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Man Gets Stuck in Cadillac XLR for Over 13 Hours After Electric Door Release Handles Stop Working

Illustration for article titled Man Gets Stuck in Cadillac XLR for Over 13 Hours After Electric Door Release Handles Stop Working
Screenshot: Fox 8 News Cleveland

Late last month, a 75-year-old Cleveland man got stuck in his hot Cadillac XLR for 14 hours after an issue with the car’s electrical system rendered the power door release buttons useless. The ordeal had the man convinced he was going to die, the Washington Post reports.

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An XLR, in case you haven’t seen one on the road in a while. Photo credit: Cadillac
An XLR, in case you haven’t seen one on the road in a while. Photo credit: Cadillac

“I accepted, at some point, that this is how I’m going to die,” Peter Pyros told the news site about the nearly 14 hours he was stuck in his 2006 Cadillac XLR, a vehicle that uses electric switches to open doors instead of mechanical releases used in most cars. The story goes on to describe how Pyros wound up in that situation in the first place:

He said he went out to his garage to start the car about 10 a.m. Aug. 31, then planned to walk back in the house and change clothes before taking it for a spin. He didn’t take his cellphone with him, he said, and he didn’t tell anyone what he was doing. He didn’t think he needed to.

Pyros said he tried to start the engine but nothing happened. Then, he said, he tried to open the doors and realized they wouldn’t budge.

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Fox 8 News Cleveland has the story in video form below:

With the door handles not working, the windows not rolling down, and the power top also not retracting, Pyros tried breaking out the car’s glass, and he yelled out for help as the heat inside made him sweat profusely and pass out multiple times. The Washington Post paints the gloomy scene:

Each time he woke up, he said, he thought to himself, “I can’t believe I’m in this situation.” He was a 75-year-old man locked inside his own car, pleading, passing out and when he needed to, urinating inside his shoes.

Eventually, after over half a day, a neighbor heard Pyros’ screams, found the man in the car, and called police. Firefighters asked Pyros to pop the hood so they could power up the battery, and with juice in the battery, the electric door switches worked, and Pyros was free. He was treated at a local hospital and released.

If it’s still not entirely clear what’s going on here, have a look at the video above showing how the door mechanism works on a Cadillac XLR. It functions in much the same way as a Chevrolet Corvette’s setup: There’s a small button on the door that actuates the latch release mechanism on the B-pillar, releasing the door. Without power, that electric button does not work, and the door does not open.

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Photo:General Motors
Photo:General Motors

But, as the Detroit Free Press points out in its story on Pyros, the vehicle owner’s manual shows the location of a cable-based, mechanical door release, which can be used in case the electric switch doesn’t function. The video below shows where the door release is on a Chevrolet Corvette; it’s in a similar position in Pyros’ Cadillac.

But the Detroit Free Press reports that Pyros didn’t know about this safety release, and he didn’t have his owner’s manual on him. Even if he had, the news site writes, Pyros’ lawyers think that page in the manual is insufficient, and they’re looking at ways to take this matter to court.

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The Detroit Free Press quotes a GM spokesperson, who says the company provides ways to manually open doors, but it’s not always the same on all vehicles. He goes on:

“Because this varies by make and model, drivers should review the door lock section of their owner’s manual, and follow up with their dealer or customer assistance center if they have any questions,” GM spokesman Tom Wilkinson wrote in an email to the Free Press.

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This isn’t the first time this design has been under fire, as back in 2015, we wrote about a 72 year-old man and his dog dying after being unable to open their Corvette’s door.

But other systems have also caused confusion. Back in 2014, a couple got stuck in a Mazda3 with electric locks because they apparently didn’t know they could manually operate the locks by yanking the handle twice.

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There are a few takeaways here. People should read their owner’s manuals, or at least keep them in their cars. Dealers should explain key safety features like this when they sell the vehicles. And automakers should probably try to make stuff as intuitive as possible (this applies for pretty much all features), especially when their clients tend to be old folks (Corvette owners, Cadillac owners).

I’m all for innovation, but folks shouldn’t be getting stuck in their cars.

Sr. Technical Editor, Jalopnik. Always interested in hearing from auto engineers—email me. Cars: Willys CJ-2A ('48), Jeep J10 ('85), Jeep Cherokee ('79, '91, '92, '00), Jeep Grand Cherokee 5spd ('94).

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DISCUSSION

Stang70Fastback
Stang70Fastback

It boggles my mind that there are people who buy cars with electrical release mechanisms for the doors, and don’t IMMEDIATELY do research to locate the mechanical fail-safe, which even the dumbest of common sense would tell you existed SOMEWHERE.

It boggles my mind even more that people refuse to read the manual for the MOST EXPENSIVE thing they will ever buy apart from a house. Like, I get not reading the manual for a toaster, but there are SO MANY FEATURES that you will NEVER know about in a car unless you read the manual... or you’ll stumble across them after years of ownership and wish you’d known about them sooner. And if the car didn’t come with one, use the wonders of Google to download a PDF version.