How to stop a runaway car


Three tips that could save your life if unintended sudden acceleration happens

SINGAPORE – It might be one of the most frightening experiences behind the wheel: a car zooming ahead on its own and refusing to stop.

Sudden unintended acceleration, as the extremely rare phenomenon is called, is a potentially deadly situation.

The cause is often difficult to trace, and everything from driver error to computer glitches to diesel engine runaway (when a diesel engine continues to run on an unintended fuel source, like oil from the crankcase breather hose or a leaky turbo seal) has been named as possible causes.

In 2013 the South Korean government tried to reproduce the conditions believed to bring out sudden unintended acceleration but could not induce it to happen. 

With the news that taxis here are being investigated for possible occurrences of it, the dangers of having it happen are under the spotlight again.

But if it does happen to you, there are steps to take to recover control of a runaway car. If you stay calm and act fast, you can come to a safe halt in a matter of moments.

Here’s what to do:

Stay calm
If your car seems to start accelerating on its own, don’t panic and ask why it’s happening. Just focus on retaking control

Step on the brakes — hard
If your car has a mind to go, you’ll need to apply decisive action. Don’t be gentle with the brakes or pump them, doing so could overheat them. Some cars come with a throttle override that kicks in when the brake pedal is depressed, so this alone might be enough to save the day. If not…

Put the transmission in “Neutral”, fast
Doing so disconnects the engine from the wheels. The engine can then rev all it wants while you find somewhere safe to stop. In an automatic car it’s possible to nudge the gearlever from Drive to Neutral even if you’re accelerating. If you’re driving a manual car, so much the better. Just step on the clutch and keep your foot down.

Don’t try to turn off the engine. Doing so will make the car hard to steer, and you lose braking power. Some push-button ignition systems won’t let you do it normally (they usually require a press-and-hold action) anyway. Better to focus on putting the car into Neutral. You can turn that engine off after coming to a stop.

about the author

Leow Ju-Len
Leow Ju-Len is a lot older than he behaves. He's been writing about cars for 23 years. Someday he might do it coherently. Ju-Len believes in world peace and V8s, but not necessarily in that order.