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Vehicular Sabotage

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Grilled Tuna: For occasions when non-fish related Vehicular Sabotage just won't do.
"Oh, no — the 'Brakes Cut' light!"
Marge, The Simpsons

When a character maliciously tampers with someone else's vehicle (whether it's an automobile or motorcycle), vessel, or plane prior to it being used. 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 or pilot 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 "sugar in the gas tank" prank, to the "cut the brake lines" scheme, to the "strip the tires" trick, 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.

With modern vehicles, remotely hacking the vehicle's computer is becoming common, combining this trope with Hollywood Hacking.

Compare with Vehicular Assault, in which a vehicle is used as a weapon by its pilot, and Murder by Remote Control Vehicle, in which a vehicle is used as a weapon against 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. May be a cause of Running Over the Plot. Frequently results in a car with Magic Brakes. This is also a favorite way to Make It Look Like an Accident.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • A Cruel God Reigns: Jeremy does this to kill his step-father Greg.
  • JoJo's Bizarre Adventure: Battle Tendency has an example with heroic intent: Right before Joseph and Wamuu start their chariot race, Joseph requests to inspect the floor for any loose dirt, which Wamuu accepts, but he's actually throwing rocks directly in front of Wamuu's chariot's wheels, preventing it from moving when the race begins. During the race itself, both sides engage in this sabotage, and by the end of the race, both chariots have been completely destroyed.
  • Lupin III: A favorite trick of Lupin when he's being pursued. He'll either sabotage them himself or have Goemon slice them to ribbons beforehand.
  • In Sailor Moon, this is how Mimete kills Eudial.
  • Resident Evil: Heavenly Island: Soon after the ship's arrival at the island, Morio sneaks on-board and destroys the engine, preventing any chance of escape. It's later revealed that as part of the Kodoku Project, test subjects were programmed to prevent anyone from leaving the island.

    Asian Animation 
  • In the third episode of Rimba Racer the cooling system of Tag's car is sabotaged by Tamira, to try and convince him to quit, forcing him to limit his speed during the race or explode. He manages to fix it while driving, but not before Wrecks rams him in the fuel tank. In episode 8, it's shown that Mr. King has backdoors into the electronics of all the cars, but Meelo patches them a couple episodes later.

    Comic Books 
  • In Chassis, Twist sends her personal droid to sabotage Chassis's areocar during a race.
  • In The Maze Agency #3, the criminal replaces the tyre on the test driver's car with a defective one, knowing that it will blow out on the rough ride he will be driving over.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Superman:
    • A non-automobile 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.
    • In 2005 storyline Girl Power, Supergirl fries the Outsiders' jet's dashboard to prevent them from coming to her aid when she confronts Lex Luthor.
    • In The Condemned Legionnaires, Satan Girl tears off the Legion Cruiser's engine so the Legion of Super-Heroes cannot follow her and stop her from killing their companions.
    • According to Superman: Secret Origin, this is how Post-Crisis Lex Luthor gained his riches — he cut the brake line to his father's car and let him die.
  • In Shazam!: The New Beginning, Billy Batson's parents died due to Sivana having somebody sabotage the car so that it would crash and cause an accident.
  • It's a major theme in Jo, Zette and Jocko album "The Stratoship H-22":
    • Mr Legrand's car is sabotaged, so he has an accident.
    • The C48 plane is also sabotaged and Mr Legrand is framed up for this.
    • The stratoship is sabotaged during his test flight: a porthole gets loose.
    • Mr Legrand's ship to the North Pole is sabotaged too: it crashes in the ocean.
  • The Black Spider: The plot-starting murder in Super-Mystery Comics v2 #2 was done by sabotaging a race car.
  • Wonder Woman:
    • Sensation Comics: The petty spoiled rotten actress Zita Zanders has Di's plane for a film sequence sabotaged so the wings come loose. Di is able to save it in such a way that her survival doesn't even threaten to reveal her secret identity as Wonder Woman due to her piloting skills.
    • Wonder Woman (1987): White Magician sabotages the repurposed Apokolipian transport Diana uses to save a stranded cosmonaut in an attempt to kill Wonder Woman, but Diana is able to jerry-rig something out of it and despite being tossed lightyears away from earth and picked up and enslaved by the Sangtee Empire she and the cosmonaut are able to make their way back to earth, it just takes them a while.

