Wednesday, November 26, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

Opening your car door in a crisis

What to do if your car doors won´t open in an emergency.
What to do if your car doors won't open in an emergency. iStock

(MCT) -- QUESTION: I was shocked to see a news broadcast of a man whose car caught fire and he couldn't get out because the electric door locks were inoperative. He was saved because someone was able to bend the top of the door and break the glass to pull him out. This seems to be a big problem in some modern cars. I was recently at a Chevrolet dealership that had a 1-year-old Corvette convertible in the showroom. It was locked but the top was down so I attempted to pull the door lock knob up to get in. No luck. I didn't have the key fob. I also read about some cars that can only be opened by finding some elusive handle to manually open a door when the car has an electrical failure. I find it hard to believe that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration would allow cars to be manufactured this way. I own a 2005 Buick LeSabre and a 2010 F-150. Both have electric locks. Should I be concerned about these two vehicles?

ANSWER: The C6 Corvette you mentioned - I have one - has electrically operated door unlatch mechanisms that are operated by electric buttons on the inside and outside of the door and the BCM (body control module). Your two vehicles have electrically operated door latches operated by the keyless entry fob and the BCM, but also have mechanical unlatch mechanisms on the inside and outside of the doors.

The Corvette has no door-mounted mechanical release levers or buttons. Instead, it has a manual door unlatch mechanism that mechanically unlatches the door latch via a cable inside the door and a lever located on the floor between the seat and door. Pulling up on this lever unlatches and opens the door.

If some type of complete electrical failure disabled both your remote keyless entry fob and the electrical door lock switches on your door, you would open the door by manually unlocking it, then pulling the mechanical release handle on the door itself.

The same electrical failure on the Corvette would require you to pull up on the release lever on the floor to open the door. The only real difference is the location of the mechanical release system.

One other interesting difference. Because the Corvette, like a number of newer vehicles, utilizes electric switches rather than a mechanical linkage to open the door from the outside, if the battery is dead with the doors and rear hatch locked, the only way into the car is to use a special key that's part of the fob to mechanically unlock the rear hatch and pull a release handle to unlock the door.

Maybe the real question is this: Does this new technology add to or improve the functionality of the vehicle? What do you think?

Q: I have a 2011 Chevy Silverado LT. Every time I have it serviced they claim it needs a front end alignment. I mostly drive in city or on paved highways. Is this common? I have never had this problem before. I am 87 years old if that makes a difference.

A: Your age makes no difference - except perhaps to a service agency that may think you are an easier "up-sell" during routine service. Unless you've been pounding off-road, sliding into curbs, finding every pothole in your area or some other alignment-ruining scenario, your truck's alignment certainly should not need "regular service."

Are the tires on your truck wearing relatively evenly? Does the vehicle exhibit any alignment issues such as lead, pull or instability in a straight line.? GM says some light "feathering" on the outer edge of the tread is normal for this vehicle. Regular tire rotation can help maximize tire life and minimize unusual wear.

If your vehicle exhibits none of these issues, you may want to align yourself with another service agency.

Paul Brand Star Tribune (Minneapolis)