What to do if your car engine dies when you're driving

Consumer Reports shows you how to stay safe in an emergency

Published: March 18, 2014 06:00 PM

General Motors' recall of 1.6 million cars with faulty ignition switches raises the question of what to do if you're driving along and the engine stalls. With a track at our disposal, our engineers grabbed a GM vehicle from our test fleet to demonstrate.

First of all, keep your eyes on the road and look for a place to pull over and stop if you have to.

If the engine quits while you're under way, the car will lose power steering and soon power brakes. But you can still guide and stop the car, even if it takes longer and requires much more effort.

The car can lose engine power for many reasons, from running out of gas to having a faulty fuel pump, alternator, or other failure. In the case of the recalled 2005-2007 Chevrolet Cobalt, 2003-2007 Saturn Ion, and 2006-2007 Chevrolet HHRsPontiac Solstices, and Saturn Skys, the problem was an ignition switch that was flimsily made and easy to switch off inadvertently if the driver brushed against the key or key ring with a knee.

If you're driving and the ignition key moves or is moved to the accessory position accidentally, try putting the gear lever into neutral and restarting the engine. Then shift back into drive and you're good to go.

If the engine won't restart or has stalled for some other reason, apply the brakes and steer gradually to the side of the road. As you slow down, the steering will feel increasingly heavier, but it will still be possible to steer.

You should also expect the power boost for the brakes to disappear after one or two applications, so try to stop as soon as you can, using the emergency brake if necessary.

Then turn on the emergency flashers and summon help.

GM says it will contact owners of the recalled cars in April, advising them to use the ignition key alone, without any fob or key ring. Once GM has lined up replacement parts, another letter will instruct owners to have the repairs done.To find recalls on your vehicle, see our special search tool.

Gordon Hard

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