    Fan Works 
  • In Cissnei's Path, Tifa and Yuffie get assigned to do this during the Costa del Sol arc, to ensure that they can escape.

    Film — Animation 

    Film — Live-Action 
  • 8 Women: The culprit ruins the car's engine so none of the characters can leave. Louise none-too-subtly suggests Gaby did it, which makes sense because as far as anyone knows she was the last one who was anywhere near the car before the sabotage was discovered. It was actually Gaby's younger daughter Catherine.
  • The Abduction of Saint Anne: Dave realizes his brake lines have been cut as he's driving downhill. His truck drives off-road and rolls over, but he manages to avoid serious injury.
  • Angel Face: a car is tampered with so that it will shift into reverse when the driver tries to go forward.
  • The Archer: Rebecca cut the brakes on a motorcycle her mom's abusive boyfriend got, which caused him to get into a minor wreck, which he survived. This is why she got put in reform camp.
  • Bad Day at Black Rock: Hector rips the distributor cap and spark plug wires out of Doc Velie's hearse to stop Macreedy from leaving town.
  • Bad Times at the El Royale: Sullivan disables all of the cars in the parking lot so that no one can leave the El Royale.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Big Fat Liar was famous for this trope, when Jason and Kaylee did this to Marty's car, after putting dye in his pool and turning him blue! When he had his car towed the tow truck driver said, "They said something about a little blue car, they didn't say anything about a little blue man!".
  • Blastfighter: the Evil Poachers cut the brake lines and wreck the gearbox in Tiger's car so he can't sop or slow down as his car descends a winding mountain road
  • Blooded: the first thing Liv does when she makes it back to the cottage is to attempt to start the Land Rover, but it won't go. It seems likely that the RLA sabotaged it, given they also cut the phone lines.
  • Blood Harvest: Jill's stalker tampers with Sarah's car doors so they can't be opened.
  • 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.
  • Capricorn One: the bad guys not only cut Caufield's brake lines, they disable his parking brake, jam his gearshift lever in Drive, and somehow yank his accelerator pedal all the way down to the floor.
  • 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.
  • D-Tox: the killer ensures no one can leave the rehab clinic by removing the carburetors from the snowmobiles and smashing them with a hammer.
  • Escape to Athena. The Greek resistance leader decides to assassinate a German officer by sabotaging the brakes of his kübelwagen, but the officer catches him leaving the scene and arrests him for curfew violation, taking him back to headquarters in that same vehicle. Fortunately when the brakes are revealed not to work, this provides a distraction for him to escape by jumping out of the vehicle, which obligingly crashes into a German ammunition dump.
  • Hitchcock's Family Plot features the "cut brakes" version.
  • Fear, Inc.: When Joe and the others attempt to escape the house, they discover Fear, Inc. has ripped the ignition out of the car.
  • In Graduation, to stop Barbara from getting to the bank on the morning of the robbery, the teens sabotage the steering of her car, causing her to drive into a tree.
  • 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.
  • Used at least twice by gangsters in The Green Hornet Serials as part of "turn the business over to us while you still have a business" plots. Brakes and steering systems are both targeted.
  • In Guns, Girls and Gambling, John Smith cuts the water hose of Elvis Elvis's Cadillac, causing the car to overheat and strand him on the desert highway.
  • In the first Iron Eagle movie, a rival loosens the oil cap for the engine of Doug's plane just before a race against the rival's motorcycle, resulting in the plane spilling oil once the loosened cap works the rest of the way off due to engine vibration.
  • In The Island (1980), Manuel pretends to help Maynard escape, and provides him with a small skiff and directions to the open ocean. Once he is sailing, Maynard discovers water coming in through the bottom of the boat, and realizes that Manuel had drilled holes in the boat and plugged them with molasses, which dissolves once in the water.
  • It Nearly Wasnt 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.
  • Johnny Dangerously’s prosecutor little brother’s car is sabotaged by a rogue member of Johnny’s gang as part of an attempted takeover of the gang, though Tommy does survive.
  • In Keeping Mum, Grace cuts the brake cables on the bikes belonging to Petey's bullies.
  • In Kingpin, Ernie gets back at Roy for defeating him in his bowling tour by putting sugar into the gas tank.
  • In The Love Bug, Thorndyke attempts to sabotage Herbie by pouring his Irish coffee into the gas tank, presumably with the idea of it working like sugar in the gas tank. It works, but by leaving Herbie hungover, and although Thorndyke wins the race, his freshly-pressed racing jumpsuit gets splattered with projectile-coughed whipped cream.
  • Mad Max. The Toecutter's gang sabotage the Goose's MFP motorcycle while he's in a nightclub. He crashes the motorcycle the next day with no apparent injury, but this leaves him vulnerable to a later fatal attack by the gang.
  • The Monster Club: When the movie director Sam attempts to leave the village of Loughville, he discovers that the ghouls have sabotaged the engine of his car.
  • In Most Likely to Die, the killer cuts the fuel lines in all of the attendees' cars so no one can leave the canyon.
  • In Preservation, Wit attempts to hotwire the truck, but it doesn't work. When she checks the engine, she discovers the hunters have stolen the battery.
  • Primal: After escaping confinement, Loffler performs several acts of sabotage on the Mimer. He trashes the bridge to destroy the primary steering system, and later sabotages the engines to leave the ship dead in the water.
  • In Seven (1979), Cowboy jabs a knife through the fuel tank of Kimo's limo, so the car will be forced to stop for gas.
  • The Shining. Wendy is able to lock her insane husband in the pantry, but Jack just gives an Evil Laugh and informs her that he's already sabotaged both the radio and the Snowcat that's her only means of escaping the Hell Hotel. Fortunately someone else turns up to help them, but while he quickly gets killed by Jack, Wendy and Danny use the Snowcat he arrived in to escape.
  • In The Shout, Crossley lets the air of the tires of Anthony's bicycle at the church to delay him long enough to inveigle him into conversation.
  • 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.
  • Star Trek III: The Search for Spock: Scotty "performing surgery" on the USS Excelsior transwarp drive.
  • The brake line is cut for the van driven by Bob and Doug in Strange Brew as part of an attempt to silence them before revealing the bad guy's plans.
  • In Who's Harry Crumb?, P.J. Downing's Gold Digger wife and her tennis instructor/lover are trying to kill her husband before he gives away his fortune as ransom for his daughter. The lover drains the brake fluid in Downing's classic car but leaves some pressure for level roads. The idea is that, once he goes down on a steep hill, the pressure won't be enough. It might have worked, but Harry asks Downing to take his car for a spin. He's the one who ends up in trouble when going downhill but miraculously survives when the impact with a tree is dampened by the perpetrators' car.
  • In You Might Be the Killer, the killer destroys the engine of the counselors' car so they can't escape the camp.

