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How to Escape a Sinking Car - Survival Fitness Plan

Discover how to escape a sinking car as well as 10 tips to avoid the situation in the first place

7 Steps to Escape a Sinking Car

Surviving a car crash is hard enough, but what if you crash into water? Although most people will probably never need to escape a sinking car, if you ever do, the information in this article may save your life. 

This article also contains 10 tips to help you avoid getting into the bad situation in the first place.

What happens when a car is submerged in water?

The biggest problem with a car submerged in water is the pressure of water. This water pressure equates to an enormous amount of force and makes it almost impossible to open the doors until equilibrium is reached. For the pressure to reach equilibrium, the car must be completely under water with no air inside it That’s right---the car must fill up with water before you can open the door! Unfortunately, you may have sunk too far down by then. Luckily, there are things you can do to improve your chances of success.

7 Steps to Escape a Sinking Car

Knowing the right steps to take when the car is sinking will increase your probability of surviving. Time is of the essence during life and death situations. Below are some things you can do to escape a sinking car. 

1. Stay Calm

Learning how to stay calm under intense situations can be very challenging. One effective thing you can do is breathing deeply to calm your mind.

When you breathe slowly and deeply, it signals your nervous system to relax, and when you are relaxed, you can think clearer.

So use breathing to calm down and try to control your thoughts so you can focus on your escape.

2. Survive the Impact

If you are in a car falling into the water, such as from a cliff, it is important to keep your seatbelt on until the car has hit the water. People usually die from the impact as opposed to drowning inside the submerged car. This is especially true for those who sit in the front seat. 

3. Free Yourself from Restraints

The moment the car hits the water, immediately remove your seatbelt and other restraints on your body. It is a good idea to always keep a sharp blade within reach so you can cut your seatbelt in case your buckle jams from the impact of the fall. 

4. Keep the Doors Closed

Opening a car door while it is submerged is hard because of the pressure in the water. Even if you have successfully opened the door, the water will rush inside the vehicle and will make the car sink faster. You only have 30 to 60 seconds before the water completely enters the vehicle. This moment when your chance of survival is still high is more commonly known as the floating period. 

5. Roll Down the Window

Take advantage of the low water pressure. As soon as the front of the car hits the water and you have removed your seatbelt, try to roll down the window of the car. If your car is one of the latest models and the windows are electronically powered, there is a high chance that the circuits will short. In this case, breaking a car window is your only option. 

To break a car window, you need to hit it hard at the corners. If you have some tape, tape a large X on the car’s window before smashing it. This will help prevent broken glass from rushing in with the water once the window is broken. 

Although you may be able to break the window by kicking it, it is far easier and safer to use a hard object. Keeping a keychain car escape tool is ideal, otherwise, pull out the head rest and use the metal spikes. If the car doesn’t allow you to pull out the headrest, try using your belt buckle 

6. Prioritize the Children

After breaking the window, get the kids out first. Push them towards the large front window if you have to, so that it is easier for them to fight against the water rushing in. It is crucial to prioritize the children because their CO2 tolerance is lower, meaning they are likely to run out of breath quicker than most adults. 

7. Get out of the Car

The car seat in the front is the most dangerous part of the car when it is sinking. This is because it will be the first area to be filled with water. If you could break the windows or roll them down, immediately get out of the car. If opening the windows is impossible, hold your breath as long as you can until the pressure equalizes. This usually takes around 3 minutes. Your chance of survival will be very slim, but if you will stay conscious until you can open the doors, you may survive.

You can increase your chances of survival by doing breath-hold training. Through continuous practice, you will be able to stay underwater for longer periods of time.

Learn how to hold your breath longer in this tutorial.

10 Safe Driving Tips

Practicing defensive driving will prevent accidents like your car falling into water in the first place. Below are some useful tips to keep safe while on the road.

1. Don’t Drink and Drive

Data shows that in 2018, 29% of all traffic fatalities in the US had an intoxicated person involved. If you are under the influence of alcohol, it would be better to keep your hands off the wheel. Alcohol can slow down your response time, which makes you prone to accidents. Other people’s lives are in danger because of such recklessness.

