Dear Tom and Ray:
A friend was recently in an automobile accident when her accelerator pedal stuck on the Ford she was driving. It made me think about what a person should do in that circumstance to stop the car in a safe manner. I often thought about turning off the ignition if that happens, but then I'd lose my power steering. Can you set me straight? -- Gene
RAY: And even worse, you'd also lose the ballgame on the radio, Gene!
TOM: This is a great question, because this is one of those situations that CAN be handled very easily if you stay calm and know what to do. And what to do is put the car in Neutral.
RAY: Right. Most people panic and try one of the following: They stand on the brake pedal, they apply the parking brake, they bend down under the steering column and try to pull the pedal back or they turn off the ignition. Forget all that stuff.
TOM: If the accelerator is stuck all the way open, you'll have a hard time stopping the car with the brakes. The flimsy parking brake is even more useless. Plus, it's redundant, since your brake pedal is already applying the brakes to all four wheels.
RAY: Bending down is crazy. Not only might it not work (since the cause is likely to be under the hood), but you're going fast AND now you can't see!
TOM: And, as you say, Gene, turning off the ignition kills your power steering. It also kills your power brakes. And if you turn the key too far -- to the "lock" position -- you'll lock the steering wheel. Then you're really toast.
RAY: So the proper thing to do is stay calm, and simply shift the car into Neutral. You'll keep your power steering and power brakes, and you'll be able to bring your car to a safe, controlled stop off to the side of the road.
TOM: Then, once you're safely stopped, you can turn off the engine and call for help.
RAY: There is, of course, a small danger that the engine might be revving so fast in Neutral that it might blow. To that we say, "So what?" Then you make a claim with your insurance company, and it buys you a new engine. I'm sure it'll be happy to pay. And if not, remind the agent that the alternative would be paying out your death benefit (which would probably cost the company at least 50 bucks more than the engine). Thanks for an important question, Gene.