Many preppers have a well-stocked vehicle, including a get-home bag, in case of emergencies, but in some situations, your vehicle can become the emergency situation from which you need to survive.
The thought of your car itself becoming a threat to your life is a scary one, but should it happen, you need to know what to do – and fast.
The very unexpected nature of car accidents can put you in a situation where there is an immediate danger of fire/explosion, entrapment, or even submergence (in the case of an accident in or near water) – you need to have the right car escape tool on you and know the proper way to use it.
Here at The Bug Out Bag Guide, we always have an eye out for preparedness and were inspired to write this article after a friend of ours told us how she always carries a seatbelt cutter in her EDC, right on her keychain. Her reasoning for this was that she wanted it accessible and on-hand at all times.
Her daily commute takes her over several bodies of water and, as part of her daily threat assessment, she identified a car accident involving water as a likely threat she needed to be prepared for. In case she ever needs to quickly free herself, reaching the ignition is a much surer bet than reaching something in the glove box; therefore, she keeps the perfect tool she’ll need in case of submersion right at her fingertips.
In case she ever needs to quickly free herself, reaching the ignition is a much surer bet than reaching something in the glove box; therefore, she keeps the perfect tool she’ll need in case of submersion right at her fingertips.
After hearing her story, it got us thinking: Knowing what to do in case of a car accident and having the right tools on hand is a preparedness measure most people need to take – there must be some great tips and tools out there we can share with our readers. So we went out, did the research, and came up with some great tips,
So we went out, did the research, and came up with some great tips, tricks, and recommendations that we’re very excited to share with you.
Assessing Vehicular Threats
When assessing what threats you are most likely to encounter while in your vehicle, it’s important to consider three distinct areas:
- Your usual commute
- Seasonal weather conditions
- Unpredictable situations
Assessing Your Commute
Much like our friend who inspired this article, you need to thoroughly consider all the possible threats you could encounter on your commute, such as flooding, steep cliffs, bridges, runaway truck zones, fallen rock zones, or stretches of wilderness or desolation. Taking a close look at a topographical map of the area you drive on a regular basis is a great way to get an idea of the possible emergency situations you may find yourself in.
Water can be a major threat and you should always be aware of waterways and areas that may become flooded during or following intense rainfall. Another thing to be aware of is that low bridges over small rivers and creeks are typically not designed to withstand substantial flooding, and if such bridges are on your commute, it is always prudent to map out alternate emergency routes.
If your commute includes large bridges, these pose less of a concern for flooding, but do anticipate bottleneck traffic in times of emergency. Hopefully, any accidents on a larger bridge will be contained to the bridge itself due to safety rails, but it is always wise to be prepared for water-related accidents.
Hopefully, any accidents on a larger bridge will be contained to the bridge itself due to safety rails, but it is always wise to be prepared for water-related accidents.
Traveling through mountainous regions presents its own set of threats and challenges. Typically, you will be traveling through areas with steep inclines that tend to have cliffs and winding roads with limited visibility. If there happens to be runaway truck zones, then there is potential for brakes overheating on declines.
If your commute takes you through long stretches of wilderness, you may be required to travel a significant distance on foot to reach civilization should an emergency arise and your vehicle is no longer operational. For more tips on assessing your daily threats, CLICK HERE.
Assessing Seasonal Weather Conditions
Depending on where you live, seasonal weather may present additional threats throughout different points in the year. Heat, rain, snow and wind all present unique challenges that should be addressed.
- Heat: Intense heat increases the risk of overheating, tire blowouts, and brake failure.
- Rain and Snow: These elements make for hazardous driving conditions by reducing visibility and traction.
- Wind: Wind can cause vehicles, especially large tractor trailers, to sway or lose control.
Assessing Unpredictable Situations
By nature, unpredictable situations are situations that can arise without warning and include emergencies such as collisions, tire blowouts, brake failure, belt failure, and car fires. While you can do your best to mitigate these risks by keeping your vehicle up to safety code with regular maintenance and inspections, there is nothing you can do to avoid these risks entirely, so it’s best to be prepared for them.
While you can do your best to mitigate these risks by keeping your vehicle up to safety code with regular maintenance and inspections, there is nothing you can do to avoid these risks entirely, so it’s best to be prepared for them.
In the case of fire, getting out as quickly as possible is your primary concern. You need to be aware of how to exit your vehicle in an emergency and have the tools on-hand to help you.
You need to be aware of how to exit your vehicle in an emergency and have the tools on-hand to help you.
How To Use A Car Escape Tool
There are specific tools designed to assist in automobile emergencies. They work by providing a means to breach restraints and windows so you can quickly evacuate your car. Remember, do not store your car escape tool in your glove compartment. If your car rolls and your seatbelt locks up it will be difficult, if not impossible to reach.
