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How to Escape a Sinking Car

How to Escape a Car Sinking in Water

by Shannon Caldwell

What would you do if your car plunged into a body of water?

Since watching a recent nail-biting intense spy movie where our favorite spy is stuck in a sinking vehicle, we wondered what average drivers like us should do to escape such a situation.

First things first: remain calm and pop your seatbelt. You'd be surprised how many people die because they panic...and forget that they're still buckled in.

Next, if you have an older model vehicle roll down the windows immediately then swim out through the open window. If you're still floating above water, roll down the window as fast as possible and escape.

Electric windows need power so if the car has shut off you won't be able to power down the windows. The same goes for locks... power locks need power. If the car has shut down and the doors are locked you will not be able to unlock them. But don't panic there are life-saving solutions.

Once the bottom of the car door is even slightly submerged, the water pressure makes it almost impossible to open the door until the car is nearly full of water, which equalizes the pressure. If you want to escape by your car door, you'll have to wait until the car is completely underwater (see below). If no windows were broken during the accident, it's possible that the car will retain air for awhile until it hits bottom. But then again, that depends on if you drive into a shallow pond or into the ocean. Best to act quickly and not wait if possible.

It takes a car anywhere from two minutes to almost ten to sink. But beware that there’s also a strong possibility that your car may flip upside-down as it sinks. Try to hang on to something (like the steering wheel) so you can orient yourself as soon as possible.

If you're unable to open a window, you'll need to break one in order to make your escape. Brace yourself across the front seat and slam your heels into the driver's side window. Or, if you're one of the few who have a center punch in your glove box, use it to break the window. (A center punch, available online at Amazon or Walmart, is a small window smashing tool that can shatter windows and easily fits in a glove box. Simply place the point firmly against the window and push.)

I strongly recommend you buy one now for each car in the family, not later, because should your car plunge into water, you may not get that second chance. You'll be sitting there in a panic regretting you didn't take the 5 minutes to go online and purchase one.

Amazon sells all-in-one window punches with seat belt cutter for about $7.00 - Well worth the price when it comes to life and death. They also sell packages of 2 for 2-car families. Great stocking stuffer, great anytime, the gift of life.

Keep the window punch close by in your car so you don't have to spend time fumbling for it. And keep it in an enclosed place like a glove box or enclosed center console, not your purse and not on your dashboard where it can float around in water. You'll never find it once the water hits.

When a car sinks, it's very dark inside, not like the movies where they have the sinking vehicle in a controlled situation with lighting, and 30 cameramen, producers, directors, and lifeguards standing by.

You're first instinct will be to panic but you must control that instinct or it will kill you by using up the precious 2-3 minutes you have to save your life. Every second counts. As hard as it may be, you must remain calm when you hit the water, grab your window punch, cut your seatbelt off first and then give it to your passenger to do the same. If you have children in the back seat, cut theirs off quickly. If they're still small enough for car seats you may want to practice removing their car seat belt in the dark and time yourself. You have a lot to do in a very short time so the faster you can do everything, the more likely you and your family will survive.

The next step is to break a window with the window punch. After you buy one try it out a few times to make sure you know how to use it. You don't want to be figuring that out in a sinking car. Where can you try out a window punch or seat belt cutter? Go to your local junkyard. Every town has one. Either Google it or ask your local dealer or repair shop. Beware of junkyard dogs. It's best to check with the owner first as he may want to show you where the safest cars are on the lot to practice with a window punch. Might be a good idea to bring along safety glasses ($10 online) to protect your eyes. It may make the junkyard owner more willing to accommodate you if he sees you're taking precautions. And, don't go alone. Always go in pairs or groups. Junkyards are fun but can be very hazardous.

If you can't break the window your very last resort is the car door (provided it is unlocked). You must wait until the water inside the car equalizes the pressure of the outside water. This means that you must take a generous last breath, open the door underwater, then swim to the surface. One common mistake is losing your sense of direction in the water. Follow the direction of the bubbles or where your body naturally wants to float.

You might not be as brawny as James Bond, spy extraordinare, but armed with the tips in this article, you'll be able to survive a sinking vehicle. Undercover operations are an entirely different story.

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