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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 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.

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. 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 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.
  • In Part 2 of JoJo's Bizarre Adventure is 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.

    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 
  • 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.
  • In Chassis, Twist sends her personal droid to sabotage Chassis's areocar during a race.
  • This is how the post-Crisis Lex Luthor gained his riches - he cut the brake line to his parents' car and let them die.
  • 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.

  • 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 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 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 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.
  • 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 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.
  • 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!".
  • 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 hung-over.
  • 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.
  • In D-Tox, the killer ensures no one can leave the rehab clinic by removing the carburettors from the snowmobiles and smashing them with a hammer.

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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's chariot wheels came off, killing him.

    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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
    • In "The Flying Club", the fuel line on a stunt plane is cut during an airshow.
  • 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 lock 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 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 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.
  • In one episode or 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.
  • In one episode of The John Larroquette Show, John is forced to rent a bus to 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.
  • CSI: Miami: In "Terminal Velocity", before being murdered, the Victim of the Week had his classic car vandalised by someone pouring bleach into the oil.
  • 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.
  • CSI:
    • In "Chasing the Bus", the killer pours chloroform inside a bus tyre, 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 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 convertor and the heat shield in the engine of a car, causing the engine to burst into flames.
  • 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 Schanke then borrows the car without permission, not knowing Nick is stuck in the back. They both have an Oh, Crap! moment when the Serial Killer they're investigating sabotages the brakelines.
  • 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.
  • Person of Interest. In "One Percent" and "Nothing to Hide", someone hacks the computer systems of a vehicle to make it crash.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Murder, She Wrote: The killer tampers with the gearing on a stunt car to kill the stuntman driving it in "Shooting in Rome".
  • 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.
  • Cannon: A light plane crashes due to sabotage, resulting in the death of a country and western star, in "Country Blues".

  • 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."
  • 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.

  • In the backstory for Williams Electronics' WHO dunnit, 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.

  • 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 
  • 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.
  • 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 Always Sometimes Monsters, one of the 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.
  • 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.

    Western Animation 
  • 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 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.
  • Stōked!: 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.
  • 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.

Alternative Title(s): Sugar In The Gas Tank