Remember, do not store your car escape tool in your glove compartment. If your car rolls and your seatbelt locks up it will be difficult, if not impossible, to reach.
Instead, put it in a latched center console or mount it under the driver seat, to the driver side door, to the visor, or somewhere else that can easily be reached no matter what position the car is in after a crash.
Seatbelts are an essential safety item designed to keep you safe. However, in some situations they can become an obstacle to your safety should you need to evacuate your vehicle quickly. In the case of an overturned or otherwise disabled vehicle, you may only have seconds to get out; if fire and water pose an added threat, the severity of the situation – and need for a quick escape – increases.
A seatbelt cutter works best and fastest when the seatbelt is very taut. To operate a seatbelt cutter, grab your seatbelt and pull it away from your body to create tension, then hook the cutter and pull swiftly away from your body. Whether you cut the belt perpendicularly or at an angle makes no difference – do whichever is easiest for you.
Typically, the blade on a seatbelt cutter is recessed for safety and housed in a hook that guides the belt to the blade. There may be a protective cap as an additional precaution against cuts. There are seatbelt cutters with folding serrated blades, much like a pocket knife.
An episode of the popular TV series Mythbusters featured a vehicle submersion test, proving that when submerged, the pressure inside a car is too strong to open any of the doors until the vehicle is completely filled with water, which equalizes the pressure on the inside and outside.
You certainly don’t want to wait until your vehicle fills with water to get out and your windows (whether power or hand-crank) will not work when submerged. Your best bet in this situation is to break a window and exit through it. This is where having a car escape tool on-hand can truly be a lifesaver.
Your best bet in this situation is to break a window and exit through it. This is where having a car escape tool, with an integrated glassbreaker, can truly be a lifesaver.
While there are many different options for glassbreakers, the tip material is usually made of steel, hardened steel, or tungsten carbide. The most common types of
The most common types of glassbreakers include manual and spring-assisted. A manual glassbreaker often comes as an added feature on pocket knives or tactical pens, requiring brute force to create a puncture in
Manual glassbreakers often come as an added feature on pocket knives or tactical pens, requiring brute force to create break glass. With a manual glassbreaker, you will want to hold the tool in your fist with the point toward your pinky and aim for the corner of the glass with a quick, hard, backhand jab in order to impact the window without going through it.
Spring-assisted glassbreakers pack their own punch and activate when pressed up against the glass. With no more force than is needed to press the tool up against the glass, a small metal tip strikes out and forcibly breaks the glass. This is an especially valuable feature when time is of the essence.
Tips for effectively and safely breaking glass:
- Aim for the side windows, not the windshield – by design, windshields are made to withstand a puncture without shattering and are extra tough to break through.
- When breaking through a side window, aim for the lower corner about 4 inches from the frame rather than the center – this avoids pushing your hand through the glass and helps reduce the risk of injury.
- To further protect yourself from injury, use your free hand to press against the glass and stop your other hand from going through the glass – this is especially critical in situations where you won’t have time to put on (or access to) safety gloves.
- Always turn your head away from the glass when breaking it – this is of utmost importance when submerged as the water that will come rushing in will bring a wave of broken glass toward you (while a few cuts is better than drowning, glass in your eye can become a serious hindrance to your survival efforts).
Our Picks for the Top Vehicle Escape Tools
Best Overall Car Escape Tool
Our Top Pick: ResQMe Keychain Tool
The ResQMe Keychain Tool is our top pick as it works effectively while also being easy to keep on you at all times. Whether driving in your own car, riding with someone else, or taking public transportation, you can have it with you at all times.
Our Favorite Features:
- Small, discreet, fits on a keychain, and has a quick-release – with just a tug, it is in your hand and ready for use
- This is a spring-assisted tool and therefore easy to use with minimal strength – it is something an older child or elderly person can easily handle and comes with a tip made of hardened steel
- Effective: We actually tested it out and what we found was that it took a few tries but luckily the pin rests instantly. On the third try, we were able to shatter a ¼” TruLite tempered glass. The reason it probably didn’t work on the first attempt was because we were holding a freestanding piece of glass and probably didn’t apply enough pressure to properly deploy the blade. In a real life situation, the glass would be framed and stable, making it easier to apply full pressure from within a vehicle.
- We also tested the seatbelt cutter on Sterling 1″ tubular nylon webbing, the same type of material as a seatbelt, only twice the thickness. The Res-Q-Me sliced through in one motion.
- The quick-release also serves as a safety feature to cover the blade on the seatbelt cutter to reduce risk of accidental injury
Best Mounted Vehicle Escape Tool
Our Top Pick: LifeHammer Evolution
The LifeHammer Evolution is our top pick as it comes with a mount that allows you to attach it to the interior of your car in an easily reachable location and making it readily accessible to the driver at all times.
