The Top Driving Emergencies
Not long ago, I was driving home from the store with my wife and grand kids. I was approaching the last stop sign which is less than 100 feet from the entrance to our rural driveway. I go to stop and my brake pedal goes to the floor.
Oh NO! No BRAKES.
I thought, “If I don’t stop, my car will continue onto our property and possibly into the neighbors’ property, too.”
My first and quickest reaction was use the emergency brake. I did. The wheels locked up. The tires screeched, and everyone in the car gasped and looked at me as the car stopped. “My brakes went out!” I said. I was “freaking out.”
Knowing what to do
I have never had my brakes go out, and it really scared me.
The closest I’d come to such a thing was a few years earlier. I was driving on a highway and had a blow out on my right rear tire. Fortunately, I was able to safely get off the roadway and change my tire.
Would you know what to do if your tire blows out?
What if your brakes went out? I used my emergency brake. Could I have done something else first?
Suppose you are driving on the highway and your engine overheats or your accelerator gets stuck. Would you know what to do?
Knowing what to do could prevent you from getting into a crash.
We never expect to have vehicle emergencies when driving. They happen unexpectedly and the driver must be prepared to react safely.
Here are some vehicle emergencies a driver might encounter and the steps needed to handle the situation. Also included are some methods of prevention to reduce the risk of having a driving emergency.
THE TOP 5
Tire Blow Out
A tire blow out can result in vehicle accidents that injure and lead to fatalities. In the latest stats from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, tire blowouts are estimated to cause more than 400 deaths and 78.000 crashes a year.
Tire blowouts can be caused by a variety of reasons. They can happen when tires are worn out or old. Blowouts can occur from under and over inflated tires. Driving on roads with large pot holes can lead to blowouts while driving.
What to do:
- Try not to panic
- Hold steering wheel with both hands and steer straight ahead.
- Do not slam on brakes or overreact with braking.
- Maintain vehicle speed, if safe to do so.
- Gradually release pressure on accelerator.
- Correct steering as necessary to stabilize the vehicle. Look where you want the vehicle to go and steer in that direction.
- Once the vehicle is stabilized, continue to slow the vehicle and pull off the road where it is safe.
Blow out Prevention:
- Most blowouts occur from May to Oct. when the pavement is hottest.
- Make sure worn out or old tires are replaced.
- Check that tires are properly inflated.
- If tires have a manufacturer recall, have them replaced.
- Look for cracks, bulges, or bumps in the tires.
- Look for uneven wear on tire treads
- Have tires rotated and balanced yearly
- Avoid driving in pot holes and watch for road hazards. If the lane you are driving in has lots of pot holes, change to another lane.
According to crash statistics, brake-related problems accounted for about 22% of crashes where vehicle failure was cited as the cause of the accident.
Brakes can fail from worn out brake pads, overheating, low hydraulic pressure, or going through deep water. A malfunctioning master cylinder or brake booster can cause brakes to fail. Bad brakes are major factor in rear end collisions. It is scary when brakes fail. Try not to panic because it is possible to stop the the vehicle.
What to do:
- Don’t panic. Turn on emergency flashers.
- Get off the gas. Release foot from accelerator to help slow the car down.
- Look for a safe area on or off the roadway to slow the vehicle.
- Downshift into a lower gear. Downshift into the next lower gear. This can be done in an automatic transmission by going from D to 3, to 2, to 1.Do not immediately downshift into the lowest gear. This could put the car into a skid causing loss of control.
- Try pumping the brakes. If the brake lines have air in them or lost pressure, pumping them can build up enough pressure to slow and possibly stop the car.
- Slowly apply Emergency Brake. This can be risky at fast speeds. Applying the emergency brake hard and quick can put the car into a dangerous skid. Gradually apply the emergency brake. If you have a hand brake, push the lever button and lightly pull up on the brake until the car slows. If you have a pedal emergency brake, do not push it down fast. It will lock up the rear brakes causing the vehicle to skid.
- If the car begins to skid, let up or release the emergency brake and apply again, but more gently.
- Pull car safely to the side or off the roadway.
Signs of impending brake failures:
- Brake fluid leaks are seen on your drive way or under your car
- Brake pedal feels “soft” or “spongy” and require you to push pedal further down to get vehicle to stop.
- When braking, you hear a squeal or a metallic screeching noise. This is a sign that the brake pads need changing. If you wait too long to change the pads, the rotors could be damaged, causing a higher repair bill.
Brake Failure Prevention:
- Have brake pads changed regularly. When brakes begin to screech or squeal, take vehicle to mechanic for brake service.
- Check brake fluid reservoir. If fluid if low, add fluid and look for leak.
- If brake fluid is dirty, have brake fluid changed by bleeding new brake fluid into the lines. Dirty brake fluid can lead to failing of the brake master cylinder which can cause the brakes to fail.