2. Stay off Your Phone

Using your phone such as texting or calling someone while driving is just as bad as drunk driving. It is important to direct all of your focus on the road to avoid accidents. 

Before driving, always set your phone on “Do Not Disturb” to avoid being distracted. Unless it is an absolute emergency, keep your phone in the glove compartment. Taking preventive measures is better than facing the consequences of reckless driving such as going to jail.

3. Keep an Eye on Other Drivers

To avoid accidents, a defensive driver should always expect the mistakes of other drivers. An effective way of keeping yourself away from danger is to assume that everyone on the road has just learned how to drive. This way, you will always keep a safe distance from every car. Continuous anticipation is the key to safety. 

4. Always Have a Plan B

When driving, it is very important to always think of an escape route. Having a Plan B makes the prevention of accidents possible. For example, before you overtake a car on a highway, play the scenario in your head and have a Plan B in case surrounding drivers make a mistake. 

5. Take Note of Blind Spots

One of the most common causes of car accidents is blind spots. Stay out of blind spots and monitor yours. Always have a plan for what to do whenever you are in a blind spot. One useful piece of advice is that if you can’t see the driver in his mirror, then he can’t see you either. 

6. Be Aware of your surroundings

Always be aware of your surroundings, especially when driving at night. Pay attention to the blinkers and signals of other drivers. Using a fog lamp for cars will also be very helpful, especially when road visibility is low. Remember to keep a distance of at least one car length between your vehicle and others. Never take your eyes off the road.

7. Get Rid of Distractions

To avoid being distracted while driving, keep your focus on the road and avoid doing other things. Some examples of distractions are using your phone while driving, GPS navigation, eating or drinking, adjusting music volume, zoning out, and talking to passengers. 

8. Don’t Drive Tired

Driving tired is another massive killer on the roads (along with driving while under the influence and using your phone). 

Driving is a very complex operation. The mind is doing many things at once, but we do it so often that the subconscious can take over and most of the time we get to where we want to go safely. However, if you are overly tired, even your subconscious can shut down and you may have a micro sleep. This microsleep only last a few seconds, but in a moving vehicle, those few seconds can equate to terrible accidents.

So, if you feel you’re losing focus or zoning out, stop somewhere safe and take a short rest. 

Being extra careful doesn’t remove your chance of being involved in a car accident. Therefore, it is very important to always be ready for such situations. These last two tips will help you with that.

9. Have a Car Emergency Kit

Keep an emergency kit inside your car that contains batteries, pen, flashlight, water, flares, a spare phone, car charger, and emergency escape tools. Put it in a place where you can easily find it when needed such as in the glove compartment. Use a waterproof container.

Also, make sure your primary and spare phone are fully charged and all the emergency contacts you need are stored in them.

10. Maintain Your Vehicle

Poor maintenance is the primary reason for  car breakdowns in the middle of the road. Regular maintenance for cars such as oil changes and fluid checks must be done regularly to ensure your safety. Every 3 to 6 months is good depending on how much you use your vehicle. Also, always check your tires before leaving your house to ensure they are in good condition. 

Regular maintenance can help save you from bigger expenses caused by accidents. Prevention is better than cure. 


Knowing what to do in a sinking car will help save your life. To escape a sinking car, it is very important to calm yourself down first. After clearing your head, do the steps mentioned in this article.

Time is of the essence during life and death situations, but being prepared and ready will further increase your chances of survival. 

Did you find this article about how to survive a sinking car useful? If so, please share it with your friends.

Article by Sam Fury

Sam Fury 3 png
Sam Fury 3 png

Sam Fury is the creator and owner of the Survival Fitness Plan.

He has had a passion for martial arts and outdoor pursuits since he was a young boy growing up in Australia.

As a young adult he joined the military and studied outdoor leadership in college. After that, to further his skills, Sam started traveling to learn from the best in the world in various fields related to the Survival Fitness Plan including various martial arts in China, SE Asia and Brazil, Parkour in Singapore, Surf Life Saving in Australia, and others. 

These days, he still enjoys learning new things, traveling and sharing what he has learned via the Survival Fitness Plan. 

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