Our Favorite Features:
- This spring-assisted glassbreaker requires minimal strength to operate making it an effective tool for anyone, including older children and the elderly
- The long handle provides a good grip for activating the trigger
- The construction of the tool is quality and made from heavy duty plastic with a steel blade and ceramic tip
- It comes with an adjustable mounting clip for securing the car escape tool to the door or center console for instant access, even in a rolled vehicle situation.
Best Multi-Function Vehicle Escape Tool
Our Top Pick: Spyderco Assist
This great tool features a folding pocket knife style and has a retractable carbide tip for breaking glass – simply squeezing the blade into the handle in its folded position will activate the glassbreaker.
Our Favorite Features:
- The blunt-tipped blade is made of VG-10 steel and has serration that is specifically designed for cutting seatbelts (by folding the blade and handle together, you can also cut rope quickly)
- The Cobra Hood opens quickly, providing access to the blade, with ample jimping for added control when the tool is open
- The handle is made from durable FRN material offered in an ambidextrous (lefties rejoice!) design that fits well into the palm of either hand
- As an added bonus, this tool also includes a survival whistle in the handle to help signal for help
Best Manual Vehicle Escape Tool
Our Top Pick: LifeHammer Original Emergency Hammer
This was our top pick as it is has a very sturdy plastic handle and the seatbelt cutter blade makes it virtually impossible to cut yourself on. It also comes with a mounting plate to secure it anywhere within reach of the driver’s seat.
Our Favorite Features:
- This is a fixed double-sided hammer with hardened steel tips
- The long handle provides for better leverage when cutting seatbelts and breaking glass
- Effective: We also tested this one out and, while I was not expecting to be able to use this one effectively, after testing it out I was truly impressed with how efficient it was at breaking glass. After taking aim, we were able to shatter the same ¼” TruLite tempered glass with only one whack.
- The LifeHammer seatbelt cutter also made it through the Sterling 1″ tubular nylon with no problem.
Our Favorite Car Escape Tools
|Vehicle Escape Tool
|How It Is Used
|Res-Q-Me Quick Car Escape Tool
|Cut seat belts
|• Tough PVC plastic, with steel blade for quickly slicing through seat belts
• Spring loaded hammer exerts force when activated so anyone can operate it to break a window
• Keychain style is compact and always on hand, with a quick release clip
|LifeHammer Safety Evolution Emergency Ceramic Auto Escape Hammer (Orange 2 Pack)
|Cut seat belts
|• Flat head design puts the handle at 90 degrees for leverage when activating the hammer
• Seat beltcutter blade is deeply recessed for safety and for easily guiding the belt when cutting
• Includes mount and hardware for securing to the door or center console
|Spyderco Assist with Carbide Tip FRN Combination Edge Black Blade Knife
|Cut seat belts
Signal for help
|• Folding pocket knife design doubles as a rope cutter
• Serated VG-10 steel blade slices through seatbelts and other bindings
• Squeeze in the folded position to reveal retractable carbide tip for breaking glass
|LifeHammer Original Emergency Hammer
|Cut seat belts
|• Recessed seat belt blade protects from accidental cuts
• Double steel hammer heads for quick deployment no matter how it is oriented when you grab it
• Comes with a mounting cradle to secure close to the driver's seat
A Word About Vehicle-Related Emergencies
When it comes to preparedness for vehicle-related emergencies, one of the most important skills you can have is first aid knowledge.
The first moments of a medical emergency are the most critical, knowing what to do can mean the difference between life and death. If you haven’t already, we highly recommend taking a first aid course to ensure your skills are up to date.
Having the proper skills and tools to deal with a vehicle emergency may not only save you but also someone else. If you see someone in trouble and stop to offer help, ensure you follow the proper procedures for assisting in an emergency. Always introduce yourself and offer to help, asking permission to treat adults and minors if emergency personnel have yet to arrive on the scene.
As an added cautionary note, always be careful not to put yourself in harm’s way when assisting someone else; if you become injured as a result of your attempts to help, not only will your skills now be useless but you will have added an additional complication to the emergency.
As with any survival skill, we truly hope you never have the opportunity to put your vehicle escape skills into practice, but if the situation should arise where you do need to make a speedy exit from your car, chance favors the well-prepared.
When choosing your ideal car escape tool, always keep in mind that when it comes time to use it, you will have very little time to both retrieve and operate it – accessibility and speed are of the essence.
Also, don’t just pick out a tool and leave it until you need it; try it out, get comfortable with it, and ensure you know exactly what to do should a situation ever arise where your life depends on your ability to operate it.
Have you ever experienced a vehicle emergency? Did you have tools on-hand that helped you address the situation? What are the must-have vehicle escape tools in your survival arsenal and where do you keep them? Let us know your thoughts in the Comment section below, thanks!