  • Isaac Asimov's "Trends": Shelton sabotages Harman's rocket by breaking the liquid-oxygen compartments (fuel), so that when the engine was engaged, all of the fuel exploded at once, instead of being used as controlled propulsion. 28 people nearby the launch site die as a result, but Harman survives through good fortune.
  • The Baby-Sitters Club: In one of the 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?
  • The Berenstain Bears Big Chapter Books: In The Berenstain Bears and the Haunted Hayride, Ed Hooper's last criminal act (and the one that gets him caught, before they figure out he was behind the other sabotage) is hiring a criminal from Big Bear City to use a crowbar and loosen a wheel on the wagon being used for the Haunted Hayride, which could have caused a lot of injuries if it hadn't been caught in time.
  • Cauldron Of Death, by John Grange: In this Pulp Magazine story, 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.
  • Come Midnight Monday: One character was introduced by the protagonists noticing him shoveling dirt into the fuel tanks of trucks. In the television adaptation, this was changed to pouring sugar into the fuel tanks.
  • In Cops: Their Lives In Their Own Words pranks mentioned include spraying tear gas in the car's air conditioning.
  • In The Great Balloon Race, Count Pommodoro sabotages most of the other balloon's in the race. For example, the Dutch lose a piston, then a driving shaft, and finally the entire basket drops off.
  • Kate Shugak: In Restless in the Grave, Finn Grant is murdered when the killer loosens the oil line in his plane. The killer later tries to do the same thing to the plane Kate is flying on.
  • Lammas Night: One Thulist attempt to assassinate William consisted of running a hose from the exhaust pipe into the passenger compartment. Would have overlapped with Human Sacrifice had it worked — suffocation is both pretty much how carbon monoxide kills you and a "traditional" note  form of sacrifice.
  • Left Behind: In the Dramatic Audio adaptation of 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.
  • Wilbur Smith's Cry Wolf: The male protagonists figure the Plucky Girl reporter will try to join the battle, so they remove the carbon rod from the armoured car she was driving. Unfortunately she has enough mechanical know-how to improvise a replacement.
  • The Twilight Saga: In one of the books, Edward sabotages Bella's truck to stop her from visiting Jacob.
  • Invoked in Danny, the Champion of the World. The poachers' getaway driver gives the poachers an earful for not pouring a pound or two of sugar into the gamekeeper's car's gas tank before their big heist, calling having motorized gamekeepers around an unnecessary risk.
  • The Day of the Triffids. When Torrence turns up in an armoured car to tell everyone they're now under his rule, the protagonists pour honey they've been making at their farm into the fuel tank during the night, then drive off leaving the gates open so the triffids can get in.
  • Jaine Austen Mysteries:
    • In The PMS Murder, the killer puts a box of nails under Jaine's tires to try and scare her off.
      • In the same book, it's revealed that Doris was trying to kill Marybeth this way by draining her brakes, but didn't due to a risk of being seen and the problem effectively solving itself when someone else did her in.
    • In Death by Pantyhose, the gear shift in Wheezy (the first car Jaine rents after her car is stolen), the gear shift breaks in her hand. She assumes this is because the car is an absolute clunker, but "Crazy Dave" reveals that someone unscrewed it to make that happen. Jaine realizes the killer did that.
  • In Isaac Asimov's science fiction novel The Stars, Like Dust a sympathetic supporting character (Gillbret oth Hinriad) sabotages the hyperatomic motors on the starship which is taking him, Biron Farrill (the protagonist), the Love Interest, and the main antagonist to the last candidate planet for being "the rebellion world", with the intention of sacrificing all their lives in order to save the hidden base of La Résistance. Biron winds up having to undo the sabotage, as he knows more than poor Gillbret does.

