There are two things you rely on exclusively as you drive: your accelerator and your brakes. It’s a constant motion of applying pressure to one pedal and then the other as you move from point A to B.
In most cases, both work flawlessly. You tap, and they respond.
When an accelerator sticks, it can be a scary experience. While it doesn’t happen often, if the gas pedal sticks it’s both frightening and a dangerous situation. In an instant, the car jolts forward, accelerating without being responsive to the pressure you put on the brakes.
You don’t have time to think; you react. Your instincts will kick in. And the more knowledge you have about how acceleration and braking work, the better your response.
How an accelerator works
An accelerator controls how fast or slow your vehicle moves down the road. When you press the accelerator pedal towards the floor, it opens the throttle valve, which allows fuel to flow into the engine. This causes the vehicle to move faster.
Mechanically speaking, the accelerator is the controller of the fuel flow rate into the combustion chamber. The more you press down on the accelerator pedal, the more fuel is added to the combustion chamber, the more fuel is burned to power your car and move it into action.
While this process has experienced little change over the years, newer cars have built in safety sensors to help protect you as you drive. The accelerator pedal is wired with three sensors. If all sensors agree with one another, the car speeds and moves according to your actions. If any one sensor is off, it triggers a warning. If all sensors disagree, it places the engine in idle.
What causes an accelerator to stick?
The accelerator sticking could be caused by a variety of things.
- If the floor mat rides up, it can become wedged underneath the accelerator pedal.
- It may be from frictional wear of the braking mechanism.
- Defective electronic controls may cause it to stick.
- It could be electromagnetic interference somewhere in the system.
While this isn’t a common problem, it does happen from time to time. Would you know what to do if your accelerator sticks?
When an accelerator sticks
It’s only natural to panic when something doesn’t work the way it’s supposed to. Yet remaining calm, cool, and collected is what’s needed to bring your vehicle to a stop. If the accelerator sticks, you should:
The first step is to move past the sudden feeling of panic. Take a deep breath, and realize you can fix this. There are workarounds, so it’s important to stay calm and work quickly to bring your car under control.
Shift to neutral
The most important thing to do is to decrease the car’s speed. To do so, shift your engine to neutral gear. This allows the engine to still rev, but it will cause the car’s speed to stop increasing. If you have a manual transmission, don’t forget to use the clutch as you shift gears.
Don’t play with the key or ignition button. You want to have access to your brakes, and control over the navigation system. This would take all power away.
If you can’t get the gears to shift to neutral, you should move to the side of the road, or out of traffic if possible. Apply your emergency brake to bring your vehicle to a stop.
Turn your hazard lights on
This is a signal to other drivers that there’s a potential problem with your vehicle. It brings instant awareness to whoever sees the hazard signals, and allows them to slow and give you plenty of room.
Apply the brakes
If you are able to shift to neutral, the next step is to apply your brakes. Do this slowly, monitoring the situation as you continue to slow down the car. Try not to pump the brakes, as this will deactivate the power brakes.
Navigate to the side of the road or other safe place
If possible, steer your car to a safe place away from other motorists. Give yourself plenty of room to be able to park, exit your car, and move to safety. Only then should you turn the ignition off and apply the emergency brake if possible.
Inspect your pedals
You can do a quick check to see if something is wedged under the pedal, causing it to stick. It may be the floor mat, or something smaller like a pen.
Call for help
If it’s not the floor mat or some other obstruction, it’s time to call for help. Tow your vehicle to a mechanic to have them assess the problem. Do not drive the vehicle until the situation is evaluated and the problem is fixed.
Maintenance to prevent accelerator problems
While a sticking accelerator can be caused by human error, it can also be from mechanical and electrical issues.
To prevent human error, ensure the inside of your car is clean and free of debris. Never allow anything to pile up on the driver’s side, especially near the pedals. Water bottles, purse straps, and office items like pens and paper clips should be kept off the driver’s side floor board. If you have a mat that isn’t form-fitting, it might be time to replace the mats.
Ice and snow can also impact the way the pedal works. On days where you’re in and out with ice and snow, water can accumulate and saturate certain types of mats. If it presses against the pedal mechanism, it can freeze the line.
While mechanical and electrical issues are rare, they can happen. It can be:
- A malfunction with a component in the engine compartment
- A defective vacuum hose
- A faulty accelerator link
With regular inspections, a mechanic will test individual aspects of the system, and ensure all parts are working and in optimal condition. It’s the best way to ensure your vehicle is running, no matter what the conditions are like around you as you drive.
Have you ever experienced an accelerator sticking as you drive?