Thursday Twister: Cold Wire A Car
Today’s Thursday Twister (it is like a hurricane without the wind or rain) comes from a special request from DT reader K2 Mystery Car who writes: Would it be possible to
make the stuff about how to kill a car permanently without leaving and
signs of tampering a feature? I’ve got a part in my book where a car needs to be quickly permanently
disabled but other than making the engine inop, it can’t hurt any person
in or near the car and the result is that the car just won’t start. So
no fireball explosions and you can keep your C4 in your basement. Pour
something into the gas tank? Puncture the oil pan? That last one is no
good because it would take too long; can’t have the driver walk up to
the vehicle and notice a river of dinosaur juice draining into the
azaleas. So my character would have to flop on his back, punch a hole in
the pan and stand there waiting for the oil to drain. Won’t work.
Flattening the tires won’t work because that doesn’t permanently and
massively damage the ability to drive the car. Messing with the brakes
would be dangerous to a driver and any passengers, as well as any
innocent third party.
We have been assured this information will not be used in the commission of a crime, but its intended purpose is for a novel/short story/comment that K2 is currently writing. So let’s start off where we left off in the comments on Kaibeezy’s BMW, with a few good ideas for stopping a car. That said, please do not attempt any of the following ideas or things the commenters suggest.
I suggested a simple approach of using a set of vice grips to crimp the rubber fuel line at the filter, and an anonymous person suggested building a DIY pocket sized EMP generator, but this is where you go ahead and suggest something that we missed.
Comments below. No rules for the Twister today, just have at it.
Here was a suggestion from a friend; pay a garbage truck driver a couple of bucks to "accidentally" smash the car with his truck. He also suggested that a U-Haul truck might do the trick, too. While these are both great ideas, they negate the obvious sabotage rule so they're a no go.
Another friend's suggestion: strategically landed falling tree…helped along a bit with a chainsaw. But that's too loud – the saw would attract too much attention.
Raise the hood, put your homemade thermite on the block out of site (under some chunk of plastic in newer cars, or right through the center of the carb in an older car, or down the block behind the carb/air cleaner), ignite it with magnesium, close the hood.
Might start depending on where you put it, ain't going to run though.
Some excrement or rotten food tossed in through an open sunroof would certainly dissuede the driver from starting the car…
This is a really good one. Horrific smells would certain encourage a driver to rethink going for a spin. There's the fart smell liquid that could be obtained from a magic shop or maybe a durian fruit left to rot under the seats; problem here is that there will be no access to the interior.
I grew up in Detroit (we breathed cars growing up). According to my buds who were into practical jokes, their best prank was to put 3-4 shrimp inside each hubcap of a car. After about a week, it started to *really* stink. I mean REALLY stink. Heat from the brakes only made it worse, so driving it around town really amped up the nasty. If you did it on all 4 wheels, it was next to impossible to trace where the smell was coming from (the hole car just smelled like funk). Very effective, and easy/fast to do.
Ugh. Sorry about the typo. Meant "whole car". Can't figure out how to edit. D'oh! 🙂
This will be a great thread……it really leaves stuff in the gas tank as one of a few answer, but I like electrically induced problems. Ca n you make a short easily that will drain enough juice to run down the battery without blowing a fuse?
Undoing tie rod ends makes the wheels immediately oppose each other and you cannot go forward.
The previous EMP suggestion is currently in the running as the ultimate solution, with the end result as you suggest.
Alternatively – learn about the car you have to disable, esp the electrical system and relays and whatnot.
Replace good relay with bad relay. Won't leave a single sign and would take many hours to get started again after much troubleshooting.
Depending on how much time you have – replace good battery with completely dead battery that won't charge.
Given the wire wrapping in cars, again: learn the electrical system, find the wire, clip it, replace the wire cable crap or whatever it's called. Spend hours trying to trace a cut wire, might even be accessible from under the car without needing to raise the hood.
2004 Nissan Altima. But don't forget that there won't be any access to anything that can't be easily seen or touched from outside the vehicle.
An old spy trick is to empty a condom full of cashew nut oil into the crank-case (presumably through the oil-fill bung). I believe that cashew nut oil is a semi-solid at room temp. The vehicle will operate fine for about 40 miles and then seize up.
That might cause a potentially dangerous situation for the driver and any passengers. But I like it!
Banana in the tailpipe!
