the positives rather than dwell on the bad timing.
"At the end of the day there was no loss of life and no one was injured."
The fire was Holt's second brush with death, after he went through the windscreen in a head-on collision five years ago.