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Floor Mats, High Heels, and a Can of Beans: How Everyday Items Can Become Hazards in a Vehicle

February 16, 2011

In a crash, a simple pen sitting harmlessly on the dashboard can be as dangerous as a knife. In a front-end collision, a can of beans stacked at the top of the grocery bag can be propelled forward with more force than a Nolan Ryan fastball. At 55 mph, a twenty-pound object can hit with a thousand pounds of force—so powerful that a suitcase can literally dismember the arm of a crash test dummy.
    
A quick, visual inventory of loose items and objects in your vehicle is a common sense means of keeping you and your loved ones safe and it only takes a minute. You may not be able to control what other drivers do on the road, but you can take steps to reduce or eliminate potentially dangerous items in your car. Here are a few tips:

  • Pack loose items in the truck or cargo area of your vehicle, so they are less likely to be propelled forward in a crash
  • Utilize cargo nets, tethers, and/or anchors if possible
  • Pack heavier or bulkier objects as low on the floorboard as possible
  • Never stack floor mats or any loose items on the driver’s floorboard area

As a manager at a large automotive service department for the last eleven years, I have come across many harrowing examples of what can take place when these simple suggestions are not heeded:

It was mid-afternoon when a call was transferred to my office with a preemptive warning about an upset, agitated customer. I picked up the phone invitingly and said, “How can I help …?” (I almost completed my greeting.)

“My brakes failed and I went through four stop signs and a school district at full throttle!”

The customer then took a breath and proceeded to tell me about all of the various and perilous legal situations that I now faced. Unfortunately, it is a common perception among patrons to treat department personnel as the ones who designed, engineered, and delivered the flawed vehicle to them. While it’s frustrating at times, I have accepted that it’s just part of the job.

I calmly asked if anyone had been hurt, to which she replied that she could have been killed. I immediately arranged for a tow truck to bring in the faulty vehicle. Within twenty minutes, the vehicle was being off loaded into a parking spot in the front of the service department.
   
I heard her before I saw her. “Lawyers,” “lawsuits,” and “recalls” were some of the words I could distinguish between several words not suitable to mention here. The keys were still in the ignition as I started up the offending SUV. It instantly hit the rev limiter with resonating protest, so I quickly shut the vehicle down.

The brakes reeked of a foul, burnt odor as the woman asked to see a higher authority than myself so that she could further her grievance. I looked under the dash and quickly identified the culprit: a heavy, aftermarket, rubber floor mat had lodged the accelerator pedal to the floor. After seeing the real origin of the problem, she paid for a complete brake service with rotors without further objection.
   
Another time, a woman abruptly came to my office saying she had no brakes. She was angry, blocking my only path of escape at the door. We uneasily walked to her vehicle as she enthusiastically voiced her displeasure with her “lemon of a car.” I opened the driver’s door and immediately noticed several pairs of shoes on the floorboard in front of the driver’s seat. Leaning down for a better view, I extracted the culprit—a stylish, red, high-heeled pump lodged behind the brake pedal.
   
Dangerous situations are not, by any means, gender-dependent. Once, a man drove into the service department—he and his entire truck interior were completely covered in a fine white powder. He angrily explained that his passenger seat airbag had deployed while driving down the road. The curious situation was serious enough for me to stop what I was doing to investigate immediately. The culprit this time? Jammed tightly under his passenger seat was a deployed fire extinguisher with the locking pin dangling from a seat spring.
   
Thankfully, no one was physically hurt in these examples—only some wounded pride and strained nerves. The moral here is not to point out customers’ ill-advised choices or poor judgment; it is to show that seemingly innocuous, everyday items can be deadly in a moving vehicle. Always do a quick, visual check for such items when you get into your vehicle—you just might save your life ... and your pride.

 

About the Author

I am a 21+ year Senior Master Technician and a Master ASE technician at a Ford dealership. I take pride knowing that I deliver a quality repair with honesty and integrity.

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