Actually, a banana probably isn't good enough, but the traditional approach is a potato.
It's not permanent, though.
Approaches that involve stuff (sugar, abrasives, etc.) in the gas tank will still permit the engine to start and run – for a bit, anyway.
Some kind of very high current pulse to the vehicle wiring may disable the ECU, but it may not unless you've tested the technique repeatedly on similar vehicles.
Story time! Stuck a potato in my friend's Saab 900 exhaust pipe in the high school parking lot. It just so happened his entire exhaust system was being held together by a very thin layer of rust and good luck. Insert potato, wait, he starts it and the exhaust gas finds the path of least resistance… which in this case happens to be his rear muffler's seam. He thought *we* broke it. I guess indirectly we did, but it wasn't our intention. $25, some hose clamps and one cherry bomb later, he had the only Saab 900 on the block with a glass pack.
Expanding foam in the exhaust was another previous suggestion. That's a really good one, though it would leave evidence of tampering.
Bet that Saab sounded really good and loud!
Ha ha well, it was loud. Good is in the ear of the beholder I guess. He loved it. To me it sounded terrible. It was an automatic 900S, so no turbo in there to smooth out that exhaust note before it hit the mufflers.
I'm starting to like the expanding foam idea that Sean Scott came up with more and more. If I could get a length of tube inside the exhaust so that when the foam went in it didn't come spilling out when it expanded, that could really work. I'd think it would be highly unlikely that anybody would cut open the exhaust to discover it unless it was near the connection. I doubt it would take much to completely clog the exhaust. But I'm thinking it would just make the car run really badly…hmm?
I believe this is a strong contender, along with the homemade EMP.
I think it's pertinent to mention that the vic in question is an "early 2000's Altima".
Correct, sir! It's been decided that it will be an '04.
4 banger or 6 banger? Auto or stick? Any modifications (hint: a carbon fiber/fiberglass hood w/hood pins vs a latch would allow access to the engine bay without breaking into the car itself). How about a sunroof accidentally left open, or even cracked in the vent position?
OEM 4-cylinder. Let's assume no open windows or sunroof but maybe we could slip a small tube past a window seal?
Your character could build two of these units – one with a very small short-pulse generator, one full blown unit.
The full blown unit would permanently disable the vehicle,then he/she could head to Vegas with the little hidden short-pulse unit and win some big money playing the electronic slots. DingDingDingDing…Winner!
Glad the idea may be useful to your story. These things really work…just keep your phone, etc. out of harms way when you deploy!
Triggering the inertia switch is a good idea if one knows the car well enough to do so. Not a permanent disable but many owners wouldn't know how to reset it.
I thought of taking a cordless SawZall to one or both halfshafts. Take less than 5 minutes to cut one of them (and then the car should be immobilized unless it's got limited slip) but that would leave quite a bit of evidence of sabotage.
I like the inerta switch idea.
Don't laugh if this obviously won't work:
What if the character had a spare battery and connected the positive via jumper cable to a ground on the car chassis?
Would that cause a short and believably blow some fuses causing the car not to start?
Great question! I wonder if that would work.
Speaking of Pat's, I had my car stolen in Boston, which made me just paranoid enough to always take my coil wire with me when I'd park the car on the street at night (back when there was just a single coil wire). This works much better now, in that you can simply switch the coil wires around causing the car to fire, but not start. If it does start it won't go. This is totally reversible which lends more to the story line because it gives the hero dependability, or allows him/her to return later to steal the car and then return it to the same spot (where it can be left as either disabled or, in the case of a frame up…left in perfectly running order, thereby ruining the "my car wouldn't start" alibi of the victim.)
How would one get under the hood with no interior access and the car is alarmed?
Looks like you're just gonna have to get out the Acme catalog and order that EMP generator.
I was thinking reaching behind a tire and touching a suspension bolt might do it.
Heres how I would do it.Change out the cigarette lighter fuse with a hard wire,insert a penny into the lighter socket,push down on the lighter.It will short out and melt the harness.You only need 5-10 seconds.Then switch back the fuse.No evidence,just a partially melted harness and dead battery thats not visible .If the car is locked you can open it very easily with a string,slim jim or air..
Hope it helps.
Great idea but car is alarmed. I should have mentioned that!
* If the gas cap opens, add several gallons of water.
* Cut the serpentine belt with a knife.
