The Most Unexpected Ways Your Car Can Fail You

January 9, 2023

The modern car is a safe mode of transportation when driven safely, but it is still a machine, and all machines can fail. Cars are routinely involved in the accidental deaths of roughly thirty thousand people every year. While car engineers have made great strides in making cars safer than they have ever been, there are still some ways a car can fail that can hurt or even kill the driver, passengers, or those around them. With that in mind, here is a breakdown of the nine most dangerous car failures.

Tire Blowout

A tire puncture can happen at almost any time. It can happen on the road if a car runs over something sharp, while the vehicle is stationary if someone slices a tire or hits them, or if the tires are overinflated on a sunny day. The real danger is a blowout, which is often caused by dry-rot on the sidewalls, a sudden puncture, or impact damage to the tire while driving. A complete tire blowout will take an average car and turn it into a three-wheeled vehicle, probably with a whole quarter of the car dragging on the concrete. With blowouts, the sudden shift in direction, as well as the loss of control, can cause potentially severe accidents at high speeds.

Electrical Failure

Given the other issues that could happen to your vehicle, surely a simple ‘electrical failure’ couldn’t be too bad. Wrong. A serious electrical failure could stop a car dead in its tracks in the middle of the road (a few VW’s had that issue in the mid-00’s). In some vehicles with fly-by-wire systems, or electronic sensors determining how much pedal pressure isbeing appliedtothe throttle or brakes, a failure could cause thecarto go fullspeed or full brake without warning or control of the driver. The fatal Toyota incidents of 2008 - 2009 were caused by an electrical failure. Keep reading for another way an electrical failure could result in serious damage to both the vehicle and it's unsuspecting driver.


Speaking of lousy wiring, an electrical issue in a vehicle could cause the whole thing to ignite. Uninsulated electrical systems, such as bare wires or loose connections can arc, causing a genuine fire hazard. Know what else can cause fires in a car? Practically everything. A small fuel leak, combined with the high heat of exhaust or operating temperatures could see the underbody go up in flames. A short circuit can obviously cause bodywork to melt. Something as simple as a car overheating could cause the engine to ignite. In short, though every car is engineered to prevent fires, people are essentially driving a tinderbox from point A to point B. That puts a new spin on the term ‘hot car,’ doesn’t it?

Brake Failure

There are a few ways brakes can fail, and about a million ways a brake failure can hurt drivers and their passengers. The hydraulic brake systems fail because of a broken brake line, air pressure getting into the brake lines, water getting into the lines or a lack of brake fluid. All of which can lead to potentially fatal accidents such as causing the vehicle to run a red light,hitting another car head-on, or going into a ditch.

Wheels Coming Off

Similar to the blowout, an actual wheel falling off can be the most terrifying failure of all. With a blowout, a single tire would fail, but with a wheel coming right off, the car would only have three working wheels and a sudden change of the physical weight of the car. At high speeds, a rogue tire is a severe risk to bystanders and the affected vehicle becomes an out of control entity with centrifugal force pushing it in two separate directions. Wheel failures of this sort are caused primarily by two things: someone merely failing to properly tighten the lug nuts so that the wheel is firmly connected to the car or failure of a ball joint connecting the tire to the chassis of the car.

Engine Seizing

There’s a reason why all drivers are encouraged to check or change their oil frequently; without the proper lubrication, an engine could seize. Depending on whether a car is a front, rear, or all-wheel drive, the vehicle could also experience a seizure of the axles. When not enough lubrication is applied, the inner parts heat up, shed bits of metal that can gum up processes, or fuse. In simple terms, the engine would stop dead. That means while driving, the wheels of the car would lose their forward drive and power steering, giving the driver almost no control and stopping suddenly. This is more likely to occur on a highway, meaning the vehicle could stop dead on the road while surrounded by other vehicles traveling 80+ mph right behind it. Needless to say, dangerous is an understatement.

Suspension Failure

Outside of car nerds and motorsports fans, no one thinks about their suspension system unless it’s doing something strange. Because the suspension is the only part of the car keeping the tires connected to the vehicle and the road, if it fails, the results could be fatal. A suspension failure would mean lack of control over one if not two tires with the potential to have one tire pointing in the wrong direction orcompletely disconnected from the road. Worn shocks and struts, a crack or tear in the gas compressor, or a significant hit can cause the suspension to fail, which will very likely lead to an accident.

Carbon Monoxide

Carbon monoxide is a truly serious threat to anyone with a car as it is a colorless, odorless gas that cannot be detected by the human senses. Because of these properties, carbon monoxide has been used as a method for suicide on too many occasions to count. The real threat from carbon monoxide is how easy it is for the gas to accumulate to dangerous levels without being noticed. A car left running in a garage could become a fatal gas incident within a short period of time. Though most vehicles are designed to minimize this possibility, if carbon monoxide were to somehow get into the car cabin with the windows up, it could be a fatal incident within in a relatively short amount of time.

Steering Failure

Almost every car on the road built after the 1980s includes power steering, and even if a driver somehow lost the power steering, the car would still be controllable. What about a total loss of steering input, though? It doesn't take too much imagination to realize how dangerous it would be to lose steering control. The good news? Unless someone loses their steering at a critical time, they could still slow the car down with the brakes. The bad news? They couldn’t control where the car was going or where they stopped it. Faulty pumps, worn steering racks, loose steering belts, worn tie rods or an electrical failure are the most common causes of steering loss.