According to the Detroit Free Press, on the morning of August 31st, 75 year old Cleveland, Ohio resident Peter Pyros jumped in his 2006 Cadillac XLR to wring it out in the late summer before fall arrived and it was time to store it for the winter. Unfortunately, the car’s battery was just alive enough to turn everything on before dying completely. That’s where the trouble started.
The 2006 Cadillac XLR is based on the C7 Chevrolet Corvette. Instead of interior door handles — which have been on cars as long as doors have – the XLR has a push-button release for the doors. You push the button, sending an electronic signal to the door latch, which is supposed to pop open and let you out of the car.
That’s all well and good until something goes wrong. In this case, when Pyros pushed the start button in his XLR, there was enough juice left in the battery to automatically lock the doors, but not enough to start the car. The electrical system failed completely at that point, but the doors were locked from the inside. The power locks wouldn’t function, and neither would the button to release the door latch.
Peter Pyros described the next 14 hours to the Detroit Free Press:
“I tried pounding on the window thinking someone would hear me,” said Pyros.
It was 10:00 in the morning, and all of his neighbors were gone.
“It was getting really hot and it was difficult to breathe — this was all within a half hour,” said Pyros. “I was trying to find something to get me out of the car. Nothing worked. I started to scream as loud as I could.”
Unlike the Corvette it’s based on, the XLR didn’t have a soft convertible top. It has a mechanical hardtop that closes weather-tight over the passenger cabin. It’s also a power feature, requiring battery power to operate.
There is a manual door release in the XLR that will open the doors in case of an electrical failure, but Pyros didn’t know it was down next to the seat, and his owner’s manual was inside the house, rather than in the glovebox.
It was only in the 70s the day Pyros was trapped in his car, but in the garage, temperatures climbed well above that.
Hours passed with Pyros attempting to extricate himself from the car. His first thought was to smash a window. It actually takes quite a bit of force to break tempered glass. In fact, there are regulations in the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards that dictate how tough a piece of tempered side window glass needs to be.
FMVSS 205 indicates that all automotive glazing has to meet ANSI/ SAE Z26.1–1996 standards. The relevant language of ANSI/ SAE Z26.1–1996 is in section 5.5, which deals with impact resistance. To pass those ANSI/SAE standards, 12 identical pieces of glass are subject to the following:
In other words, the test is designed to guarantee that the glass wont shatter without significant impact. Some cars offered since the 1996 adoption of the ANSI/SAE standard had glazing that went well beyond that standard. The truth is, it’s nearly impossible to break a window without tools, as this video shows:
What about using the headrest to smash the glass, like the Internet wants to convince us is why headrests are designed the way they are?
A while back, we debunked this very meme that suggested that automotive headrests were designed specifically to be used as tools to break a window in a case like this. The XLR’s headrests aren’t removable at all. It’s not even clear in Cadillac’s description whether they adjust up and down:
“Seats: front bucket 8-way power driver and passenger seat adjusters, adjustable upper and lower lumbar control, easy-exit seat position, cooled and heated seat cushions and seatbacks and integrated audio system.”
Without a seatbelt tool like the one below, it’s nearly impossible to smash a piece of glass using your bare hands. And consider also that Pyros is 76, hot and tired. It adds up to a long, long time trapped inside his prized convertible.
“I came to the conclusion that I was going to die,” Pyros told the Detroit Free Press. “I was at peace with it. I asked God to help me twice, then I said, ‘OK, God if this is the way I’m supposed to die, I will die.’ ”
He even told the Detroit Free Press he scrawled a note because he didn’t want his nephew to think that he’d committed suicide.
Finally, at 11:20 p.m., more than 12 hours after he’d found himself locked inside, Pyros’s neighbor noticed his garage door was open. He heard faint cries when he went to investigate and found Pyros locked inside. With no power, the neighbor couldn’t open the door from outside, so he called the fire department.
The fire department had Pyros pop the hood from inside, and they jump-started the battery, allowing Pyros to climb out of the car. He ended up spending the night in the hospital.
This isn’t uncommon, and similar incidents have resulted in death. In 2015, 72-year-old James Rogers and his dog were trapped inside his 2007 Corvette. In the Texas sun, outside temperatures rose into the 90s. Inside the car, the interior became an oven and both Rogers and his dog were killed.
In New Zealand, Mollieanne and Brian Smith were trapped inside a Mazda3 when the doors locked automatically and they had left the key fob inside the house. They spent 13 hours inside the vehicle in their garage before neighbors finally found them. The couple survived but not without spending days in the hospital.
The simple answer to both of these issues is to read the owner’s manual, but the simple act of opening a door, which we’ve all done tens of thousands of times over a lifetime of operating an automobile, isn’t exactly something you think you’d need the manual for. We’ve run into similar instances with a BMW station wagon with a dead battery, located in the cargo area. The only way to open the cargo hatch is to use the soft-touch electric button from outside, which requires power to operate.
More and more vehicles are utilizing these door openers, and most vehicles in 2018 have automatic locking doors. Spend a few minutes reading the manual to see how they operate, and for the worst-case scenarios, it might be wise to pack a seatbelt tool like the one shown above in the glovebox.