* Loosen the tire valves until they just start to leak and then put the caps back on loosely. Very little noise! The tires will gradually all go flat.
* Remove the lower radiator hose clamp. The hose will blow off or leak when the engine warms up.
* Loosen the lower transmission cooling line. It will leak under pressure after the engine is started. Plus you can follow the trail until it quits moving!
* Cut the small starter solenoid wire. No clicky, no cranky.
* Pop off the transmission linkage. No shifty, no torquey.
* Take off the license plate. They will get pulled over.
I actually really like that last one, Rene. But I think the character would remove the plate, cut it into thirds, leave the left and the right thirds on the windshield under one of the wipers and run off with the middle section. But that would be obvious sabotage. Otherwise, the driver might just attempt to drive off not realizing that they'd had their plate stolen. They would get pulled over, as you mentioned but by then it would be too late; they'd driven the car.
Your character needs to read "The Car Hacker's Handbook" — you probably should too. Thankfully it is available for free here: opengarages.org/handbook/
This is really a fascinating book for anyone who is curious about how the CAN bus, ECU, Infotainment system, immobilizers and other features work and how they can be hacked. Your character's 2004 Nissan Altima, for example, is equipped with an immobilizer system that will disable the car if multiple attempts are made to start it without a registered key. It could be possible to hack this system by sending false data to the RFID receiver and thereby trigger the immobilizer. It isn't necessarily permanent but would probably require the car to be towed to a dealer to rectify. Or maybe it IS permanent — at least in your fictional universe? I know you want to write something that is technically accurate, but most fiction does require some suspension of disbelief in order to enjoy it. Perhaps your car-hacking character has such skills that he is not only able to flood the RFID with false data and trigger the immobilizer, he can flash the ECU and totally erase everything?
Read "The Car Hacker's Handbook." I'm sure you'll get some good ideas.
Very true, Dr. D; reality is a sketchy and stretchy thing in a fictional universe. I will check out that book, thanks!
I just "thumbed" through that book. Holy moley that stuff is waaaaay over my head…"if you're fuzzing or fizzing the CAN bus then always back data the molecules of packets with the hoozawazzies"…say what?
This may be more my speed…
Ha! C'mon K2, you don't need to cultivate a deep technical understanding of how it all works in order to incorporate it into a work of fiction. Do you think Alfonso Cuarón had a solid understanding of space travel when he wrote the screenplay for "Gravity?" Because after seeing the film, I can tell you that he did not.
You don't have to dwell too long on this plot point, you just need to get past it. Unless this is the entirety of the story.
Here, I've already written it for you. I don't know what name you have given your character so I had to make one up:
It is a dark and stormy night, and Jebediah McGillicuddy stumbles onward through the dark, searching for the car. "I must find it," he resolves. "I must find it and disable it, but be careful to do so in a manner that will not cause harm to any living thing. It must be permanently disabled."
"Nothing is permanent," his conscious argues.
"Yes, alright, but it must be severe enough that my nemesis will be forced to do a cost-benefit analysis and conclude that it simply is not economically feasible to keep this old Toyota running."
He pauses in mid-thought, suddenly aware that he has begun talking to himself. Has he gone mad? Completely mad? Perhaps.
Suddenly he sees it — a 2004 Nissan Altima, wet and glistening in the rain under the glare of a streetlight. "So this is where they parked it? Well then, this is where it shall die."
He sidles up to the passenger side door, taking advantage of the shadows to obscure his malicious intent.
"I must get within 3 meters for this to work. I hope this works. The internet said it would work. Please, please work."
His thoughts become incantations; expressions of hope murmuring madly from his unstable mind. He reaches deep into his pocket and pulls out the magic dingus box, and connects the cable to the battery pack and antenna. He powers it on and waits for the beeps and blinking lights that signal it is ready. When it is, he points the antenna towards the steering column and presses the button.
The Nissan dashboard momentarily blinks to life, then all warning lights begin to flash randomly. The car struggles against the force of internet sourced technology, but to no avail. He has triggered the factory immobilizer and caused the ECU to overheat. The car shudders and dies. It will never run again.
Jebediah lets out a deep sigh of relief. "It is done. I have done it. It's over. Finally, it's over."
[** insert rest of story here **]
Sorry, that should have read ". . . keep this old NISSAN running" in paragraph 3. I suggest you have a continuity editor review your draft before you submit it for publication. 😉
That's utterly brilliant, Dr. D! But I am unwilling to share any portion of the millions I will surely make from my book with you. Sorry.
