Blogs Car Info Our Show Deals Mechanics Files Vehicle Donation

Hit a curb hard - acceleration lags, inconsistent RPM, & strange humming noise (at higher speeds)

Yesterday I lost control of my roommate’s 1997 Toyota Camry LE, spun out going about 50mph and plowed into a curb head-on, popped over it and slid down the ditch. Sadly I was driving his car because my 97 Escort crapped out & I’m waiting on some parts to arrive. Now there are 3 symptoms since the accident.

  1. First thing I noticed, at idle the RPM is inconsistent. The needle wavers back & forth, somewhat slowly and not a lot, but it does by probably a few hundred RPM & I can hear the difference too. No noticeable vibrations though (and if the alignment is messed up I can’t tell) and it hasn’t dipped low enough to stall.

  2. When i push down on the gas the car barely moves forward. In fact, I think the speed at which it’s moving forward is the same speed as just being off the brake. I can give it a ton of gas or just a little and for a second or 2 nothing really happens, then the RPM jumps up to I want to say around 3,000 and the car starts moving forward quite quickly. This effect seemed to be only coming from a stop, but I noticed today it seems to do the same thing (but much more mildly) if I get completely off the gas while at speed and then start giving it gas again. If the car is already moving along though it seems generally just as responsive to the gas as always. My initial thought is that it might have something to do with the main air intake hose being wrecked - I can’t say for sure if it was cracked before the accident or not, but it certainly has a large hole in it now. I thought covering that hole with some duct tape (just as a test, not permanently) might mitigate the problem but it doesn’t seem to at all so I’m not sure if this is related. I’ll obviously replace this regardless.

  3. I didn’t notice this right away because it’s so quite at low speeds or maybe not even present at all. But once I get going a decent speed, maybe above 30mph, the car makes a humming noise. It’s a medium tone, not real high pitch, not real low pitch and it’s… cyclical? Don’t know how exactly to describe it but to say it’s kind of like: mmmmmmmMMMMMMMMMmmmmmmmmmMMMMMMMmmmmmmmMMMMMMMMMmmmmmmmMMMMMMmmmmm
    haha, sorry for that, but I hope it conveys my meaning. The interval seems consistent, and it definitely gets louder the faster I go, and is quite loud as I get up to 65-70mph.

I gave the car a once-over immediately after the accident. Nothing under the car appeared to be damaged and looking under the hood… well we’re both broke recent college grads and this is old car that isn’t mine, so it’s tough to say, but that’s when I noticed the damaged air hose. I assumed I caused that because the end not attached to the engine is attached to something that can move up & down a lot, the hose is somewhat brittle, and hitting the curb seems like a probable cause. I could not visually identify anything else. No new smells, no smoke, exhaust amount & color seems the same.

Any ideas? Between us we could maybe come up with a couple hundred dollars to put into this, but before taking it somewhere and just saying “Please figure out what went wrong” I’d like to have some ideas. OH! Almost forgot, roommate had said that a fuel vapor something or other had a leak, possibly a vapor recovery or purge control valve… something like that. Sorry I can’t ask him, I’m at work & he’s home with the flu.

Thanks everyone, very much!

“if the alignment is messed up I can’t tell”

Trust me–it is messed up after hitting a curb head-on at 50 mph and sliding into a ditch.
More importantly, it is very possible for a control arm or two, and/or a tie rod to be bent.
A strut or two may be damaged.
Translation: A competent front-end shop needs to get this car up on a lift to check the condition of everything in the suspension and steering in order to ensure that it is safe to drive. Until then, this car should not be on the road.

As to the car’s failure to react to gas pedal inputs, for the RPMs to jump up to ~3k, and for the car to then suddenly start to move, all of this suggests transmission problems. You say that you checked under the hood, but I have to wonder if that checking included looking at the level of the trans fluid (as well as the motor oil). Have you checked those fluid levels?

Going over a curb and down a hill into a ditch could certainly have punctured the pan of the transmission, and continuing to drive it with ever-falling fluid levels will quickly lead to frying the transmission.

As to the noise, it could be from a damaged wheel bearing, which is a safety issue.
Or, it could be the symptom of a transmission that is almost dry.
You really need to have this car towed to a competent mechanic in order to determine just how much damage has been sustained.

This car may need more repair work than would be practical for a 16 year old car, but until somebody can examine it, the extent of the damage is an unknown quantity.

+1 for @VDCdriver. I really can’t add anything else to what he’s already stated.

Well… ****
The car is currently with me, at work, 26mi from home and no money with which to get it towed. Not sure what to do.

I’ll check the fluids at lunch. I was kind of in shock after it happened (I guess it was black ice or something) and it was dark outside and the engine was hot so I didn’t right then.

