2 December 2013

Losses and Lessons: Get it in gear, kid (your brain, not your dad’s ’69 Camaro)

VEHICLE COVERED: 1969 Chevrolet Camaro

WHAT WENT WRONG: There’s a reason that the most dangerous drivers on the road are first-year drivers: They lack the experience and decision-making skills of their older, road-tested counterparts. In fact, even when they aren’t on the road they can make poor decisions that lead to accidents, as one very trusting father found out.

The owner of a 1969 Camaro backed halfway out of the garage to keep exhaust fumes at a minimum while he did some tune-up work under the hood. His 16-year-old son volunteered to help, and when the work was completed he jumped behind the wheel and started the car. The problem was the Camaro was still in gear. As soon as he let out the clutch, the car lurched forward, striking his father and crashing into the back wall of the garage.

DAMAGE/LOSS: Dear old dad was fortunate, relatively speaking. He suffered a broken pelvis but escaped with his life. The garage wall required repair, and the Camaro sustained damage to the front bumper, hood, driver’s side fender and door. Hagerty covered the $3,299.97 repair bill.

LESSON: Three obvious lessons here: 1. Think twice before handing your classic car keys to a teenage driver; 2. When starting a manual-transmission vehicle, make sure the clutch is engaged and the car isn’t in gear before you turn the key; and 3. Step to the side of the car before allowing someone else to start it.

