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Nine Scary Ways That Your Automobile Can Fail

It’s Halloween, the proper time to speak about issues that hang-out us: like elements failures that may trigger us to lose management of our automobiles. Listed below are the scariest car failure modes I can consider.

I’m going to restrict this record to somewhat-common sorts of mechanical mishaps, since there are far too many sorts of freak accidents that occur like that pickup truck whose cab flew right off its frame a few weeks ago.

These “as soon as in a blue moon” accidents aren’t what ought to hold us all up at evening, anyway; what ought to hang-out our nightmares are the little upkeep oversights that may wreak havoc on our vehicles.

Wheels Coming Off

I’ve talked about ball joint failures many times before, principally as a result of the concept of it scares the crap out of me. I’ve seen dozens of vehicles lacking wheels on the shoulders of assorted highways, and I do know precisely why.

Signs of failing ball joints—the issues that hold your wheels related to your automotive—are comparatively delicate contemplating the attainable penalties.

I drove a Honda Accord from New Jersey to Michigan some time in the past with that failing ball joint you see within the picture above. Sure, I may hear a banging noise from the passenger’s aspect wheel nicely, and the steering wheel shook a bit. However whereas I knew these signs may very well be an enormous deal, I doubt the common individual would have understood how dire the state of affairs was primarily based on a barely shaky steering wheel and a few noise from one of many wheels.

Simply take a look at the underside of the ball in that image above—it was sooo near popping out of that socket, sending the wheel flying off my car, and presumably inflicting my automotive to lose management because the rotor floor towards the asphalt.

After all, there are different ways in which wheels can fall off—they’ll crack, and suspension parts can fail—however dangerous ball joints are often the first explanation for automotive turning right into a three-legged wreck on the aspect of the highway.

Engine Or Differential Seizing

One other one in all my nightmares offers with shifting elements seizing up, particularly whereas driving at excessive speeds. And such an prevalence is admittedly not that unlikely, both.

For instance, if, for some motive, you by chance forgot to place your oil’s drain plug again on after a service, or maybe you personal a Volkswagen with an aluminum oil pan that may as well be made of glass and also you hit a bump, chances are you’ll by chance run your engine out of oil.

If that occurs, the lubrication protecting your rings and bearings from grinding towards different metallic elements will likely be misplaced, and your engine can “lock up,” which may ship your automotive spinning uncontrolled on the freeway.

Admittedly, engines often decelerate and lose energy earlier than locking, so it’s not going you’ll be going 80 mph one second, after which have your pushed wheels lock up the following, nevertheless it’s attainable that your motor may seize whilst you’re shifting at an inexpensive clip, and—particularly in case you’re in gear with the clutch pedal out—your wheels will lock too, and you could possibly be in for a hell of a journey.

Differentials, switch instances, and just about any kind of gearbox can even seize up (see video above), particularly if an over-stressed damaged gear tooth will get caught within the mesh between different gears, or if an absence of oil causes a bearing to warmth up and weld itself to a cease.

Dropping Steering

The chance of your steering wheel coming off in your palms like within the video above is slim, however there are different methods your automotive can lose steering.

For one—and that is one I harp on about very often—tie rod ends can fail, particularly if holes in rubber boots enable moisture to infect the grease inside.

The outer tie rod finish connects your steering rack along with your knuckle (which holds your wheel). If a type of tie rod ends fails, you’ll be unable to regulate the path of one in all your wheels, which may very well be disastrous. Comparable penalties exist in case your inside tie rod ends—that are protected by rubber bellows—fail.

And it’s not simply tie rod ends that make shedding steering such a scary concept; my largest concern is my steering intermediate shaft coming aside—that’s the one which connects the wheel to the steering field. Right here’s a take a look at the u-joint that I pray to the heavens won’t ever let go:

This latter bit concerning the I-shaft might be not an inexpensive concern, however for some motive, it haunts me much more so than the much-more-common tie rod finish failure.

Dropping Brakes

The video above is horrifying, despite the fact that it’s clearly only a demonstration. I believe we’ve all had nightmares about shedding brakes, particularly whereas driving down steep grades.

And whereas it appears like it might by no means occur to you, it completely can. All it takes is a small pinhole in your brake strains, and you may lose some—if not all—of your braking skill, particularly in case your park brake doesn’t work.