    Live-Action TV 
  • In The Adventures of Superman episode "The Perils of Superman," the villains of the week use acid on Jimmy's brakes so that they give out when he rounds a curve.
  • Agatha Raisin: In "Agatha Raisin and the Wizard of Evesham," the killer cuts the brake lines in Agatha's car in an attempt to scare her off the case.
  • All My Children's Janet Green cuts the brake line on local busybody Laurel Manning's car, knowing that she's close to finding out who she really is (she'd returned to town under a fake identity following Magic Plastic Surgery).
  • The Brittas Empire: The episode “Assassin” revolved around a man who was trying to kill the titular character. His first attempt at doing this was to cut Brittas’ car brakes. Of course, this fails, although Helen is injured as a result.
  • Cannon:
    • A light plane crashes due to sabotage, resulting in the death of a country and western star, in "Country Blues."
    • When the cult members break into Jennifer's home to murder her parents in "A Deadly Quiet Town," they cut the phone lines and sabotage the cars in the garage to prevent communication or escape.
  • 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.
  • CSI:
    • In "Chasing the Bus," the killer pours chloroform inside a bus tire, causing it to suffer a fatal blowout on the road.
    • In "Risky Business Class," the killer sabotages the door seal on a jet, causing it to fail while the plane is in flight. This causes the plane to depressurize and crash.
    • In "Grissom's Divine Comedy," a rag is shoved between the catalytic converter and the heat shield in the engine of a car, causing the engine to burst into flames.
  • CSI: Miami: In "Terminal Velocity," before being murdered, the Victim of the Week had his classic car vandalized by someone pouring bleach into the oil.
  • Sabotage to a racing car is used to commit murder in the CSI: NY episode "The Formula."
  • Dark Shadows: In episode 15, David Collins removes the bleeder valve from Roger's car, causing him to crash going down the hill from Collinwood.
  • Death in Paradise: In "Tour de Murder", a suspect confesses to having shaved the brake pads on the Victim of the Week's bike, seemingly causing him to suffer a fatal crash on a sharp bend above a ravine. However, the victim was murdered before the sabotage could come into effect.
  • Doctor Who: In "Rosa", one of the antagonists attempts to Make Wrong What Once Went Right (prevent Rosa Parks' famous bus ride) by vandalizing the bus ahead of time — slashing the tires and smashing the windshield. So the Doctor and Graham steal another bus.
  • Elementary: In "Flight Risk", the killer causes a fatal plane crash by putting sand in the plane's fuel tank.
  • 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.
  • In the 1990's Australian series Embassy, a terrorist tries to kill the Australian ambassador by putting a grenade (minus pin, with the lever held down with tape) in the fuel tank of his official car. When the petrol dissolves the glue on the tape, the safety lever flies free and sets off the grenade. It's effective for random terrorism but not assassination, as shown when the car explodes while it's parked on the embassy grounds, not while the ambassador is in it.
  • Father Brown:
    • The Victim of the Week in "The Laws of Motion" has the brake lines of her car cut while she is participating in a hill climb.
    • In "The Judgement Of Man", Sid makes the seemingly inconsequential announcement that the spark plugs from the Rolls Royce have been stolen. It isn't until later in the episode that things become clearer. Although never depicted on-screen. it's safe to assume that Chip, aka Flambeau, stole the spark plugs so that he would be able to befriend Lady Felicia to the extent that she would invite him to the Belvedere Gallery.
    • In "The Sins Of Others" a hired assassin cuts the brake lines of a sports car and nearly wipes out most of the regular cast.
    • A saboteur cuts the fuel line on the coach transporting the Kembleford choir to the competition.
  • In the opening Two-Part Episode of Forever Knight, Vampire Detective Nick Knight hides in the trunk of his vintage Cadillac to shield himself from the sun. His partner Don Schanke then borrows the car without permission, not knowing Nick is stuck in the back. They both have an Oh, Crap! moment when it turns out the Serial Killer they're investigating has cut the brake lines.
