Car Disasters: Single-Car Crash

Do's ...
  • Stay in your car until you know can assess how badly you've been injured, if at all. If everything seems to be fine, just sit for a minute and collect your thoughts.
  • If you suspect you have a serious injury, whether it's your head, neck or someplace else, don't move until help arrives and your injury can be stabilized. Sometimes movement can make your injury worse.
  • If the car is still running, shut it off. Pull the keys out of the ignition.
  • Apply the emergency brake. Turn on your hazards lights. If it's nighttime, leave your headlights and parking lights on (if they work). This way, other motorists and emergency personnel can see you.
  • If your cell phone works and you have coverage, call 911.
  • Determine if it is safe to exit the car. If you're unsure, remain in the car until help arrives or proceed to exit with extreme caution. For instance, your car may have bounced to the edge of a ditch. Exiting without caution could result in injuries worse than those sustained in the accident itself.
  • If available, use cones or flares to warn other motorists.
  • If you struck a deer, wait for authorities to clear it from the roadway.
  • Assess your car from the outside. Make note of any visible body damage, leaking fluids, smoke from the hood, and tire and wheel condition. Take photos if you can.
  • As with any significant impact, assume that your car is not drivable. Even if it looks OK, there may be structural and mechanical damage you cannot see due to disbursement of crash energy. Driving it could further damage your car.
  • Attempt to move the car only if it poses a danger to oncoming motorists in its current position (for example, if it is situated at a blind curve or just beyond the crest of a hill).
  • Attempt to drive your car away only if there is a clear and present danger in staying or if it is absolutely clear to you that your car has not sustained any real damage. For example, a large pickup truck may not suffer any significant damage beyond a cracked grille after hitting, say, a small deer.
  • Stay a safe distance away if the car catches fire.
  • Wait for help to arrive.
  • Inform emergency personnel if your car is a hybrid or electric car. The high-voltage components in these cars may require specialized training.

If you're in the wild: In the case of a minor accident, your car may still be drivable. If you are in a remote spot and unable to contact help, a small fix may allow you to make it a short distance to get to a garage or at least to civilization. Here are a few steps you can take:

  • Carefully open the hood, but beware of fire and heat.
  • Once the car has cooled, slowly loosen the radiator cap to release any pressure that may be building inside. Protect your face, as hot fluid could blow out. Leave the cap loose.
  • Use rubberized tape to seal any broken hoses. Hoses will likely be hot, so wait until they cool.
  • Check the ground for fluids. If you can, replenish any that may have leaked: oil (black), transmission fluid (red), antifreeze (yellow/green/orange) and/or water.
  • Use tire foam if any of your tires have leaked air. Foam is a fix only for minor punctures. If the tire is torn or shredded, you'll need to change it.
Don't's ...
  • Don't move the car unless it poses a threat to oncoming motorists.
  • Don't drive the car away unless it is dangerous for you to remain at the crash site.
  • Don't attempt to drive the car if the fenders are pushed into the tires.
  • Don't lift the hood too soon if you're checking for damage. The burst of oxygen can make a small fire turn into a large one in a matter of seconds.
  • Don't attempt to extinguish anything beyond a small fire. With larger fires, your car can explode. Get a safe distance away.
  • Don't try to move a deer you just hit, unless you are absolutely sure the animal is dead and it poses a threat to oncoming motorists.
  • Don't have your car towed until you can get police on the scene to make a report. A police report will likely be necessary for insurance reasons.
© Cars.com 04/30/2013