That is one thing that occurs up north in areas the place there’s a number of salt on the roads. Not practically sufficient automotive homeowners get down within the dust, slide below their automobiles, and examine their brake strains. I did simply that a number of months in the past, and right here’s what I discovered:

It wasn’t that dangerous (I gave it a squish to see how scaley that rust was), however after a number of winters, that line may develop into a significant drawback.


I’ve bought all types gremlins in my vehicles, particularly my Jeep Cherokee, whose alternator over-charges its battery for some motive (I believe there’s a difficulty with a corroded wire someplace).

However simply because my automotive was a junker, doesn’t imply your automotive received’t have electrical issues. My dad used to drive a 2005 Saturn Vue, whose flip sign stalk really went up in smoke someday whereas driving (that is apparently a reasonably widespread problem on Theta-platform GM merchandise). Between that, and the video above exhibiting a Durango up in flames, it’s clear gremlins generally is a huge deal on any automotive.

My largest hearth concern, although—much more so than a rusty gas line or electrical gremlins—is transmission fluid, which is renowned for bursting into flames if it hits a sizzling floor like an exhaust manifold. I’m all the time anxious that I’ll overfill my transmission, and ATF will spew out of my dipstick tube and onto my manifold.

Add to that the truth that, in case your automotive has a carburetor, it provides a complete different bag of fireside considerations to the sport (I personally have caught two carburetors on hearth in my lifetime, and I’m certain that quantity will solely go up), and also you’ll perceive why I hold a hearth extinguisher in my vehicles.

Suspension Or Axle Failures

Rust is a bastard. It’ll knock out your brake strains, and it might severely compromise the structural integrity of your car. If these compromises happen close to main suspension element—management arms, entrance cradles, observe bar mounts, and many others.—you could possibly hit a bump and fully lose management of your car.

Rusted subframes appear to be an enormous drawback the place I reside close to Detroit. And contemplating that the subframe holds the engine, trans, and whole driveline to the remainder of the physique, that’s one thing to take severely. Simply take a look at this nastiness:

Different points are shock mounts. Right here’s one from a reasonably current Ford Escape:

One other look:

What’s worse than a nasty shock mount, although, is a nasty spring mount, as its accountable for suspending your physique above your wheels. Simply take a look at the large gap on this Jeep’s body:

I practically purchased that Jeep, too. If I’d have hit a bump, there’s an opportunity the spring would have poked up by way of the physique, and the wheel would have wedged itself towards the wheel nicely, inflicting the automotive to spin uncontrolled.

So, rust is an enormous deal, however so are axle failures and put on in issues like observe bars.

A failed c-clip axle can really trigger you to fully lose a wheel (see video above), and a again observe bar may cause horrible death wobble, which is able to make staying in your lane extraordinarily tough.

Carbon Monoxide

Publicity to an excessive amount of carbon monoxide can kill you, and since carbon monoxide is a byproduct of your engine’s combustion response, it’s essential that your exhaust system is in good condition to channel these dangerous gases away from the cabin.

However, as I’m certain everybody has observed, exhaust pipes—particularly within the salt-belt—are often the primary elements to succumb to rust, partially, as a result of warmth catalyzes the response. You’ll discover rusty exhaust pipes littering the edges of highways throughout the American north and northeast.

In truth, not too long ago, a police officer reportedly suffered nerve damage from carbon monoxide publicity in a Ford Explorer. This problem is to not be taken evenly.


Don’t purchase low cost tires. I did, and after I hit a small piece of metallic, my tire popped. Fortunately, I used to be solely driving about 35 mph, or this might have been dangerous. Very dangerous.


This one’s not a lot a mechanical failure, bit if we’re speaking about scary issues that may trigger us to lose management of our automobiles, we’ve to say hacking, which—with the ever-increasing variety of computer systems permitting vehicles to develop into increasingly automated— has been making the news fairly a bit up to now few years.

After all, you will need to differentiate between mechanical tampering, which is what quite a lot of these “hacking” movies actually display, and precise distant or wi-fi hacking, which isn’t actually a factor and is extremely more durable to drag off. For now. However it’s a scary thought in many individuals’s minds, particularly as vehicles develop into extra automated.

So these are the scariest comparatively widespread (sans the hacking one, which I simply threw in for a bit of additional Halloween fear-mongering) automotive failures. The excellent news is, you could possibly stop these failures studying my article about how to verify your automotive is protected to drive.

The dangerous information is, I stated “could possibly.” Benefit from the drive to your Halloween get together tonight. I’m certain it is going to be high-quality.

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