  • Frontier Circus: In "The Balloon Girl," Ben rigs Katie's hot air balloon so that the air valve will open when she reaches a thousand feet in case she tries to flee. She does and the balloon deflates while in the air, forcing her back to the ground.
  • Funky Squad: In "The Carnival is Over", Funky Squad's mysterious tormentor cuts the brakes on their Mustang; nearly sending them over a cliff.
  • Played with in Game Shakers. In one episode, Kenzie wants to tell the police that their sponsor, a rapper, broke a statue. His entourage confront her and tell her not to go to the police. She refuses and is adamant about going to the police. In the next scene, she gets into a bike accident because the brakes on her bike were removed. Kenzie assumes she's being intimidated. In truth, it was because her friend Hudson tried to fix her bike.
  • In the 2020 miniseries The Head, there is a killer among the winterers on an Antarctic research station and the satellite radio has been sabotaged, so someone has to drive a Snowcat 270 miles in mid-winter to another station to get help. The Snowcat is packed full of fuel cans and someone gets in and presses the ignition button twice with no effect, but the third time the Snowcat bursts into flame burning them to death. It's later revealed that the killer sliced open the fuel line beforehand.
  • The John Larroquette Show. John is forced to rent a bus to a group of neo-Nazis. After spending the episode trying to find a way to avoid this, he finally admits that the law says that he must rent them a bus. He then adds that the law doesn't say anything about not shoving a screwdriver through the gas tank as he holds up a screwdriver.
  • 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.
  • One episode of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit has the Body of the Week killed by his son putting KY Jelly in his motorcycle helmet as a prank, followed by somebody else having poured battery acid into the oil pan, eventually causing the engine to seize. He was thrown from the bike and died on impact because he didn't have his helmet on.
  • Leverage:
    • In "The Juror #6 Job," the crew short out the engine of the mark's electric car to prevent him from getting to court.
    • "The Beantown Bailout Job" starts with Nate witnessing a near-fatal car crash caused by sabotage.
  • In one episode of Lois & Clark, Jimmy Olsen's convertible is sabotaged so it will accelerate out of control. Of course, he's saved by Superman... who simply lands on the passenger's seat and turns off the ignition.
  • The MacGyver (1985) episode "The Enemy Within" featured the tampering with brakes version as an excuse for the title character to repair a moving vehicle.
    • Also used in "Collision Course," in an attempt by the episode's antagonist to win a car race at all costs.
  • Madam Secretary: Done twice in season one to Make It Look Like an Accident.
    • At the start of the series then-Secretary of State Vincent Marsh dies in a plane crash that Liz later discovers has similarities to a crash that killed an Iranian nuclear scientist, long suspected to have been a Mossad assassination. Liz manages to get the Israeli ambassador, a former operative, to tell her how it was done, off the record: by sabotaging one part of the plane to cause the rudder control to break.
    • In the pilot, Liz's old friend from the CIA, George Peters, turns up dead in a car crash after becoming convinced Marsh's death wasn't an accident. In the first season finale, Juliet confesses to having hacked the car's computer, in a modern update of the old cut-the-brake-lines trick.
    • Season two's arc is touched off by a cyberattack against Air Force One that kills all the communications systems. The same black hat, a hired gun for the Russian government, later tries to assassinate the President of Ukraine by crashing his plane, but he parachutes to safety.
  • Major Crimes: In "There's No Place Like Home," the killers cut the brake lines as a backup 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.
  • In the Midsomer Murders:
    • In the episode "Master Class", one couple's car has its brake-line cut, leading to a near-fatal crash.
    • In 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.
    • In "Death and the Divas", an attempted murder by cutting the victim's brake lines ends with the intended victim's face planted on the steering wheel and the horn blaring.
    • In "The Flying Club", the fuel line on a stunt plane is cut during an airshow.
