CLICK & CLACK : When a Driver Collapses

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Dear Tom and Ray:

My significant other has collapsed several times in restaurants. My children are concerned about his driving me around. What does one do in an emergency like that? I was told not to turn off the engine. He drives an SUV Ford Explorer automatic. -- Liz

RAY: Actually, YOU need to take over the driving, Liz. Assuming that your significant other's fainting spells have not been successfully diagnosed and treated, it's too dangerous to let him drive. It's a difficult conversation to have, and if you and your children are unable to persuade him to give up the keys, you should call his doctor. In most states, doctors can contact the department of motor vehicles and notify it when a patient is medically unfit to drive.

TOM: Now, to address your original question: What happens if someone else reading today finds himself or herself riding with a driver who suddenly becomes incapacitated?

RAY: There is no absolute, one-size-fits-all answer. For instance, what you do on a straight, empty road when you're going 30 miles per hour would differ from what you might do in city traffic, or on a highway or a mountain pass. But here are some general things to think about (our lawyer forbids us from actually recommending anything, but here are some ideas).

TOM: First, some things you might try NOT to do: Don't panic. And don't try to help the driver. You have to get the car stopped so you don't both end up sharing a hospital room.

RAY: Don't turn off the engine. You'll lose the power steering and power brakes, and you'll probably need both of them. You also might lock the steering wheel.

TOM: Don't remove your seat belt, at least until you have the car well under control. If the car does crash, you want to be belted in.

RAY: What you CAN do: Take the steering wheel in your left hand. You should be able to reach it and steer the car without leaving your seat. If the driver's foot is still pressing on the gas pedal, lift his or her right leg up off the pedal.

TOM: After that, it's going to depend on the situation. If there's a parking brake between the seats, pull it up. If you've got some open road, move the shifter into the lowest possible gear. Whether the shifter is on the console between the seats or on a column next to the steering wheel, you should be able to reach it. Shifting it to the lowest gear will eventually slow the car down to 10 mph or so.

RAY: Then you have to stop the car entirely. If there's a big console between the seats, is the car sufficiently out of immediate danger so that you can safely release your seat belt, climb over the console and apply the brake?

TOM: Once the car is going slow enough, you may need to just slam the transmission into park and let it skid to a halt. If you don't have time for that, you may have to make an instantaneous decision to steer into a parked car, rather than take a chance of hitting a car with people in it. Or you may have to hit a car with people in it rather than hit pedestrians. Or you may be able to steer the car up a hill so the car will stop, and you can then put it in park.

RAY: There are a lot of variables, obviously, so you have to use your wits.

Dear Tom and Ray:

When purchasing oil, the oil has a quality level (API Service). There are many different categories/types, such as SG/CD, SF, SM, SA, SB, SC, SE, to list a few. Today when I purchased oil, all the available viscosities and brands were SM. I have a 1993 Ford van with a 4.9-liter, six-cylinder engine. The owner's manual recommends 10w-30 SG/CD, which I could not find. What do all these types mean? Do I need to be concerned? -- Dave

RAY: No, you don't need to be concerned, Dave. The letter combinations are performance ratings from the American Petroleum Institute, or API. When your van was manufactured, the top-of-the-line motor oil was rated SG, so that's what Ford called for.

TOM: Since then, oils have continued to improve, and they've been given higher designations. SH replaced SG in the top spot. Then came SI, SJ, SK, SL and SM. So, since your vehicle calls for SG or better, you can use anything from SG through SM.

Got a question about cars? Write to Click & Clack in care of The Post, or e-mail them by visiting the Car Talk Web site at

2007 by Tom and Ray Magliozzi and Doug Berman

© 2009 The Washington Post Company