Runaway cars

with Sharon Peters

Q: We had another case of a runaway car recently — a car that was accelerating even though the driver was trying to stop it. It ended without any severe injuries, thankfully, though the car was more or less totaled. Every time this happens I wonder what I should do if for some reason, when I’m driving, my car decides to take off on its own.

A: Follow these steps in this order (briskly but not panicked — easier to advise than to execute, I know, but it’s vital to be purposeful): Try the brakes (don’t pump, apply steady pressure) again to make sure you’ve been hitting the right pedal. If deceleration doesn’t occur, reach down and pull back on the mat (or mats … more on that later), as mats jammed against the gas pedal are most often the cause. If none of this works, put the car into neutral. It will make a huge roaring/revving sound, but will slow down gradually. You may cause some damage to the vehicle (or not) but that’s preferable to the other possibilities, yes?

Don’t turn the key off until the car is already stopped on the side of the road, as doing that while it’s hurtling ahead will impact braking and steering.

A word about mats: most cars have hooks into which you’re supposed to secure the mats. I must admit that before all these runaway-car cases started, I wasn’t diligent about re-hooking them once I’d finished at the car wash, especially in winter, when I knew I’d be removing them again in a week or less for yet another cleaning. I’m extremely careful now. And I hope you will be too.

Another word about mats: some people stack two on top of each other, especially in winter and spring when, in most regions, there’s a lot of muck, mud and other detritus that you you’d prefer not stain your regular mats. Bad idea. That’s just a thicker pad likely to slide against the gas pedal, and the risk of unintended acceleration is even greater.

And a final word on mats: when you buy new ones, make sure they’re the right size for your vehicle. Too-big mats have been linked to some of these acceleration crises.

© CTW Features

What’s your question? Sharon Peters would like to hear about what’s on your mind when it comes to caring for, driving and repairing your vehicle. Email