    • In "The Debt of Lies", newly retired senior police officer Elaine Bennet dies crashing her car. Fleur informs Barnaby that someone has tampered with the brakes in Elaine’s car.
  • 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.
  • In the Mission: Impossible episode "The Missile," a psychotic mechanic tampers with the brakes in Dana's car.
  • Murder, She Wrote: The killer tampers with the gearing on a stunt car to kill the stuntman driving it in "Shooting in Rome."
  • The MythBusters tested several mythical methods of sabotaging vehicles in one episode (sugar in the gas tank, Banana in the Tailpipe, etc). Most did not work; however, bleach in the gas tank caused the engine to cut out (it was shown the bleach caused the fuel tank to rust), and bleach in the oil caused the engine to overheat and eventually seize up permanently.
  • 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.
  • Person of Interest. In "One Percent" and "Nothing to Hide," someone hacks the computer systems of a vehicle to make it crash.
  • Poker Face:
    • In episode 2, "The Night Shift", Jed attempts to sabotage Charlie's brakes once he realizes she's going to expose him, made easy because her car is already in the shop he works at. This is for revenge rather than to keep her quiet, as she'll be leaving town as soon as her car is fixed anyway. His uncle spots what he's done and repairs it.
    • In episode 7, "The Future of the Sport", racecar driver Keith Owens sabotages the racing car of his fellow driver Davis McDowell so he'll crash. Davis notices it and instead of fixing the car, also messes with the seat belt to make a crash much worse, then arranges for Keith's daughter to be driving it instead in hopes of disposing of both his current and potential rival.
  • 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.
  • This is a very common occurrence on The Rockford Files where someone seems to cut Jim's brake lines every third episode.
  • This has become something of a tradition on Top Gear's international specials. It started on the US trip where Hammond and Clarkson, who were a) boiling in Florida's heat and humidity and b) sick of May being smug about being the only one with working air-conditioning, sabotaged May's air-con. In the Middle East special, Hammond's radio was re-wired to a hidden one that came on when the car started and was locked on playing Genesis, a band Hammond hates rather loudly. And it went to an enormous extreme in the Nile special, where the presenters resorted to stealing parts of car bodywork from each other; by the end of the special, their cars were thoroughly mixed between BMW, Subaru, and Volvo.
  • 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.
  • Ugly Betty:
  • Walker, Texas Ranger:
    • Season 2's Multi Part story "Something in the Shadows" has this happen to Walker's GMC Sierra, thanks to Curtis Nypo and his band of drug dealers (his prospective stepson, played by Giovanni "Vonni" Ribisi, being dragged into the operation despite having joined Walker's karate classes): Walker's accelerator and brakes were rigged, and no matter how much Walker tried to apply the brakes, the truck kept accelerating until it was stopped in a pond. Walker luckily gets it fixed by the end of the episode.
    • Gage suffers this in Season 9's "Desperate Measures". While stopping at a restaurant on his way back to Dallas following a charity motorcycle ride, the drive belt for his motorcycle is cut by two thugs whom he roughed up for harassing two women, namely Lara Pope and Jane "Hitch" Harrelson, who, little did he know at the time, were two of four escaped convicts trying to lay lownote  after their prison bus was ambushed and run off the road by the boyfriends of the other two escapees. The two harassers get away scot-free, and to add insult to injury for Gage, his cellphone's battery is dead, and when the two women unknowingly offer him a ride to get the motorcycle fixed, they find out who he is when they are stopped by a State Trooper for speeding and left off with a warning, and vice versa when Harrelson decides to kill him. Gage apprehended Harrelson after the fact while Lara got away trying to find her son with his motorcycle still strapped to the bed of her uncle's pickup.
      Harasser: [fleeing the restaurant] Hope you like walking!
  • Whodunnit? (UK): In "Final Drive," the Victim of the Week is murdered when the killer cuts the brake lines on his car.

