I had a problem with a run-away car I had...

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | Jun 01, 1994

Dear Tom and Ray:

I had a problem with a run-away car. I had a 1977 Delta 88 Royale with 35,000 miles on it. I was driving up a slight hill, and stopped at a stop sign near the top. The car evidentally stalled out and I didn't realize it. I had depressed the gas pedal with the intention of making a left turn. But instead of going forward, the car drifted backwards and turned into the corner of a house. I had shut the engine off thinking the car would stop, but it didn't, and the brakes and steering didn't seem to work. I panicked and didn't know what to do. Now I won't drive again. What do you think could have happened that it went out of control and drifted backwards?

TOM: Nothing happened, Dottie. The car just stalled. And you're right; you panicked.

RAY: When a car stalls on a hill, it will start to roll. And without the power of the engine, the power steering and power brakes disappear...as you found out. The brakes and steering still work, but it's very difficult to stop or steer the car, especially if the car is large and heavy, and you happen to be small and light.

TOM: And turning off the ignition will not make the car stop. All that does is make the ENGINE stop. And in your case, the engine had already stopped! Plus, turning off the ignition can lock the steering wheel, which really does make it impossible to steer.

RAY: So what should you have done? First of all, leave the key where it is. That will at least keep the steering wheel from locking up. Next, try pushing on the brakes with both feet. It takes a lot of pressure to stop a big car without power brakes, but most people can do it.

TOM: If you don't think you can stop the car by standing on the brake pedal, you have two more options on a car with an automatic transmission. First, you can use the parking brake. While it's not always effective (which is why they don't call it the "emergency brake" anymore), if you're rolling towards a house, it's certainly worth a shot. And if the brakes are in good shape, the parking brake will generally stop a slow moving vehicle.

RAY: If that doesn't work, then you should just slam the transmission into Park. You may hear the transmission grind or clack when you do that, but isn't that better than explaining to to Mrs. Miller why you thought the dinner party she invited you to was a "drive through?"

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