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Faking Engine Trouble

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Spock: Ah, Mr. Scott, I understand you're having difficulty with the warp drive. How much time do you require for repair?
Scotty: There's nothing wrong with the bloody thing!
Spock: Mr. Scott, if we return to Spacedock as ordered, the assassins will surely find a way to dispose of their incriminating footwear, and we will never see the Captain or Dr. McCoy alive again.
Scotty: Could take weeks, sir.
Spock: Thank you, Mr. Scott. Valeris, please inform Starfleet Command our warp drive is inoperative.

What? You want us to leave? Well, we can't because...we're having engine trouble. We need to get it fixed first.

This is where characters make the excuse that their car, truck, boat, plane, starship or whatever is having engine trouble, which means they can't go anywhere until it's repaired. This is generally used as a stalling tactic which, if it works, should buy more time for them to do whatever it is they need.

Other possible reasons include:

  • as a cover for illegal activity
  • a means to keep someone trapped in the middle of nowhere if they think their ride is out of order
  • a trap for good Samaritans
  • an excuse to get some alone time with a significant other, preferably in a deserted area so they can make out, or get intimate.
  • an excuse for showing up late for work or at class.

It only works for so long before the one they're stalling either begins to get suspicious or offers to personally take a look at it. If that happens the jig is up.

Compare Playing Sick and Obfuscating Disability for when a person does this for similar reasons. Compare Fake Static for supposed difficulties with communication rather than transportation. May be part of a Hurricane of Excuses.

Not to be confused with Vehicular Sabotage.


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    Comic Books 
  • The Mad Make Out Book contains a section on faking engine trouble and using being stuck in the car as an excuse for a make out session.

    Film — Live Action 
  • The Blues Brothers: One of the Hurricane of Excuses that Jake gives his ex-fiancee for leaving her at the altar.
    Jake: Oh, please, don't kill us! Please, please don't kill us! You know I love you baby. I wouldn't leave ya. It wasn't my fault!
    Mystery Woman: You miserable slug! You think you can talk your way out of this? You betrayed me.
    Jake: No, I didn't. Honest...I ran out of gas. I... I had a flat tire. I didn't have enough money for cab fare. My tux didn't come back from the cleaners. An old friend came in from out of town. Someone stole my car. There was an earthquake. A terrible flood. Locusts! IT WASN'T MY FAULT, I SWEAR TO GOD!
  • In The Cannonball Run, Mad Dog and Batman tell a motorcycle cop that their brakes have failed so he will clear a path for them and they don't have to slow down. A few seconds later, they discover their brakes actually have failed as they are speeding towards a railway crossing with a train on it.
  • Captain Phillips: One of the bluffs Phillips uses to stall the Pirates, claiming the ship's engines overheated after their chase.
  • Crooked House: When Charles tries to leave after the second day of investigation, his car won't start, which prompts Sophia to invite him to stay at the house overnight. The next morning a mechanic is called out, who tells Charles that the starter cable is missing. Charles slips him the missing cable, along with some cash to "keep this between us".
  • In Derailed (2002), Galina pretends to be having car troubles to give her an excuse to pull up at the guard hut at the research facility and ask the sentry if she can use a phone to call a tow-truck, before knocking him out while he is distracted. She really sells it by having smoke billowing out from he bonnet as she arrives.
  • In Drive a Crooked Road, Barbara does this twice as part of her plan to ensnare Eddie into Steve's scheme. First, she visits his garage pretending to have a blocked carburetor so she can meet him and begin to insinuate herself into his life. The second time, she calls up claiming that her car will not start so he will have to come out to her apartment to fix it.
  • Godzilla Minus One opens with kamikaze pilot Koichi Shikishima landing his aircraft on Odo Island, claiming engine trouble. The mechanics can't find anything wrong, but no-one blames him for not throwing his life away when it's clear the war is already lost.
  • In Heart and Souls, the trolley bus driver fakes engine trouble as a way of delaying looking for the missing souls, so they will have time to complete their unfinished business. It should be noted that the being he is attempting to fool with this ploy is God.
  • The Highwaymen: The plan to finally stop Bonnie and Clyde requires enlisting the help of the father of one of their associates to park his truck on the only route to his house where they're staying, and fake a flat tire so that the pair will stop to help, providing the perfect opportunity for Hamer and his men to apprehend them. They do fall for the trap, but they're not willing to go quietly.
  • In Laughter in Paradise, Lucille pretends to have broken down so Simon will stop to help her as part of her plan to seduce him.
  • The League of Gentlemen. This trick is used to have a plausible reason for a car to be parked outside the perimeter fence at the army base where the robbers are stealing weapons for The Caper. Unfortunately, an Automobile Association motorcyclist happens to come along and stops to help, just when the others are about to emerge with the stolen weapons.
  • Mission: Impossible III: Ethan and Declan stage this with a truck and a public argument in Rome, so Ethan can infiltrate a building. To help sell the trouble, Declan surreptitiously activates a machine to make the engine compartment emit smoke.
  • The Sound of Music: When the Von Trapp family tries to escape the first time, they are caught by the Nazis who want Captain Von Trapp to report for duty in the Kreigsmarine. He tries to say his car's having engine trouble (which is why they were trying to quietly wheel it out without starting it). Herr Zeller has one of his men "assist" them, starting the car right up, then sardonically remarks that the problem seems to have been fixed.
  • Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country: In the aftermath of Klingon Chancellor Gorkon's assassination while traveling under escort by the Enterprise, Starfleet Command orders the Enterprise to return to Spacedock, but the assassins and evidence of their crime are still somewhere on board. To keep the culprits from escaping or cleanly destroying evidence, the crew keep coming up with reasons not to return, at one point telling Starfleet Command that the Enterprise's warp drive is malfunctioning.
  • Thunderball. After James Bond rescues Domino from drowning, he fakes engine trouble on his boat so he can ask her to take him to an appointment in her boat (and get to know her better).
  • In Transformers (2007), Bumblebee (who is the car) fakes engines problems to try and bring Sam and Mikaela together.
  • In The Truman Show, there is a scene where Truman tries to leave the town on a bus. However, the driver crunches the gear box to make the excuse that the bus is not working, so Truman cannot leave town.
  • Young Lady Chatterley II, the Count pretends his car has broken down so that Lady Chatterley will give him a lift and he can begin his seduction of her.

