"Oh, no — the "Brakes Cut" light!"
When a character maliciously tampers with someone else's vehicle prior to it being driven. Since Every Car Is a Pinto
, this can turn a pleasant family drive in the trusty minivan into a hurtling terror-ride in a burning metal death trap. In other situations, less dangerous methods may be used simply to slow the would-be driver down or to get revenge for a previous slight.
Any type of vehicle imaginable can be subject to Vehicular Sabotage
, as long as there is a character with the tools and knowledge to pull it off. Anything from the trusty "unhinging the wagon wheels" ploy, to the "cut the brake lines" scheme, to the "overload the Phlebotinum-converter
" gambit (and anything in between) can qualify, as long as it is the result of a deliberate action and not simple mechanical failure.
Compare with Vehicular Assault
, in which a vehicle is used as a weapon by its pilot. A supertrope of Banana in the Tailpipe
and External Combustion
, when the sabotage comes by way of an explosive device planted by the enemy, and sometimes Pop The Tires
. This is also a favorite way to Make It Look Like an Accident
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Anime & Manga
- A favorite trick of Lupin III when he's being pursued. He'll either sabotage them himself or have Goemon slice them to ribbons beforehand.
- A Cruel God Reigns: Jeremy does this to kill his step-father Greg.
- In Sailor Moon, this is how Mimete kills Eudial.
- A non-automobile Superman example would be a Silver Age story where Clark gets amnesia and falls in love with a ranch owner's daughter. A jealous suitor feeds loco weed to a bronco Clark intends to ride in order to earn money for an engagement ring, and Clark ends up "paralyzed" because of it.
- Hartigan sabotages Junior Roark's car at the beginning of the Sin City tale, "The Yellow Bastard", by leaning over the engine... then holding two spark plugs, which somehow stops the car from starting.
- In Reid Fleming, World's Toughest Milkman, after Mr. O'Clocke finally agrees to fire Reid if he wrecks one more milk truck, Crabbe decides to hurry the process along by cutting Reid's brake lines.
- Changing Lanes: Doyle Gipson removes the nuts from one of Gavin Banek's car tires as part of their ongoing Cycle of Revenge. To add insult to injury, Doyle arranges it so that the taxi he's riding in passes by Gavin in time for the former to wave, hold up a tire iron, and then let the nuts fall through his fingers, giving Gavin an Oh Crap moment before his tire pops off on the busy New York freeway.
- In The Great Race, the villain's sidekick sabotages all the cars before the race... including their own. They realize it about a second before their engine falls out of the car.
- Laurel and Hardy don't do this themselves in the famed short "Big Business", but their popular victim/antagonist carries this out with gusto on the boys' car even as they tear apart his house.
- At one point in Batman Returns, The Penguin manages to install a remote control in the Batmobile, then takes it on a destructive joyride through Gotham. Batman finds the device and regains control just in time to avoid running down an old lady.
- Star Trek III: The Search for Spock: Scotty "performing surgery" on the USS Excelsior transwarp drive.
- In The Sound of Music, two nuns reveal to their Mother that they have removed the distributor and coil (respectively) from the Nazis' automobile, the better to keep them from catching the Von Trapp family.
- The Blues Brothers: On their way to sneaking in to their concert, Elwood makes Jake wait while he sprays glue onto the gas pedal of the Good Ol' Boys' RV. Later during the big Chase Scene, the driver's foot becomes stuck to the pedal (and the pedal stuck to the floorboard), causing him to go out of control and crash.
- In Angel Face, a car is tampered with so that it will shift into reverse when the driver tries to go forward.
- Hitchcock's Family Plot features the "cut brakes" version.
- In Bad Day at Black Rock, Hector rips the distributor cap and spark plug wires out of Doc Velie's hearse to stop Macreedy leaving town.
- It Nearly Wasn't Christmas has a sled race where one contestant sabotaged everyone else's sleds by sawing one of their runners. When Santa's sled breaks, he manages not to crash on the spot and magics up a replacement runner.
- In one of the Twilight books, Edward sabotages Bella's truck to stop her from visiting Jacob.
- In the Pulp Magazine story Cauldron of Death by John Grange, someone sabotages the brakes of the car Jim Anthony is borrowing, while it's parked at the top of a steep hill leading directly to the river. Good thing Jim is a Doc Savage pastiche, and a magnificent driver.
- One character in Come Midnight Monday was introduced when the protagonists notice him shoveling dirt into the fuel tanks of trucks. In the television adaptation, this was changed to pouring sugar into the fuel tanks.
- In one of The Baby-Sitters Club mysteries, a young actor's limo is sabotaged by a crazy fan of his co-star who had been trying to discredit the kid throughout the whole book with increasingly dangerous stunts. Tragedy was only averted by Kristy figuring it out and just barely managing to get the driver to stop before driving off. Nightmare Fuel anyone?
- In Cops: Their Lives In Their Own Words pranks mentioned include spraying tear gas in the car's air conditioning.
- In the Dramatic Audio adaptation of the Left Behind book Glorious Appearing, some GC hooked up grenades to Mac McCullum's helicopter in the hopes that it would blow up when he takes off in it. The sabotage fails to destroy the helicopter, though, thanks to Mac's faith in God.
Live Action TV
- In the Mission: Impossible episode "The Missile", a psychotic mechanic tampers with the brakes in Dana's car.