  • Mentioned in "Grenade" by Bruno Mars, via the line "You smile in my face then rip the brakes out my car." It's one of the ways his girlfriend's abusing him.
  • "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."
  • Carrie Underwood does this to take revenge on a cheating lover in the song and music video for "Before He Cheats".
  • "Weird Al" Yankovic mentions this in "You Don't Love Me Anymore": "Why did you disconnect the brakes on my car?/That kind of thing is hard to ignore."

  • Older Than Feudalism: The Greek hero Pelops pulled this on his prospective father-in-law, King Oinomaos, whom he needed to beat in a chariot race in order to win the hand of his daughter Hippodamia. Possibly with Hippodamia's collusion, Pelops bribed Oinomaos's charioteer to replace the bronze linchpins that held the chariot wheels on with wax ones. In the (literal) heat of the race, the wax pins melted and Oinomaos' chariot wheels came off, killing him. The charioteer tried to claim Hippodamia himself, and was Rewarded as a Traitor Deserves.

  • In the backstory for Williams Electronics' WHO dunnit (1995), the brakes on Tex's car are sabotaged by Butler, after he overhears Tex threatening Victoria. Tex drives off a cliff and the car explodes.

     Puppet Shows 
  • If we were to list every example of this trope happening in a Gerry Anderson show, we'd be here all day:
    • The Thunderbirds episode Operation Crash Dive has a terrorist organization dedicated to sabotaging aircraft cut the EPU wires on the Fireflash, making them crash into the sea.
      • The episode Edge Of Impact has The Hood sabotage a fighter plane known as Red Arrow using a homing device which makes them crash into both a hangar and a communications tower.
    • The first episode of Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons has The Mysterons give Captain Scarlet and Captain Brown's Spectrum Saloon a puncture making it crash off a cliff and killing the two of them.

  • 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.

