Vehicle Emergencies

Compiled by Dick Oakes

This article describes some of the most common emergency situtations and how they can be handled, with accident prevention and the safety of motorists and innocent pedestrians being the prime concern.

First Rule of Crash Avoidance

The best way to avoid accidents is to keep your vehicle in safe running condition.

Stopping on the Highway

Many emergency situtations require stopping on the highway, which is dangerous. If you must stop on a highway, observe the following:

Sticking Throttle

If your throttle (accelerator pedal) sticks, here's what you can do.

Brake Failure

Newer vehicles have a split braking system designed to reduce the possibility of total brake failure and include a warning light on the instrument panel.

Loss of Steering

Loss of steering can occur suddenly and without warning. Something in the steering mechanism or its related components may break, fall off, or jam, leaving you with no control of the vehicle's direction.


Fires are generally caused by a fault in the electrical system or by leakage in the fuel system, which may cause raw gas to leak onto a hot engine.

Loss of Lights

A total loss of lights in conjunction with power loss is usually caused by burnout of a fuse, a fused wire, or by loosened battery cables.

Overheated Engine

Engine overheating can be caused by a leak in the radiator, by hoses permitting the loss of coolant, a faulty water pump, a bad thermostat, or a broken fan belt.

Loss of Oil Pressure

A sudden loss of oil pressure, if not promptly corrected, can result in extensive damage to your vehicle's engine as well as a highway breakdown.

Alternator/Generator Failure

The alternator and generator make the electric current that keeps your vehicle's battery charged and operate the lights and anything else in the car that needs electricity.

WIndshield Wiper Failure

Windshield wipers may fail when you need them most -- when it's raining or snowing, or you are heading into the sun.

Dropped Driveshaft

One of the most dangerous problems is a dropped driveshaft, which happens suddenly. In vehicles with front-mounted engines, the driveshaft is the long tubular device underneath your vehicle that is connected to the transmission on one end and to the differential on the other. It's purpose is to drive the wheels to propel the vehicle. Motive power will be lost, and the vehicle cannot be driven until the driveshaft is repaired.

Hood Popup

Failure of a hood latch, both primary and secondary, or improper closure of the hood and subsequent failure of the secondary latch, can result in the hood popping open while you are driving, blocking your view of the road (not as prevalent on vehicles later than 1969).

Submersion of Your Vehicle

If your vehicle goes through a bridge railing or over an embankment into a deep body of water, the following tips may help you survive.

Loss of Lug Nuts

If you notice a wobble on a wheel or hear a rattling noise coming from a wheel, especially at low speeds, the problem may be loose lug nuts or a lug nut that has come off the wheel stud and is rattling inside the hub cap or wheel cover. This problem is often caused by improper tightening of the nuts when a tire is replaced, or by faulty lug bolt threads which will not retain the lug nuts tightly.

Exhaust System Failures

There's nothing you can do about a blown muffler or broken tailpipe when you're out on the highway except to get the problem taken care of as soon as you can.

Flat Tires and Blowouts

Keep good tires on your vehicle and check them frequently.

Driving Through Water or in Heavy Rain or Snow

Driving through water, in heavy rain, or in snow can result in engine drownout, brake failure, and possible loss of vehicle control. People drown trying to drive across flooded roads. Hydroplaning results in loss of steering control.

Unruly Children

Accidents may be caused because of lack of driver control when you turn around to try to discipline unruly children.


Accidents have been caused by drivers losing control of their vehicles because of efforts to get rid of flies, bees, yellow jackets, wasps, or other insects that have entered the vehicle.

Clothing and Upholstery Fires

Clothing and upholstery fires are usually smoker's problems -- ashes or lighted particles may drop on your clothing or the upholstery from your cigarette, pipe, or cigar.

Fire in the Ashtray

Ashtrays are for ashes, not candy and gum wrappers.

First Aid Supplies for Your Vehicle

The following is a list of some of the things you can carry in your trunk or glove compartment that you may find useful from time to time.