How to keep from getting trapped underwater by failing electric windows.

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | Dec 01, 2004

Dear Tom and Ray:

We recently had some major floods here, and several people were trapped and died in their cars. I'm guessing the electric windows were not functioning and the water pressure kept the doors from opening. If you do find yourself trapped in a car that's underwater or going to be underwater, what's the best way to get out? -- Bill

TOM: Well, if you weren't forward-thinking enough to order the optional factory-installed snorkel, the best way to get out is through a window. Once the doors are submerged, the water pressure makes it nearly impossible to push the door open -- as you pointed out, Bill. Most people don't realize that.

RAY: If you have old-style, roll-down windows, it's no problem. But if you have electric windows, you have to act quickly. Many cars allow electric windows to operate for a minute or so after the car has been turned off, so as soon as you find yourself in a situation like that, you want to get a window open. Or open a sunroof.

TOM: It's counterintuitive. But if there's any chance that you're going to end up underwater, it's the right thing to do.

RAY: Once you're stuck and underwater, and your window won't open -- for whatever reason -- there are still ways to get out. Some companies sell an emergency hammer that you keep in the glove box in order to break a window and escape. We've also seen a flashlight that's designed to double as a window-breaking tool. If you live in an area that's prone to flash floods, keeping one of these things in the car isn't a bad idea.

TOM: Without a usable tool, you'll probably have more luck kicking out the windshield than one of the side windows.

RAY: The side windows are very difficult to break. They're slotted into a channel on both sides, and locked into the weatherstripping on top. The windshield, on the other hand, is not really locked into anything. It's attached with an adhesive and should pop out if you push against it with both feet. It won't be easy, but since you can brace yourself against the driver's seat, that's probably your best bet, Bill.

TOM: Of course, you could also just buy the car that's designed to allow you to breathe underwater ... the Scubaru.

RAY: That is truly awful. I formally disown you.

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