These Are Your Worst Vehicle Breakdown Stories


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Photo: Ruben de Rijcke via Wikimedia Commons

Your cars have broken down a lot, and so have mine. All I see and feel in this post is pain, but what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger, right? I sure hope so.

We asked you yesterday what your most miserable vehicle breakdown story was, and boy did you all deliver. It almost made me feel good knowing I’m not the only one out there who has had to park on the side of the road while AAA finds someone to bring my ruined car back to civilization.

Perhaps you all too, should look through and see the automotive misfortunes of your fellow Jalopmentors. Just be warned: some of these ain’t pretty.

Wood Is Our Enemy

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Photo: Milkmandan~commonswiki via Wikimedia Commons

I went to college in Montreal, and was driving the 6hr drive to Montreal from CT in my ‘93 BMW 325is. Got up near Plattsburgh NY and drove over a piece of wood on the highway (couldn’t move over because of traffic), which promptly flew up and broke my belt and damaged a couple pulleys. The tow truck brought me to one garage, where they looked at the car and said “we definitely don’t have the parts for that”. With no BMW dealer in the area, I ended up at Sears Auto Center where they said it would be 2-3 days to get parts. I ended up waiting for several hours in the local mall to get a bus to Montreal (which took another hour at customs). I had to take a bus back a few days later to pick up the car, at which point it was only a 45 min drive to Montreal. That was the only time that car ever broke down. A close second- I was driving my dad’s ‘99 Saab 9-5 back from a friend’s one January at 1am. I had told him the fuel pump was weak and he never had it fixed. It decided to die a mile from home in the middle of the only intersection on the road! Waited in 2 degree weather for a tow. Thankfully a police officer drove by and I was able to wait in his warm car for a while. But definitely wasn’t fun.

Let it be known that old European cars only exist to let us down. I know this fact intimately. This is also why you should never go to Canada. I just can’t trust those folks up there. They’re too nice, which means they are probably up to something.

Suggested by: Adam

Gary, Indiana FTW

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Photo: Bob

Drove out to West Point NY to buy my BMW 850, I was trailering it home and I blew out two tires and lost the fender on the trailer in Gary Indiana. No problems in Gary because there was no one there among the burned out houses, abandoned schools and abandoned businesses. Put the one spare on and limped it into the Happy Way Tire Shop in Gary. Great Service, Great Selection and good prices.

Did you know the name Gary was popular because people were naming their ugly kids after Gary Cooper? Did you also know that Gary Cooper (born Frank James Cooper) chose the stage name Gary (at the suggestion of his agent) because of her hometown: Gary, Indiana. That means you can thank Gary, Indiana for the explosion of people named Gary in the 1960s.

You learn something new every day.

Suggested by: Bob

The Ire Of A Flat Tire

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Photo: Jacob Frey 4A via Wikimedia Commons

Alright here we go:

Backstory: I’m 19, driving a Mazdaspeed 3, 6 years ago. I had just accepted an engineering job (went to a voc high school, hence the young age), and i was driving home from my drug test. A drug test that they scheduled over 2 hours from my house, for some reason.

Anyways, so im on I91 just north of Hartford in a huge downpour when a truck in front of me has a blow out, i hit the tire, and it takes out one of my tires.

Great, oh well, its like 10:30AM or so, but i dont have a spare, so i call AAA. They tell me 25 minutes since im in a “high danger” area on the side of the highway. Well 3 hours later and they finally get there, annoying, but it is what it is. He even listens to me when i ask to hook up the car from the back due to it being slightly lowered.

anyways, Mr. Tow Truck Driver #1 drives me to a Town Fair Tire in probably the roughest Neighborhood in Hartford, but oh well, i grew up in something similar, so no big deal. Town Fair says theyll have my car done last for the day, at 6PM. So being single, an hour from home, i didnt have a ride anywhere, so i decided to walk around the area. Honestly nothing bad, ended up getting some bomb ass Vietnamese food.

