Stuck Accelerator? Here's What You Do
For those times when 'drive one and you'll never stop' becomes more than mere marketing hyperbole
In light of Toyota’s recent 14-million-strong recall for stuck accelerators, and Ford’s 'maybe' incipient similar problem with as many as 1.9 million Tauruses, it might be a good idea to plan for this contingency.
Go through the steps in your head – and here’s the important bit – before there’s a problem. Good airlines do this with their flight crews. It’s what simulators are for. It’s probably also why Noah built the ark before it rained – even though that whole story is patently ridiculous.
If it happens to you, don’t panic. Last thing you want the pilot to do when engine one catches fire is panic. Like, you’re skydiving: you yank the ripcord. The main chute fails to deploy. Option one is: panic, and hit the ground at 200km/h in 30 seconds. Option two is: jettison the main chute, locate the ripcord on the reserve, pull. Option two is the better bet, but probably isn’t available if you panic.
Look as far ahead as possible. Plan the car’s movements. Hit the four-way flashers (hazard lights).
Jam the brakes on, hard. Brakes are more powerful than engines. In a fair fight, brakes always win. Hard braking will stop the car, even with the throttle stuck wide open. However, if you don’t brake hard enough you could overheat the brakes, and they’ll stop working (that’s bad).
If Step 4 fails (or even if it doesn’t, and you’ve just stopped) Select ‘N’ in an auto or just bump the gear lever into neutral in a manual. Neutral disengages the engine from the driveline. Practice this once or twice in a nice safe spot just to make sure you know how to do it. If you overheated the brakes attempting Step 4 badly, use the parking brake to stop.
If Step 4 and Step 5 both fail (or even if they don’t, and you are stopped) turn the engine off. This is option three if the brakes don’t work and you can’t select neutral, and the car is still running away. With a key-type ignition, rotate the lock back one click only. Don’t get too keen and rotate the lock back more than that because you could easily lock the steering – also a serious predicament. With a pushbutton starter you’ll need to know how to shut down the engine. This might involve pressing and holding the start/stop button for some few seconds. A brief press probably won’t do it. Either experiment somewhere safe, at low speed, or consult the owner’s manual, then experiment somewhere safe, at low speed.
If none of that works, and you tried them all at least twice, and McGyver and/or Jack Bauer’s not in the passenger’s seat, and you’re on a nice, modern freeway, drive gently into the Armco or wire rope barrier, and hope that slows you down. Pick your spot. Hope you’re in a car with at least six airbags and a five-star crashworthiness rating.