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How to escape your car if the electric door release doesn’t work

How to escape your car if the electric door release doesn’t work
Posted at 5:30 AM, Nov 01, 2023

Statistics show that driving is probably the riskiest thing any of us do on a daily basis — but because it has become such a routine in most of our lives, we don’t really consider safety as much as we should. Sure, we buckle our kids into their car seats and ourselves in with seat belts. But, that’s not really enough. Following an accident or other car emergency, we need to be aware of how to protect our safety with quick action.

Even with the advanced technology in electric cars such as the Tesla, there can be unexpected dangers. Essential systems like the door and window mechanisms stop working when the electrical system fails. When time is critical for escape following an accident, how can you get out of the car without power and when there is no traditional handle to release the door?

front end of car crushed up against car in front of it

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Some Modern Cars Have a Manual Release System

Under normal circumstances, an electric car has a touch system to unlock the door. These cars have a manual backup option, but you must know where to look to make a quick escape.

Consumer Reports shared a helpful TikTok video to help electric car owners find the emergency release latch in several modern car models.

@consumerreports Keith Barry, autos reporter at CR, shares why drivers of some modern vehicles should learn where emergency door releases are located—before they need them. #cartok #carsoftiktok #cartips ♬ original sound – Consumer Reports

Situations like this happen more often than we may think. In 2022, a Canadian driver got stranded on the side of the road when his 2021 Tesla Model Y shut down without warning. Suddenly, toxic smoke started to fill the car, and Jamil Jutha could not open the door or windows.

He ended up kicking out a window — something not everyone can do, based on their individual abilities and levels of strength. Jutha told CTV News that while his Tesla’s front doors do have a mechanical release (as shown in the TikTok above), it’s not exactly intuitive and may be hard to figure out in an emergency.

Other electric car models have different manual door override systems, according to Consumer Reports. They include the following:

  • The Chevrolet Corvette and Cadillac XLR (now discontinued) have emergency releases on the floor between the doors and the car sills. Just pull up the level to open the door.
  • The Ford Mustang Mach-E has a manual door release inside the door armrest. Pull it backward to open the door.
  • The 2022 Lexus NX’s electric override is simply pulling the door level toward the occupant twice instead of pushing it once. All four doors have this override system.
  • The Lincoln Continental’s emergency manual override level is at the front of the storage pocket at the bottom of the car door.

All drivers should review their car owner’s manual to get familiar with the emergency door release system to be prepared in an emergency.

Can You Escape by Overriding Your Car Window Controls?

What if the car door lock override system doesn’t work due to accident damage — or if you panic and can’t find it? Can someone inside the car get out through the window, as Jutha did?

Most electric or gas-powered cars have power windows with no backup system if the power shuts down. When car windows were made of tempered glass, a safety hammer was an effective tool to break the window without causing significant harm to the user. Just hit the glass with the tool, and the glass would spiderweb enough to push the fragments out of the frame.

However, car manufacturers now use laminated glass as an added safety precaution to prevent shattered glass during an accident. Laminated side and rear glass windows became a popular addition to cars after the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration passed a rule about ejection mitigation in 2011, Car and Driver explains.

This is more effective in keeping people safe during an accident. However, laminated windows cause problems for people who need to escape the car afterward, as in a fire or if the car is submerged.


MORE: Why you shouldn’t heat up your car for long in cold winter weather

In a 2019 study, AAA found that safety hammers and similar escape tools did not work on the new laminated glass. None of the tools they tested could break the glass to allow a quick escape from a car. However, most were effective with tempered glass.

“Our research found that generally, vehicle scape tools can be effective in an emergency, but only if drivers know what type of side windows they have,” said AAA Director of Automotive Engineering Greg Brannon in a statement about the findings. “Otherwise, they could waste precious seconds trying to break glass that will not shatter.”

It’s important to know that almost all cars with laminated windows have at least one with tempered glass. Owners should consult the car’s operation manual or contact the manufacturer to determine which windows are made with the materials in question so they know which can be broken using tools available on the market.

For older models, consumers can also consult this list that AAA released to show which models have laminated glass and even which windows the laminate is on.

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