So either way, finally they get my car done at 5:30, and im on my way, right into rush hour traffic. again, oh well, shit happens. Then about 5 minutes on the road, the guy behind me is laying on his horn and screaming. Being on this part of the highway, sorta normal, until he pulls up on the shoulder, i freak out. Until he starts saying “your tire is about to come off your damn car!”

I pull over, and would you look at that, the tire isnt remotley seated on the wheel. I have no idea how it held air. I call Town Fair back and am like “what the hell”. Theyre 5 minutes from closing, but credit where credits due, they sent me a tow truck, and made the tech stay late.

So tow truck driver gets there, and i ask hi the same thing as the other driver, to hook me up from the back. However this guy says no, thats impossible, and proceeds to rip the front bumper off my car. Now, you could have towed it from the front, but this dude slammed it into my bumper. Great.

So he gets me back to town fair at like 6:30 or something, past closing, and the tech and manager are waiting for me. The manager apologizes, but the tech just looks pissed. He gets the wheel off the car, tosses the new tire on, and starts to tell me the reason the tire didnt seat was it being out of balance…. the manager shook his head, apologized, and reviewed the car before setting me off again.

I ended up getting home at about 8:30… an 11 hour journey for a damn drug test and a tire blow out…. All just to find out that the reason they sent me there, was they put in my home address wrong…

the car now had broken tabs on the bumper, a giant black mark on the side where the truck tire spun around my wheel, and it was just a hard day. Luckily the black spot came off with buffing, and the bumper met some zipties, but still.

Job was horrible too, but i did get to be a manager there for a while, so that was cool.

You poor, poor soul. I respect how much patience you have and how you’re able to let stuff roll off your back. I don’t think I’d be able to. Just reading your story gave me like three separate anxiety attacks. At least you got the job, though… even if it was shitty.

Suggested by: ThatGuyWhoBuysUnreliableCrap

Abandoning The Dream

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Photo: redneckrob and his flock of Volvos

I was thinking of how lucky I have been, between cars and motorcycles I’ve been on the road for more than 20 years and never had a breakdown in one of my own vehicles.

I read everyone’s comments and then I recalled the time in my early 20’s when my buddy and I had the amazing idea to buy the cheapest car we could find just to abuse until death.

Using the highest of our skills we found a manual Ford Escort in the suburbs of Detroit for under $400. It was rusted, rotted and smelled bad but we didn’t care. As we didn’t buy insurance or register it the salesman suggested, with a wink and a nod, we tell him it to “use around the farm” and we’d be taking it on a trailer. So that’s what we told him and we drove it off the lot and around the corner we put a random license plate on it. To get it back to mid-Michigan we decided to take I-94. My buddy set of in his Mustang and I tried to follow but it kept overheating and the transmission was so loose I had no idea what gear I was in.

As we neared Ann Arbor the temperature gauge kept climbing and his Mustang was further and further away and suddenly it lost all power and I coasted it into a gas station just outside of Ann Arbor. After letting it cook down I tried restarting it but I think the motor was shot.

As we didn’t have cell phones at that time and I was still a 45 minute drive away from home (his family had a cottage next door to me) I looked in the phone book and called his sister who lived in a suburb of Ann Arbor. She was kind enough to pick immediately up and take me home.

We left the car there, never getting to do any sweet jumps, front wheel drive drifts or any other vehicular hooligan activities and I think a few months later it was towed away. As we never registered it we didn’t pay any fines or tickets.

Not the best way to spend a couple hundred dollars but still a fun memory to have in the pre-roadkill / internet video days of my car obsession.

The best laid plans of mice and men…

Suggested by: redneckrob and his flock of Volvos

Not A Son In The Datsun

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Photo: Wagon Guy drives a Boostang

In 2001, with the birth of my 3rd daughter, it became completely obvious that I could no longer continue through life with just a 2-seat sports car. My wife had an SUV, but I was daily driving a 280zx, and had no place to put 2 car seats when the need arose. Being on a Datsun kick at the time I bought a 30 year old 510 wagon.