  • In the Brotherband book The Outcasts, Zavac and his pirate crew pretend to be innocent people with a badly damaged ship so they can spy in Hallisholm for a while. Erak and the others suspect they're lying but can't order them back to sea without proof.
  • Honor Harrington: In On Basilisk Station, before HMS Fearless arrived at Basilisk, the Havenite freighter Sirius arrived and parked in orbit, claiming it was waiting for replacement parts for its Warshawski Sails. It's actually a Havenite Q-ship, a warship disguised as a freighter, and it's monitoring the situation as a prelude to a Havenite invasion of the Basilisk system.
    • In the same book, the Manticoran Admiralty arranges for the dockyard giving HMS Warlock to declare that the ship's Warshawksi Sails are in need of an overhaul and therefore need to be taken apart and meticulously looked over for at least a month as a way of keeping Warlock (and more importantly, her CO, who is senior to Honor) from returning to Basilisk.
  • The MAD Make Out Book details several ways to make the old 'out of gas' routine a more surefire way of scoring.
  • In the book The Monuments Men is based on, James Rorimer fakes a flat tire on his bicycle and takes a long time fixing it in order to have an excuse to watch a suspicious building and see who comes in or out. He doesn't observe anything useful.
  • Star Wars Legends: The first scene of Wraith Squadron features a TIE Interceptor pulling a Wounded Gazelle Gambit via fake engine damage.
  • Used in The White Riders by Monica Edwards: The villain, a Corrupt Corporate Executive, suspects the teenage heroes are sabotaging his project to build a holiday camp. So he takes them out in his car, which then breaks down, stranding them where they can't do any harm. Or rather, as the youngsters soon realise, the car had been modified so he could simulate a breakdown at will.