16 Reader Comments

  • 1
    Tony Hillman Cape May Ct Hse NJ December 4, 2013 at 14:07
    Who left it in gear??? I remember many warnings from friends to whoever was going to sit in the drivers seat "Make Sure It Isn't In Gear"! when I was a teenager messing with our cars....Dad may have some culpability here.
  • 2
    Paul Englishtown NJ December 4, 2013 at 14:57
    My first thought when I read this story is why didn’t the car just stall out when he brought in the clutch, he should not have been on the gas, don’t we all remember when we were learning to drive a stick what it was like and we were going forward without our foot on the gas and how we would stall out or buck a little until we stalled out or we got on the clutch to disengage it. How about using the good ol brakes ? Just my thought
  • 3
    John Alaska December 4, 2013 at 15:54
    Was that $3000 repair bill for the car, the back wall or medical expenses. Can't believe you can fix anyone of the three for that amount!
  • 4
    Wesley Vork Carlton, MN December 4, 2013 at 15:57
    My son was 17 at the time we purchased a 1970 440 6-pack, 390 horsepower Dodge Challenger. Hagerty was the only company who would look at insuring us. Happy to say, nine years later we have not have any mishaps with this or any of our other vehicles and the buisness deal worked out well for all parties involved....So it will take a lot more than a few dollars less (which may or may not be out there) on a policy quote to get me to switch companies. Thank You Hagerty!
  • 5
    Sandy AZ December 4, 2013 at 17:36
    Also...don"t leave your car in gear.
  • 6
    David SF Bay area, California December 4, 2013 at 17:43
    Sometimes it is an experienced driver in an unfamiliar car. In 1963 I was at a Chevy dealer in Illinois to retrieve belongings from our totaled '58 Chevy Delray when I heard a crashing noise from their inside parking garage. Ran over and found a brand new Corvette with its back end wrapped around a concrete column. Someone at the dealership let the buyer take the car out of the garage himself and the buyer must have been used to automatic transmissions because he turned the key with his foot on the gas and without putting in the clutch. The car had been parked in reverse and the engine started before the poor sap realized what was happening and slammed into the column. Lucky for everyone he hit the column and not another brand new car. No idea whose insurance covered.
  • 7
    David SF Bay area, California December 4, 2013 at 17:45
    Sometimes it is an experienced driver in an unfamiliar car. In 1963 I was at a Chevy dealer in Illinois to retrieve belongings from our totaled '58 Chevy Delray when I heard a crashing noise from their inside parking garage. Ran over and found a brand new Corvette with its back end wrapped around a concrete column. Someone at the dealership let the buyer take the car out of the garage himself and the buyer must have been used to automatic transmissions because he turned the key with his foot on the gas and without putting in the clutch. The car had been parked in reverse and the engine started before the poor sap realized what was happening and slammed into the column. Lucky for everyone he hit the column and not another brand new car. No idea whose insurance covered.
  • 8
    Kevin A Williams United States/ california December 4, 2013 at 17:49
    This is a sad but often recurring problem that effects many new drivers. All new cars to my knowledge require a clutch pedal to be depressed before allowing the starter to be engaged. New drivers that have been trained in a new car are not aware that our classic cars do not have that requirement and as a result, preventable accidents occur. I am glad the father hit by his Camaro will recover. I am looking to install a safety interlock on my 1965 Mustang's clutch pedal to help avoid such an incident.
  • 9
    Amy Parker Atlanta December 4, 2013 at 18:03
    My friend Larry let his 13 year old wash his Corvette and then move it in the driveway. His kid moved it into the Avanti, moving the Avanti through the carport wall into the kitchen. :( My boss let his 13 year old move the first brand new car he had ever owned into the back yard. His son didn't stop at the end of the driveway and put a tree halfway through the engine compartment. My kids did not get to drive without me in the car!
  • 10
    George Renton, WA December 4, 2013 at 18:11
    That brings back a memory form about 1957 when a friend of mine had a 1953 Buick with three on the tree. To start this car one had only to push down the gas pedal. The car was parked, key on, in low gear. He was tinkering under the hood and pulled back on the throttle. The car started and loped about ten feet and hit a gas pump. Slight dent in the pump, no damage to the car, no one hurt. Big lesson learned.
  • 11
    Bob Arper Bremerton December 4, 2013 at 23:36
    This is a classic case of a youngster just not fully understanind what the controls in front of them when seated really do plus not understanding how a standard (stick) transmission works.
  • 12
    R. Geiser Sussex WI December 5, 2013 at 01:31
    Please re-read the lesson again. Why must the clutch be engaged at start-up? Some vehicles, also some tractors have interlocks whereby the clutch pedal must be depressed in order to engage the starter.
  • 13
    P Johnson Rochester Hills Mi. December 5, 2013 at 20:07
    WOW, had something similar happened to me when my neutral safety switch went, turned the key and she (63 Chevy SS) lunged forward like a scalded rabbit .
  • 14
    Todd Michigan December 5, 2013 at 08:41
    My son did this twice, once with my 85 Pontiac Grand Prix he put in gear while I went inside to get something, he was about 10 years old, good thing I caught the car before it hit anything, And then then while working on my 1971 Dodge A 100 truck, he hit the key and the truck started right up and went backwards into a pole folding the right door back against the front fender, no damage due to strap broke that holds door from opening this far. He also hooked a rear end with tires on it yet with his back bumper pulling out of the garage and pushed the rear end into my 1968 F-250 4x4 denting the box, This boy has grown up and moved out eventually, Lets see what his kids do to his cars.
  • 15
    art wegweiser Allison Park (McCandless), PA December 5, 2013 at 10:09
    I might add, have the hand brake on as well. As for the clutch, my 1999 Subaru won't start unless the clutch is in. Is that common on other cars? 1999 Subaru Impreza (Kamikaze) & 1972 BMW 3.0 CSi (Ilse)
  • 16
    ojoswim Maryland December 6, 2013 at 07:30
    Problem isn't the teenage driver; it's that they are expecting the starter lockout switch to be functioning. In a newer car, the thing won't fire if it's in any gear but neutral. You have to know what safety equipment has been disconnected or otherwise altered in your vehicle and train folks alike. Particularly true if you don't do your own work and rely on folks to service your vehicle. Teenagers get a bad rap; yes, they lack experience but the adult's job is to help them acquire it; you never know when they will really will NEED to drive that vehicle.

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