- Be careful driving through high water. Wet brakes can cause failure.
- Don’t overload your vehicle.
One of the main reasons that brakes fail is from owner neglect. Have your brakes checked.
If you are driving and your car engine suddenly overheats, it is best to address the problem quickly. Driving an overheated car can burn up your engine. Here are the steps to take:
What to do:
- Keep car running and turn off the air conditioner.
- Turn on heater to pull heat away from the engine. It may be uncomfortable for passengers, this but could save your engine.
- Pull vehicle off the roadway to a safe area.
- Allow vehicle to cool for 30 minutes before you check fluid levels.
- Never take off radiator cap when engine is hot.
- When car cools, check coolant reservoir for low levels of coolant.
- If car continues to overheat, it might be the thermostat. Have vehicle towed to auto repair garage.
Engine Overheating Prevention:
- Check coolant levels on a regular basis.
- Have belts and hoses checked annually. A broken fan belt or leaking hose can lead to an overheated engine.
- Carry extra coolant in your vehicle’s trunk for emergencies.
- Look for coolant leaks in your driveway. Coolant puddles will smell sweet.
- Check radiator cap. A leaking radiator cap can lead to pressure loss and engine overheating.
- In stop and go traffic, turn off AC and roll down the windows.
Accelerator Gets Stuck
A stuck accelerator can be a frightening emergency while driving. It could be something as simple as a flip flop or floor mat or some other object sliding forward and wedging your gas pedal in place. It could also be a mechanical issue with the auto’s accelerator linkage.
What to Do:
- Jiggle or stomp the pedal to dislodge any possible object on it.
- Do not reach with your hands to free gas pedal, use your foot. Reaching with your hand will take your focus off the road and lead to a collision.
- Shift car into neutral. This kills any acceleration and allows car to coast.
- Turn on emergency flashers to warn other drivers.
- Brake and get off the roadway.
- Do not turn off the engine while driving, if the accelerator is stuck. The steering will lock and driver can’t control the vehicle.
Stuck Accelerator Prevention:
- Don’t drive in flip flops
- Keep floor board clear of debris like cans or coffee cups.
- Make sure floor mats are secure and not sliding about the floorboard.
- Have regular vehicle maintenance.
Power Steering Failure
If you are driving and your power steering goes out don’t panic. You will still be able to steer the vehicle but it will take more force to turn the wheel. Power steering failures are most likely from loss of fluid. The problem might be as easy as adding power steering fluid. It could also be a broken belt or power steering pump.
What to do:
- Don’t panic. You can still steer the car.
- Turn on emergency flashers to warn other drivers of an emergency.
- Get vehicle off the roadway.
- Turn off vehicle and check power steering fluid.
- If you feel confident steering without power steering, drive vehicle to mechanic.
- If you don’t feel confident in driving without power steering, have vehicle towed to auto mechanic.
Power Steering Failure Prevention:
- When you check fluids, always check power steering fluid.
- Have vehicle’s belts checked annually.
- If you hear a whining when you steer, check the power steering fluid or have a mechanic do a steering check.
Knowing what to do is key in dealing with driving emergencies.
Regular vehicle maintenance is key in preventing them before they happen.
Following the proper steps
If you drive a lot or commute daily, there is always the chance that you encounter emergencies with your vehicle.
Most of the emergencies can be avoided with preventative maintenance. Regularly check all your vehicles fluid levels. Have hoses and belts checked. When you hear a squeal when braking, get you brakes serviced. If you don’t know how to check power steering fluid, “google it”. You Tube has many helpful videos on simple vehicle maintenance.
If you drive an older vehicle like I do, keep fluids like coolant in your trunk.
If you need a tow, call your insurance company. Many full coverage auto insurance policies provides roadside assistance. If you are a Texas driver, on the back of the Texas Driver’s License is Texas Roadside Assistance and a 1-800 number.
First of all, don’t panic, like I did. I had brake failure and quickly engaged the parking brake. If I had done this at a higher speed, a skid might have led to loss of control. First, I should have tried to pump the brakes. Turns out, I had dirty brake fluid causing my brake master cylinder to malfunction. That one was on me. I failed to have the fluid changed. Brake fluid should be clear, not the color of dirty oil.
Following the proper steps to handle your vehicle in an emergency can prevent a crash. Having your vehicle mechanically sound by doing regular maintenance will eliminate most vehicle emergencies.
Dealing with driving emergencies like the ones listed above is just one of the things we cover in our Comedy Guys defensive driving course.
Our over-riding goal is to create safer drivers. And that includes handling an emergency situation.
Whether you take our online driving safety course or one of our live defensive driving classes, you’re probably doing it to get a ticket dismissed. But you’ll also come out with information that will make you and your passengers safer on the road.