This car had a ton of mechanical issues, but since I was using it for local duty, it was never a huge problem. I was also using it as an excuse to learn how to work on cars. It was dead simple as as basic as a car could get, 4-cyl, 4-speed manual, manual everything, but I had a ton of interesting break downs in my time driving it.

Driving home from the store one afternoon, the entire shift lever came off in my hand. It was in 2nd gear when it happened, so I nursed it to the shop through heavy traffic in gear. I could start and stop with the clutch, but couldn’t do more than 30mph.

Over time, I built it up to be really reliable, going through every system on it and either replacing things or upgrading them. In the summer of 2003 I took it on a road trip with my oldest daughter through the Rocky Mountains. We were in Rocky Mountain National Park and stopped at one of the scenic overlooks when the carb boiled all of the fuel out of the float bowl. I figured out that I could point the nose downhill and it wouldn’t do it, but when parked with the front aimed up the mountain it would boil the fuel out. Toward the end of that trip we were in New Mexico driving across the desert when the alternator bracket snapped. I nursed it in to the Nissan dealer in Roswell and managed to get their assistance in getting it fixed.

In years of daily driving that wagon, I never had it on a tow truck…

Putting your three infant daughters in the back of a 30 year old Datsun is… a choice. Hey, at least you made it reliable, and it’s more interesting than most of the alternatives. It’s also really good looking, so kudos for that.

Suggested by: Wagon Guy drives a Boostang

Money $hift

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Photo: Telempe via Wikimedia Commons

Driving down the interstate with a friend that had never driven a stick. I get tired and he offers to drive. 10 minute instruction in a parking lot and a way we go. It’s Florida, flat as a pancake, what can go wrong…

He goes to pass someone and decides to shift down. Puts in clutch, pulls gear shift lever down and over to the left ignoring my instruction to just pull it down and it will guide into 4th. He popped the clutch and he’s in 2nd doing 75+ mph.

Broke the needle off my tach and I needed a new engine.

This is my actual nightmare, and it’s also why I refuse to teach anyone how to drive stick – especially on my car.

I hope your buddy at least paid for the engine, Jesus Christ.

Suggeste by: hoser68

Never Do Anything For Family

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Photo: Navigator84 via Wikimedia Commons

Here’s mine: In 2018, I brought my 90-year-old great aunt (with severe mobility issues) from Baltimore to Pittsburgh for my parents’ anniversary celebration and Thanksgiving. I take her back with me the Monday after Thanksgiving in my 2015 Honda CR-V. Everything starts out fine. During the highway drive, I experience what feels like my tires slipping as I’m accelerating. It doesn’t last so I think nothing of it. Starting to climb a hill in Maryland, the “slipping” increases and I begin losing speed. At this point, my check engine light is on. Not wanting to get run over by a semi, I am thankfully able to direct the car onto the ramp for a rest area. I’m just within the 100-mile radius of my AAA membership to have the car towed to my parents’ dealer, so I call for a truck. It takes over an hour to find anyone willing to tow that distance (during which time I am able to restart the car and muscle up the hill to the rest area).

Getting my great aunt up and down the steps of the tow truck was an adventure because of the height of the steps and her lack of depth perception – it took her 10 minutes just to get down. We also had to take all backroads to avoid tolls (and I had to direct the driver, so we missed our exit and had to make a U-turn in the median). Thankfully, a few hours later, we arrived back home. I had to take an extra day off work and swap cars with my dad, but I got my great aunt home the next day. Meanwhile, it took two dealer trips and 3 months for them to figure out the issue – a cylinder head caked with carbon and bent valves due to misfiring – all from the GDI engine. If not for fighting Honda’s extended warranty company, it would have cost me thousands of dollars. Safe to say I dumped that car within 24 months (especially after the CVT had to be replaced under a service campaign).

Good Lord, this is horrendous. I love when shops take a real long time to fix things. It just thrills me so. There’s just nothing better. Where do I have to be, anyway? It’s only my car.