I have two other issues. One is that I do not understand this word "meters". I'm Uh-merican, so I ain't gots no unnerstandins of dat werd. The second is the fact that I've been hit in the head just one too many times to even remotely grasp any of that Hacker manual. My eyes start to cross when they write things like "SRR is in place of RTR and is always 1". Don't bother trying to explain it to me; I'm too dumb. Maybe I was smart enough to grasp it in the past but now I just want to take a nap.
Your efforts are GREATLY appreciated!
Thank you, if it made you at least chuckle I consider it a success. No need to share any of your good fortune, but if you could acknowledge me when you accept the Nobel Prize for Literature I would be honored.
And I am also American, born and raised in Chicagoland. I don't know what meters are either, except I remember when Jimmy Carter said we would all have to learn my teacher held up a stick she claimed was a "meter stick" and compared it to the trusty yard stick she used to hit us with. She pointed out that the meter stick was a little longer than the yard stick. Or maybe it was a little shorter. I can't recall. Jimmy Carter never got re-elected so nobody ever mentioned it again. I just included it because I know it's sorta European or something fancy like that, and I wanted to class up the story a little.
Carry one of these around in your back pocket…
I'm just happy to see you.
siphon out all the gas?
This is similar to the "how do I pop the hood when I can't access the release" question I asked above. The car has the typical inside release for the gas door – use a credit card-like object to jimmy the door open to access the tank?
Dang it, K2, pick a different car already!
Ha! Do any modern "normal" cars have exterior released gas doors these days?
That would make a neat future Twister…cars with gas caps hidden in odd locations, like the ones behind the flip-down license plates like my old Mercury and inside the Bel Air taillight.
As a fairly frequent car renter, I can tell you I've been surprised at the number of cars lately where they have abandoned that "feature". Of course, then I'm looking all over for the release button when there isn't one. Which cars? Can't tell you for sure.
Also interesting how many are going gas-cap-less, just open the door and jam it in.
Quite a few modern cars have gas doors that can be opened from without–my '04 Honda Element does. Recalling what I've driven this year in my auto-journalistic career, there was no interior release required on the Volvo S60, Audi A3, A7 or A8, Ford Mustang or Lincoln MKC. However, it's possible on some of the luxury cars that if the doors are locked, so is the gas door.
Thanks for bringing that to my attention, EmmyJ! I'm shocked that there are that many, frankly. Interesting that there are several Fords that are missing that "feature". And Audi…on an A7 and A8?!? Oy. The Element makes sense, though; keeping it Elemental!
Who do you write for and where can I read it?
Drop a piano onit, natch.
But, of course!
coat the tires in a thick layer of some kind of goopy grease – wheeeeeeeelspin
wrap a cable around the axle and attach it to some heavy anchor bolts that have been sunk into the road under the rear bumper where they're not noticeable
caltrops under the wheels so the tires don't go flat until the car is moved
… i'm trying to channel my inner wile e. coyote here
I appreciate your and everybody's efforts!
Weigh in on this idea, folks; run a garden hose up the exhaust pipe and turn it on full blast. Could water get up into the engine and kill it? This was another suggestion from a non-DTer but I have no idea if it would work or not.
If the exhaust tip is pretty straight after the muffler, you can make a needle nose type of injector to get the expanding foam into the muffler canister way up stream of the exhaust tip, so evidence of tampering will be minimal, until it is investigated. you'd be filling the muffler with foam and that seals off the engine from being able to breathe at all. sort of easy to do.
Is a requirement here to disable the vehicle while not being noticed in public? that's going to be very difficult with anything other than the EMP unit.
there has to be a way to sort of lock-tite the wheels from rotating by jamming the axle, or the rim to the caliper or disabling the hub/brakerotor.
perhaps some superfluid can be injected to the lower radiator hose from under the car that will turn the cooling system liquid into a solid?
liquid nitrogen on a fuel line to shut the flow off completely?
how about some oem-looking device that acts as a brake line-lock? that would be hilarious.
That would work!
The requirement is that you can't be viewed as "working on the car". If it just looks like you dropped something that rolled under the car, that's fine. Has to be in and out, right away quick!
I like your sense of humor.
