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I found one explanation for this, but it seemed to be from an older edition.
Let's say I have a Dreadnought armed with a Multimelta on the right arm and a DCCW/heavy flamer on the left arm. In front of him are a unit of troops and a vehicle a little further back and to the right, slightly out of range of the flamer. A rough sketch is attached.
If I choose to target the vehicle, does my flamer still get to shoot? If I were to aim towards the left-most part of the vehicle, I could BBQ the troops, but it's short of the vehicle. Do I still get to place the template? While my opponents say I cannot shoot a weapon if I know I'm out of range, I found a potential explanation for being able to do so on page 17, which says that if you are out of range, the shot simply falls short, implying that the shot was actually taken.
High Elves: Tournament W/D/L - 6/5/5
I'm with your opponent, I fear. Page 17 of the big rulebook states any shot that has no target in range misses automatically. So you mustn't place the template if you are too far away to touch the target.
(And on a further note: the flame weapons' rule [page 29, big rulebook] states that you have to place the template in such a way that you hit as much of your target as possible without touching your own models. In case of a vehicle you must place the template in such a way that it covers as much of the vehicle as possible, so you can't voluntarily aim the template at the farthest left corner of it.)
Why aim at something you can't hit?
sure you might pop it with the multi-melta but the fall back being you can't annahilate the infantry squad with your flamer.
Your best option in this case would have been to hunt the troops and on the next turn pop the tank (it can't get out of your multi-melta range)
If you are unable to place the template in a way that it at least contacts the 'targeted' unit (the vehicle in this case) Then the flamer automatically misses.
If you are able to contact the vehicle, even just partially; Then anything under the template is hit and wounds are rolled for.
In the OP's scenario, you would have to place the template so it contacts as much as it can the vehicle, probably only catching 2 or 3 infantry. Then roll to hit for the M. Melta (most likely granting the vehicle a cover save) to hit and penetrate the vehicle.