Suggested by: vuwildcat07

Murphy’s Law

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Photo: IFCAR via Wikimedia Commons

Longtime girlfriend and I broke up, I decided to move back to Boston. Everything in my life was in my 1991 Audi 90 Quattro 20V. Left PA and made it to around CT and the voltage meter was reading low and going down (The gauges in this thing were way ahead of their time for a ‘91!). Stopped and saw my alternator belt had just up and disappeared. Got another at an auto store not to far away (pre smart phone ‘where’s a store’ era).

Made it maybe 50 miles then that one falls off and disappears. And yes, it was tensioned properly. Repeat at another store but this time buy 2 belts. By this time it starts raining a bit.

30 miles – again!! Gone! It’s raining harder.

20 miles this time – it’s F’N GONE AGAIN. The tensioner works, the pulleys are fine WTF?!? I drive hoping to make the next exit, make it maybe 5 miles til the it’s nearly dead.

It’s raining really hard and I’m on the shoulder 5 feet away from trucks blasting by at 65+. I’m completely soaked. Did I mention it’s about 1:30 AM? I left at 4 and should’ve been in Boston by 11 PM tops. I’m desperate and try to make a belt out of a shoelace – I don’t have anything left! Even with my fancy tensioned knots, went about how’d you expect – maybe 2 miles?

Drive as far as I can, make it to an exit (Mass Pike at this point) and just as I’m coming to the tollbooth, battery done, totally dies. What are the chances I’d at least make it to the toll!! Civilization! At his point it’s almost 3 AM. Called my cousin – no idea where she lived and I happened to take the closest exit to her (still 30 minutes away).

Left the car, she pick me up and saved me.

Went and bought the most expensive belt the next day and it never, ever happened again. That’s when I stopped asking ‘what’s the cheapest?’……. Lesson surely learned.

It seems you’ve just learned that anything that can go wrong, will go wrong. Car parts are like wine bottles at a restaurant, always buy the second cheapest.

Suggested by: the right pedeal

Cop Saves The Day???

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Photo: Motokoka via Wikimedia Commons

Umpteen years ago, I drove from Dallas to San Diego for Comic Con. I was in my RX-7 keeping the car’s hood pointed to the west. I had noticed just a few cops trying to nail speeders, but only one every 250 miles or so.

After about 1000 miles on the road, I was zipping along in Arizona following a sedan. He was going 85, so fine—I matched him and just hung back. Alluva sudden there was an “RRRRRRRRRR!” sound coming from the 5-speed stick trans. And then POW! as something grenaded in the transmission. The sound was like a rifle shot, only deeper.

The engine zoomed to 8000rpm since there was no connection to the (former) transmission providing resistance. I got my foot off the throttle and coasted onto the shoulder and stopped.

Great. I was in the middle of effing nowhere and if I didn’t get help somehow, I could literally die out there. (I didn’t even have water bottles in the car.)

I looked down the Interstate. 200 yards further on the other side of the highway was a cop. Whew! Never was I so relieved ever seeing one in my entire life. And considering how few cops had been on the side of the highway, it was dumb luck for one to be so close right then. I walked over, explained the situation, and the cop immediately got on his radio. Within an hour, a tow truck was there and we were on our way to Phoenix.

And once there with the RX-7 plopped at a repair shop while I went ahead to Comic Con, so with me as the out-of-towner that they had by the short hairs—meaning my credit card practically melted from the repair cost. Lucky/unlucky me for how the trip to Comic Con went that year.

A broken clock is right twice a day. I’m glad you were able to get help out there… it really does sound like a disaster. Poor RX-7. I hope Comic Con was fun, at least.

Suggested by: the 1969 Dodge Charger Guy

Great Balls Of Fire

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Photo: Wing-Chi Poon via Wikimedia Commons

Less than five minutes of being on the road on the way to Florida for spring break, our car- which had been given the all-clear earlier that morning by my friend’s mechanic father- burst into flames. I’m assuming that was the universe telling us that we really didn’t want to go to Daytona.

