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He trashed my car, Alfred. Between a couple of guys that's real personal.—Batman, Batman: The Animated Series
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.
Compare with Vehicular Assault, in which a vehicle is used as a weapon by its pilot. A supertrope of Banana In the Tailpipe and External Combustion, when the sabotage comes by way of an explosive device planted by the enemy. This is also a favorite way to Make It Look Like an Accident.
Anime & Manga
- A favorite trick of Lupin The 3rd when he's being pursued. He'll either sabotage them himself or have Goemon slice them to ribbons beforehand.
- 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".
- 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.
- At one point in Batman Returns, The Penguin manages to install a remote control in the batmobile.
- 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.
- 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.
- He could have done as advised by Toyota in case of jammed throttle: shift the transmission to neutral, and let the engine rev out while disengaged from the wheels.
- 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.
- 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?
Live Action TV
- In the Mission Impossible episode "The Missile", a psychotic mechanic tampers with the brakes in Dana's car.
- Happens quite often on The Dukes of Hazzard, occasionally even to The General Lee.
- This is a very common occurrence on The Rockford Files where someone seems to cut Jim's brake lines every third episode.
- One episode of MacGyver featured the tampering with brakes version as an excuse for the title character to repair a moving vehicle.
- Also used in "Collision Course".
- In the Midsomer Murders episode "Death of the Slow Lane", one of the murders was committed by shearing through the steering linkage on a car, causing it to crash while going round a sharp bend.
- This has become something of a tradition on Top Gear's international specials. Started on the US trip where Hammond and Clarkson, who were a) boiling in Florida's heat and humidity and b) sick of James may being smug about being the only one with working air-conditioning, so they sabotaged James's air-con. More recently in the Middle East special Hammond's radio was re-wired to a hidden one that came on when the car started and was lock on playing Genesis, a band Hammond hates rather loudly.
- The Professionals. Doyle is being stalked by someone from his past who takes pleasure in making Doyle sweat before he kills him. In one scene his car is rigged to fail in stages -- first the brakes, then the steering, then after the car crashes a delayed-action bomb gives Doyle enough time to exit the vehicle before it blows up.
- In an episode of Once Upon a Time, the breaks on Emma's car were sabotaged by Sidney when she and Sidney were going to spy on the Mayor.
- Carrie Underwood does this to take revenge on a cheating lover in the song and music video for "Before He Cheats"
- "Banditos" by The Refreshments, second verse: "Put the sugar in the tank of the sheriff's car, and slash the deputy's tires and they won't get very far when they finally get the word that there's been a holdup."
- In the play Blithe Spirit Charles' first wife (who is a ghost) tampers with his brakes so he'll die and join her in the afterlife. But unfortunately for all, it is Charles's second wife Ruth who drives the car and gets killed, turning her into a ghost too.
- In the Film Noir within the show in City of Angels, Mallory claims to have done away with Peter by tampering with the brakes of his van. Peter lives, though this is implied to be the result of Executive Meddling.
- Vehicular Sabotage is a standard Dick Dastardly tactic in the Wacky Races, to try to get a leg up on the competition.
- The Simpsons: In order to smoke out a person trying to kill Homer, he is made the King of the Mardi Gras parade. The person trying to kill him as tampered with the brakes of his float so he can't stop.
- Stoked!: The groms sabotage Bummer's golf cart in "A Prank Too Far", leading them to think that they've killed him.
- Roger cut Stan's brake lines on American Dad
- Subverted in another episode, where Steve is seeking revenge against three cheerleaders for humiliating his girlfriend. One of the girls drives down a hill and starts pressing the brakes, only to find they don't work. As she heads into oncoming traffic, she panics...and then says "Oh wait, that's the clutch" and comes to a complete stop at the red light. It turns out that Steve has much worse revenge in mind...