Stuck Accelerator FAQ

You are out for a drive to the local grade school with a carload of young children, when suddenly your family SUV starts accelerating without your input, and you find yourself in a life and death situation: the stuck accelerator.

You have heard about this happening, usually by a drunk driver who would not pull over for the police, but now it is really happening to you, and you have your kids and a bunch of other people's kids you are responsible for.

What may cause your accelerator to get stuck?

The prime cause over the last few years has been the floor mat interacting with the gas pedal. Lexus and Toyota have probably received the most publicity on this front when an entire family was tragically killed as a result of one such incident. The tragedy was compounded by the fact that the driver was a California Highway Patrol officer, who should have been familiar with what to do in the situation he found himself in.

There are also mechanical reasons why the accelerator can stick, such as improperly adjusted or unlubricated connecting links leading to your carburetor or fuel injection control unit.

The last two causes take a backseat to the floor-mat syndrome, which caused the largest recall, until that time, of any vehicle. Toyota recalled 430,000 of them at an ultimate cost of almost half a billion dollars and a tremendous loss of prestige after a delayed response.

What can you do to bring your vehicle to a safe stop?

Most importantly, and that may be very difficult: Don't Panic! Think rationally and follow common sense by knowing what is happening rather than worrying about why it is happening. Your number one priority is to disengage power to the wheels from the engine in order to prevent an accident.

Also very important: Do not engage the emergency brake, as that could lead to loss of control of your vehicle.

Depending what type of transmission you have and how new your vehicle is, there may be different consequence (newer vehicles have over-rev protection) to your actions.

First, put your transmission in neutral. If you are driving a manual transmission, this will involve first depressing the clutch pedal and then moving your shift lever into the neutral position.

Then steer toward the shoulder, if there is one, while applying your brakes relatively forcefully, hoping that nobody is tailgating you.

Immediately after coming to a safe stop, turn off your engine with your key or, in the keyless ignition, press the 'stop' button until the engine stops.

Turn on your emergency flashers and have all your passengers evacuate quickly on the shoulder side of the vehicle, getting a safe distance away in case another driver collides with it.

If you feel like calling for help, have someone else in the car do that. All of your attention must be directed to stopping safely.

What about turning the ignition key off?

That could endanger you even more, as one or more of the following things will happen:

  1. Your steering wheel locks, robbing you of all directional control of your vehicle.
  2. You will lose your power steering.
  3. Your power brakes will lose their power assist, making braking much harder.

What if the engine won't turn off?

If, after you have followed the above procedures, the engine fails to turn off and keeps racing at high speed, then you should call 911 immediately, as chances are that your engine will catch fire from its inability to lubricate itself properly.

You should call 911 in any event, so that police can come and alert traffic to your situation.

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