    Live Action TV 
  • In an episode of The Andy Griffith Show, a busy businessman's car breaks down in Mayberry, and when Gomer fixes it, the businessman is enjoying himself so much he claims it still needs work.
  • Bewitched. In "My Grandson, the Warlock", Maurice takes the Tates' baby, Jonathan, mistaken him for Samantha's newborn; when Darrin picks the Tates up at the airport from their vacation, Samantha and Endora have him stall for time while they try to locate Maurice, and among the many different stalls Darrin pulls is engine trouble.
  • In the episode "Dead Freight" of Breaking Bad, this was done with a dump truck to get a train to stop so they could steal Methylamine from one of its cars without getting caught.
  • Cannon: In "Stone, Cold Dead", the killer does this: killing the engine on the boat and telling the girl he was giving a ride that 'the fuel pump died'. When the girl resists his romantic advances, she suffers Death by Falling Over and becomes the Victim of the Week.
  • Doctor Who: In "The Daleks", the Doctor wants to explore the city on the planet they just landed on, while his companions want to leave. He pretends a part is damaged in order to force a trip to the city.
  • Firefly: In "The Message", Mal uses a variation as an excuse for not letting Womack's ship dock.
    Mal: We'd love to let you boys dock, but that last pop you gave us knocked out our fore-couple, so we're gonna have to park it if you want the tour.
  • The Greatest American Hero: In a number of episodes Bill would fake car trouble as a cover while Ralph goes into a situation inside the building.
  • In an episode of House, Foreman is late for work and claims that his car broke down.
  • Magnum, P.I.. In "Home From the Sea", Rick takes one of his girlfriends out on a boat for the 4th of July. Later, he tells her one of the engines is out so they can't make it home through the reef in the dark and will have to wait until morning, and he intends to make the most of it...until he starts to get the feeling that Magnum's in trouble and starts up both engines without a problem. She just rolls her eyes at that.
  • Once Upon a Time: After their father, a mechanic, refuses to care for them, Emma must drive Eva and Nicholas to Boston where they will enter the foster care system. As they leave Storybrooke, Emma fakes engine trouble as an excuse to call their father out for one final chance to change his mind.
  • SeaQuest DSV. One episode had seaQuest getting caught in Macronesian waters, and Captain Hudson giving the excuse they were having engine trouble, and the Macs offer to "escort" them to port. Hudson accepts, and orders his helmsman to take an erratic course with variations in speed until he can find a way to make a break.
  • Star Trek: The Next Generation:
    • Part of Picard's plan in "Redemption Part 2" is to have one of the ships in the Naval Blockade to keep the Romulans from interfering in the Klingon Civil Wars fall out of the line with apparent engine trouble. This would create a gap in the blockade for the Romulans to try to slip through, after which Starfleet ships would trap them from behind. Unfortunately, circumstances foil the plan before it's even put into motion.
    • Played With in the episode "Phantasms"; Admiral Nakamura begins to suspect Picard is pulling this since he's supposed to be at the annual admirals banquet, and has been ducking it for years, but the Enterprise really is having trouble with a new warp core which still has a few bugs to work out, literally. Picard is in no hurry to have it fixed but as the delays mount up, Nakamura finally offers/threatens to have them towed in. Picard firmly states that they will resolve the issue and arrive on schedule. Ultimately they miss the banquet. And Picard's just fine with that.
  • Eugene in The Walking Dead actually causes real engine trouble to delay getting to Washington D.C since he was lying about having a cure for the plague.

  • Played With in the Show Within a Show in Michael Jackson's Music Video for "Thriller." Michael's character says he's out of gas, while in the woods with his girlfriend.
    Michael: Honestly, we're out of gas.
    Girl: So what are we gonna do now?
    cut to the two of them walking down the road
    Girl: I'm sorry I didn't believe you.

  • In one episode of The Navy Lark Commodore Povey orders the crew of HMS Troutbridge to fake various problems with the ship so he can get out of dinner with his mother-in-law, a variety of Springtime for Hitler plot complications soon take place though.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Classic Traveller campaign The Traveller Adventure. In the adventure "Inselberg", the March Harrier sets down on the planet Lewis to pick up the PCs after they complete their mission. If the PCs are late arriving the March Harrier's crew must give an excuse for the ship to stay longer, such as a breakdown of the ship's engines.

    Web Video 
  • In a DayZ stream, DanielFromSL picks up a hitchhiker in a semi truck, then later fakes running out of gas to try and get the hitchhiker out to run him over. A zombie attacks Daniel, forcing him to start the engine back up to flee. A few minutes later, he kills the engine again and says they've run out of gas.
    Daniel: Aw shit, no more gas.
    Hitchhiker: No more gas again, huh?

    Western Animation 
  • The Amazing World of Gumball: In the episode "The Vacation", Nicole pretends the car broke down while in the middle of a desert to scare her kids. Then it turns out the engine actually did break down because Richard thought the engine compartment was a second trunk to stuff full of marshmallows.
  • Done on Archer by Ray, when he sees Le Chuffre chasing them in a helicopter.
    "Oh, rocket launchers. My car is slowing down for no apparent reason. Just must be out of... carburetor."
  • Bob's Burgers: In "Seaplane!", the flight instructor "Upskirt Kurt" does this as part of his routine to seduce his students. He takes them for a ride in his seaplane and then pretends to have engine trouble so he can make an "emergency landing" at the local Make-Out Point island.
  • The Legend of Korra. After the Earth Queen dismisses Team Avatar, Asami says they can't leave just yet since the airship had a malfunction in one of its engines, and won't be flight worthy until the morning. This gives them the night to search for Kai, who had been forcibly recruited for the Earth Queen's army.
  • The Magic School Bus: When Carlos needed some more time to perfect his music instrument, Ms. Frizzle overheated the bus's engine to buy some. It's unclear if she actually overheated it or if she just said it was given the bus winked at her as she was checking it.
  • Star Trek: Lower Decks: The Queen of Hysperia's flagship always seems to suffer engine trouble whenever the U.S.S. Cerritos, where her son serves as chief engineer, happens to be the nearest ship. And it's always a trick to lure her son into having sex. "Where Pleasant Fountains Lie" begins with her doing so yet again.


Video Example(s):


Ten-Year Tobin Retreat

For their tenth birthday, Tobin boys are sent on a retreat to test their wilderness survival skills. For Moon's retreat, however, Beef decided that, since he already knows how to survive in the wild, they will instead test their survival skills in the city.

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