    Video Games 
  • In Always Sometimes Monsters, one of the ways to handle the race between Markansas and Stan is to cut Stan's brakes. If you do this, Stan's car will crash and explode, and his four children will witness the entire thing.
  • Galaxy Angel: A plot point in the third game, Eternal Lovers, is that Tact's chosen Angel gets her Emblem Frame sabotaged by Wein, causing it to go rogue and forcing Tact to shoot it down before it falls into the enemy's hands. To make it worse, it happens right after they have an argument with each other and the Angel in question will suffer some brain damage (due to the HALO system's going haywire) leaving her with a condition to fix before she's ready to pilot again.
  • The mission "Pimp His Ride" in Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars (pictured above) has Huang sabotaging a famous street racer's car by smashing the engine, disconnecting wires, puncturing the coolant tank, and messing up the air conditioning with a dead fish for good measure. After all this is done, the player has to drive the car back to the garage, which is every bit as difficult as you'd expect.
  • Love & Pies: The brakes to Esme's van are cut, causing her to crash into the walls at the cafe. It was the anonymous caller, who read Eve's article about the crash, who did it.
  • One objective in the first campaign of Medal of Honor: Allied Assault is to cut the wires on several Nazi lorries. There's plenty of planting bombs on parked tanks throughout the game as well.
  • The last race during the Taste of Power at the start of Need for Speed: Most Wanted is against the Big Bad of the game, with the winner getting the loser's car. Your car has been sabotaged by his men and breaks down halfway through the race. As a result, he wins and takes your souped-up BMW.
  • In Space Quest V: The Next Mutation, Beatrice sabotages the starship SCS Goliath by stealing its "warp distributor cap", which looks exactly like a spark plug distributor cap. Fitting, since the ship's warp engine looks like an internal combustion "V"-engine.

    Western Animation 
  • 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 when she hits the brakes they don't work. She panics as it looks like she's about to go over the cliff, until she realizes she's just been slamming on the wrong pedal ("Oops, that's the clutch!") and slows to a halt. Steve actually has much worse revenge in mind...
  • 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.
  • Dennis once put detergent in his father's gas tank in an episode of Dennis the Menace.
  • In the Family Guy episode "Brian: Portrait of a Dog", when Brian leaves after getting fed up with Peter's domineering, Peter remarks that "He won't get far without this" as he holds up a distributor, which Brian had no use for since he wasn't driving anywhere.
  • 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.
  • In an episode of Heathcliff & the Catillac Cats, Heathcliff builds a soapbox derby racer, only for it to be sabotaged by Hector, Wordsworth, and Mungo.
  • Sherlock Holmes in the 22nd Century: In "The Scales of Justice", the villain attempts to dispose of Holmes and Watson by sabotaging their Flying Car so its engine shorts out while they are in the air.
  • 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 has 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.
    • In "Trash of the Titans", Homer runs for sanitation commissioner, going head-to-head with the incumbent in a debate at the town hall.
      Patterson: Sorry I'm late everyone. Somebody tampered with my brakes!
      Homer: Well then, you should have been early!
  • Star Wars Resistance: In "Fuel for the Fire", Jace Rucklin, a racer who has designs on stealing powerful Corellian hyperfuel from Jarek Yeager, protagonist Kaz's boss, ingratiates himself to Kaz by challenging him to a speeder bike race in which the bike Kaz rides has been sabotaged so he can rescue him, specifically so Kaz will feel he owes Rucklin and sneak him into Yeager's office later, where Rucklin has a chance to swipe the fuel.
  • Stōked: The groms sabotage Bummer's golf cart in "A Prank Too Far", leading them to think that they've killed him.
  • In the Teen Titans Go! episode "Burger vs. Burrito", as part of their prank war caused by them disagreeing on which food is superior, Beast Boy messes with Cyborg by replacing the T-Car's engine with a burrito.
  • A standard Dick Dastardly tactic in the Wacky Races, to try to get a leg up on the competition.


Video Example(s):

Alternative Title(s): Sugar In The Gas Tank


A distraction

Colton uses a switchblade to deflate the tires of a van being used by a hostile person in a kidnapping case. This forces said person to get out and inspect the tire.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (2 votes)

Example of:

Main / VehicularSabotage

Media sources: