WASHINGTON (AP) — The faulty General Motors ignition switches blamed for dozens of crashes, some fatal, aren't the only reason a moving car can suddenly stall. It happened to Bill Van Tassel a couple of weeks ago, as he was steering his Mazda Miata around a turn on an Interstate onramp.
"This type of thing could happen at any time. It's going to be completely unexpected," he says.
Van Tassel's problem had nothing to do with his ignition. His engine quit because it ran out of gas; he says a broken fuel sensor had fooled him. And he was better prepared than most folks: He's in charge of driver training programs for AAA.
Here are his tips for what to do if your car's engine suddenly quits, making it harder to steer and leaving you at the mercy of other traffic.
STEP BY STEP
If your engine quits:
—Look for the safest way off the road. That usually means heading for the right shoulder, but on a divided freeway you may be closer to the left.
—Use your turn indicator to signal where you're going. Emergency flashers, if you can turn them on easily.
—Don't panic if it feels like the steering isn't working. Pull harder. And be ready to push extra hard on the brakes if necessary.
—But if cars are buzzing past on a freeway, you don't want to stomp on the brakes. Let the car's momentum help you navigate through high-speed traffic toward the shoulder.
—Try to stop your car as far off the road as possible. In most cases, it's safer to move well away from the car before calling for help. Never stand behind or in front of your vehicle, because it may be struck by another car.
—If your car stops in the middle of a busy road, you may be safer staying inside, with seat belt on.
FOR EXPERIENCED DRIVERS
Other moves may help, if you feel comfortable using them:
—To help slow the car: Shift into low gear. But many drivers of automatic transmissions aren't in the habit of using the low gears.
—To avoid slowing down too suddenly, shift into neutral to maximize your momentum. But nervous drivers could be at risk of shifting into reverse by mistake.