How about using the expansion foam on all of the outside door handles? When it dries, none will be able to move.
Great idea but it might be obvious signs of tampering unless it was very carefully applied. Crazy gluing all of the door handles shut, though…that could work!
Just pour a slurry of sugar and water in the gas tank. A gallon or two will do it. Car will start and run for about 3 secs then die and never run again.
If the car is old enough to have one, pop the distributor cap and take the rotor. Put the cap back on.
Very little will "permanently" disable a car. But taking the rotor will require a trip to the auto parts store
once they figure out what's going on – which will likely take a while.
You could also surreptitiously cut the wires to the fuel pump down under the car, if possible.
For a newer car with DOHC, yank the spark plugs and put the plug wires back in place.
How about just have the protagonist of the book surreptitiously a German car manufacturer's badge on the car—-any German car manufacturer. Since K2 is the author, the car will be guaranteed to instantly enter into a no-start state.
HA! SEE WHAT I DID THERE?
Darn it—-"….surreptitiously SLAP a German car…….."
You so funny I forgot to something or other.
But seriously, you are funny. Even I think so.
Did you know that if you swap badges as you suggested that the car will instantly depreciate drastically while the cost of wiper blades will skyrocket? It's a true fact!
You haven't said whether your character's goal is to ruin the car or simply prevent it from being driven during a specific time span. There's no way to permanently kill a car without total destruction – everything else is repairable, after a fashion.
Perhaps a syringe-load of super glue glue injected into the fuel line. I din't know whether the gasoline would interact with the solvent in the CA glue and prevent it from setting up, ant it might just get burned off in the engine.
Or find some injectable material that would cause the gasoline to gel upon contact.
Or an inert material such as PTFE nano particles (as found in Teflon spray lube) could be injected to block fuel and/or coolant lines.
These would leave evidence of tampering, but only after teardown and inspection.
You're right, sorry about that. Both; ruin it and prevent driving it. I realize that just about ANY damage to the car can be repaired but I'm looking to place the characters into a position where it's too much hassle to replace a car with so little value while preventing them from ever driving it again.
It's a short-term solution, I realize. There won't be any CSI on the vehicle, but it also can't show evidence that could be instantly seen.
I think that I understand. You mean that their car is disabled so that it's not financially viable to repair, rather than impossible. Undrivable without the necessary repairs, rather than merely unsafe.
I'll use my 97 Chrysler Town & Country as an example of an idea – the brake lines rusted, and the fluid leaked out. It could be driven, but seeing the brake fluid is gone, I won't dare.
The van isn't worth the cost of repair (to me, anyhow) so I replaced it instead.
Mine failed on their own (I hope), but if they were rusted to the point of rupture, but hadn't yet failed, a sharp implement such as an icepick could puncture the rusted portion, leaving a puddle of brake fluid clearly traceable to the rusted area without leaving a visible or discoverable mark.
A long tube on the foam canister works best for me…..imagine how hot the cat converters would get after blowing by the hardened foam a little. I would like to see this done and videoed on a junker. I also like the smelly options. Checking youtube…..
Ain't check'in all prior 70 comments for this so….: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Car_Allowance_Rebate_System
Engine disablement and scrappage criteria:
The motor oil is drained and replaced with a sodium silicate solution, then the engine is started and run until the solution, becoming glass-like when heated, causes engine internals to abrade and ultimately seize.
…a.k.a. – CRC Permanent Head Gasket & Block Repair w/Nanotechnology, 32 oz.
Engine disablement and scrappage criteria:
The motor oil is drained and replaced with a sodium silicate solution, then the engine is started and run until the solution, becoming glass-like when heated, causes engine internals to abrade and ultimately seize.
a.k.a.: CRC Permanent Head Gasket & Block Repair w/Nanotechnology, 32 oz.
FORGOT: Cash for Clunkers: How to destroy an engine.
Thank you, thank you, thank you everybody for your fantastic suggestions! You will be written into the story, no matter which method I choose. Thanks again – you're the BEST!
How about you reach underneath and tack weld some of the wheels or drive train components. Basic approach could replace a tack weld with Epoxy….or drilling through components and bolting or using a steel pin. JB
Just have your character reach under the car and unplug the crank position sensor. I don't know about the car in question but most front wheel drive cars have the sensor right by the front tire. No crank position sensor = engine crank but no start. Super easy to do and not obvious at all.