- Happens quite often on The Dukes of Hazzard, occasionally even to The General Lee.
- This is a very common occurrence on The Rockford Files where someone seems to cut Jim's brake lines every third episode.
- One episode of MacGyver featured the tampering with brakes version as an excuse for the title character to repair a moving vehicle.
- Also used in "Collision Course".
- In the Midsomer Murders episode "Death of the Slow Lane", one of the murders was committed by shearing through the steering linkage on a car, causing it to crash while going round a sharp bend.
- And in the episode "Master Class", one couple's car has its brake-line cut, leading to a near-fatal crash.
- This has become something of a tradition on Top Gear's international specials. Started on the US trip where Hammond and Clarkson, who were a) boiling in Florida's heat and humidity and b) sick of James may being smug about being the only one with working air-conditioning, so they sabotaged James's air-con. More recently in the Middle East special Hammond's radio was re-wired to a hidden one that came on when the car started and was lock on playing Genesis, a band Hammond hates rather loudly.
- The Professionals. Doyle is being stalked by someone from his past who takes pleasure in making Doyle sweat before he kills him. In one scene his car is rigged to fail in stages — first the brakes, then the steering, then after the car crashes a delayed-action bomb gives Doyle enough time to exit the vehicle before it blows up.
- In an episode of Once Upon a Time, the breaks on Emma's car were sabotaged by Sidney when she and Sidney were going to spy on the Mayor.
- The Leverage episode "The Beantown Bailout Job" starts with Nate witnessing a near-fatal car crash caused by sabotage.
- The Top Gear US "One Tank Episode" has Adam and Tanner weighing Rutledge's really light car with about 400 pounds of kitty litter. Rut discovered this and retaliated by putting the litter in the back of Adam's massive heavy truck.
- In the Ellery Queen episode "The Adventure of the Sinister Scenario", a stuntman is killed when the brakes of the car he is driving in a stunt are tampered with.
- Justified: In "Hammer", the second attempt to kill the judge involves sabotaging the exhaust of his car so it leaks carbon monoxide into the cabin.
- The murder method in the Cold Case episode "WASP". The murderer switches the fuel and coolant lines in the victim's plane.
- Community - In Regional Holiday Music, when Abed deliberately sabotages the Christmas pageant, glee club director "Mister Rad" goes ballistic and basically threatens to cut the brake lines of the glee club bus again.
- Sabotage to a racing car is used to commit murder in the CSI: New York episode "The Formula".
- Major Crimes: In "There's No Place Like Home", the killers cut the brake lines as a back-up plan on the victim's car in case their first attempt failed. Finding the sabotaged car is what clues the detectives in that the death is not a suicide as it first appears.
- Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries: In "Blood at the Wheel", the wheel nuts on a female rally driver's car are loosened, causing the wheel to come off at high speed.
- Carrie Underwood does this to take revenge on a cheating lover in the song and music video for "Before He Cheats"
- "Banditos" by The Refreshments, second verse: "Put the sugar in the tank of the sheriff's car, and slash the deputy's tires and they won't get very far when they finally get the word that there's been a holdup."
- In the play Blithe Spirit Charles' first wife (who is a ghost) tampers with his brakes so he'll die and join her in the afterlife. But unfortunately for all, it is Charles's second wife Ruth who drives the car and gets killed, turning her into a ghost too.
- In the Film Noir within the show in City of Angels, Mallory claims to have done away with Peter by tampering with the brakes of his van. Peter lives, though this is implied to be the result of Executive Meddling.
- The mission "Pimp His Ride" in Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars (pictured above) features the player as Huang sabotaging the racer's car and putting fish on the radiator.
- Vehicular Sabotage is a standard Dick Dastardly tactic in the Wacky Races, to try to get a leg up on the competition.
- The Simpsons: In order to smoke out a person trying to kill Homer, he is made the King of the Mardi Gras parade. The person trying to kill him as tampered with the brakes of his float so he can't stop.
- The page quote comes from "It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, mad Marge, where Marge suspects Becky is trying to replace her in the family and finds her brakes can't work. It turns out Homer accidentally drained the brake fluid.
- Stoked!: The groms sabotage Bummer's golf cart in "A Prank Too Far", leading them to think that they've killed him.
- Roger cut Stan's brake lines on American Dad!
- Subverted in another episode, where Steve is seeking revenge against three cheerleaders for humiliating his girlfriend. One of the girls drives down a hill and starts pressing the brakes, only to find they don't work. As she heads into oncoming traffic, she panics...and then says "Oh wait, that's the clutch" and comes to a complete stop at the red light. It turns out that Steve has much worse revenge in mind...
- Dennis once put detergent in his father's gas tank in an episode of Dennis the Menace.
- In an episode of Heathcliff and the Catillac Cats, Heathcliff builds a soap box derby racer, only for it to be sabotaged by Hector, Wordsworth and Mungo.
- This appears to happen to Danger Mouse's Mk. III motorcar in "What A Three-Point Turn-Up For The Book." The car takes off on its own and becomes malevolent. When DM finally gets the upper hand, he discovers the problem—the workings of a washing machine accidentally got installed in the car during a servicing.
- While working a case to recover a binder full of term papers, the titular character in Fillmore! had the brake lines in his bicycle replaced with ketchup and mustard dispensers.