This is why you should never go anywhere in Florida that isn’t Disney or Miami. The rest is hell, but somehow hotter. Honestly, I’m surprised more cars don’t just burst into flame there. I know I would.

Suggested by: Shaneice McNabney

Everyone’s Day Is Worse

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Photo: Ken Lund via Wikimedia Commons

Parents’ Chevy Celebrity died on the upper deck of the George Washington Bridge.

I probably wasn’t stuck behind your parents on the GWB, but I have cursed the people whose broken down cars I’ve gotten stuck behind. I know it isn’t their fault, I just hate that they are putting me in traffic on one of the most miserable stretches of road imaginable.

Suggested by: Christopher Brown

A Dance With Death

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Photo: order_242 via Wikimedia Commons

Mine was a slow and agonizing death. A 1991 Loyale wagon. It timing belt didn’t break, but I think it skipped, leaving my car to run like absolute garbage. But I had to work one more day that week, so, taking backroads, I nursed across the Twin Cities metro. At one point going up a hill, the light for the intersection turned yellow. With a bill on the other side, I knew I wouldn’t have the umph to get going again, so I used all the car’s momentum to get up that hill, getting nearly airborne as I flew through the intersection and up the hill, barely. I made it to work, but that was the last time that car drove.

You are one brave sumbitch, you know that?

Suggested by: Kurt Schaff

Turnpike Blues

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Photo: IFCAR via Wikimedia Commons

Transmission on my 1997 Camry took a dump on the NJ Turnpike while going 70MPH with no shoulder since they were doing construction. Had to coast for almost a mile before a shoulder opened up to get to safety.

I’ve somehow never broken down on the New Jersey Turnpike. I’m also fully aware that now that I’ve said that it is going to happen. Why do I test fate this way?

Suggested by: Tony Ng

Dispatches from the Namibian Desert

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Photo: Luca Galuzzi

There was that time my partner and I were driving a diesel Land Cruiser out in the most remote, most dry, most unprepared-fool-killing part of the Namibian Desert (not all that far from where they filmed Fury Road a few years later, actually), and I found one morning that my electrical system had collapsed completely. Turn the key: stony silence, underscored by the sighing desert wind. Curseword.

Not to worry: the vehicle was primitive enough to run without any electrics at all, but… trying to start a cold 2H diesel (4 litre inline six) with its ~20.7:1 compression ratio without pre-heating the engine is a fool’s errand. Absolute madness.

Thankfully I’d camped on top of a rise, so we made a big fire and boiled a bunch of water. My partner poured the scalding water over the intake manifold, while I shovelled hot coals to underneath the oil pan. When the time came, my partner and I gave the Cruiser a shove, went running after it, jumped in, rammed it into 2nd, dumped the clutch and…

… breathed a massive sigh of relief when the engine turned over, and reluctantly, ROUGHLY, coughed emphysemically to life. Having got it running, we didn’t dare turn it off until I got home, 500km away. Stopped for fuel at one point. The attendant asked me to kill the engine, told him nope; hurry up and fill, the engine is gaining. Got home close to 10pm, driving by moonlight with next to no lights, no indicators, no brake lights, nothing.

That drive sucked.

The culprit was the charge regulator. Easy fix. I kept a spare in the truck after that.

This is the most badass thing anyone has ever personally told me. I simply would have passed away if I were in that situation. Respect, my friend. Cool name, too.

Suggested by: Dominic von Stösser

Passat Pain

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Photo: Andy Kalmowitz

My father’s VW Passat… Engine had just been overhauled and was taking a trip to Scotland… Partway there there was a loud bang/ricochet… A main bolt holding the engine in place had sheared… Turns out when being overhauled this bolt should have been replaced with a new one whereas they’re just refitted the old one… Took majority of a year to get it all sorted out

In the few years I owned a Passat it broke down SO MANY times. I hate that POS… I also miss it. I don’t know what to tell you, I’m a complex character.

Suggested by: Alan Littlejohn.


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