I agree with the others. This isn’t something you can handle yourself. Get it to a good mechanic or body shop.

I take it that there’s no collision insurance in effect here? You might point out to your roommate that people who can’t afford to replace a car are the ones who still need to carry full insurance instead of dropping collision coverage.

Thanks for your help guys. I don’t often see a consensus from 3 different people so at least there’s that. I don’t know what his insurance covers, especially since I was driving and hit no other vehicles or anything but the curb. We’re trying to see if we can get a good deal on towing through his dad’s AAA coverage.

In the meantime, I have to figure out where I should get it towed to and then I guess just hope there’s a transmission fluid leak that can be repaired and get the alignment fixed. That seems like best-case scenario in terms of cost. Trying to stay optimistic.

I’ll try to keep this fully updated at least for the sake of future Googlers who may happen upon it.

I’d bet lunch that there’s bearing damage, wheel damage, and tranny damage. VDC wrote a great post.

One point you should be aware of: this car has a transverse (sideways) engine, with the driveshafts coming out sideways from the transaxle assembly. By slamming that curb, you put a large impact jolt straight down the drive axle and into the transmission.

You may want to check with your insurance and see if your coverage covers damage you cause to someone else’s car. I have a bad feeling that this is going to get costly fast.

Insurance is odd. I have homeowners ins and it pays for any damage I do to others property. But, I am pretty darn sure your auto ins does not cover damage to others cars that you are driving. Yes, if ur car hits their car, now it’s liability. U should ask ur ins agent about damage to a car not owned by u.

Godot wrote:
I don’t know what his insurance covers, especially since I was driving and hit no other vehicles or anything but the curb.

I’d think it’s kind of important to know what his insurance covers before you pay for anything (including towing). However, not reporting the accident to them right away and presumably not having a police report might cause complications at this point.

I think it’s more important to find out what YOUR insurance covers. You did the damage, if possible you should suffer the claim.

Heh, my insurance is the absolute bare minimum Geico would give me, and even with 100% clean record I could barely afford that :-\

I guess it’s a bit late for it now, but I figured with no property damage except to my own vehicle a police report wouldn’t be needed at all. shrug I’ve never been in any kind of accident or even gotten so much as a parking/speeding ticket.
Lots more to be done to get this all resolved I suppose, trying not be too overwhelmed. Towing shouldn’t be a problem, found out his dad put his car on an upper level AAA plan… so I’ve got that goin for me, which is nice.

Based on the impact it would not surprise me one bit to discover that the car is a total; monetarily speaking.
Any kind of transmission fault be it due to a leak or impact causing internal damage is going to be pricy.
If the alignment is off (why would it not be) then the cause of that is going to be due to bent suspension components and possibly even things such as bent subframes, tweaked strut towers, and/or buckled floor pan.

A speed of 50 MPH against a curb is a severe hit and you should prepare for the worst; both as to the car’s condition and the unknown as to whether someone else’s insurance is good enough to repair it while you were at the wheel.

In some states, a police report and a form submitted to the DMV are required if the damage is over a certain dollar amount.

God, talk about worst-case scenario. It figures my first accident ever would total someone else’s car…

I’ll update how this all turns out. Definitely scary. Even though my car is broken right now I don’t think that’s anything I can’t fix, so I guess we might just be down to the one car. Thank god we work at the same place.

I really need a stiff drink.

On a side note, the car was out of control for a bit before hitting the curb, and not that this isn’t also a severe hit, but I’d be surprised if I was going more than 40 by the time I hit it, maybe less, as before losing control I’d already been in the process of slowing down and skidded down the frontage road quite a ways before the wheels caught & pulled me off.

Godot, we all screw up. The good news is that this isn’t the end of the world, it doesn’t make you a criminal, and if you work through it step by step in the proper way you WILL get through it. Someday you’ll be telling some young fella “man, let me tell you about the time I too screwed up”… just like we are.

Sincere best.

Mountainbike is correct that you should stop beating yourself up, and instead, you should focus fully on moving forward at this point, and on how to get you–and your friend–through this episode with the least financial impact.

However, I also have to mention some very recent experience from a friend of mine, as it is relevant to your situation. My friend slid into a curb at no more than 15 mph, and his Rav-4 suffered a bent lower control arm and a blown strut. He wound up having to replace both front struts as well as the lower control arm, and–of course–having the front end re-aligned. So, in the long run, even though you may have hit that curb at “only” 40 mph, you have to be prepared for a damage assessment that is…extensive.

@Godot, the most important thing is that no one is injured. Just make your friend whole and hope that he’ll forgive you.

Excellent posts all. If the friend’s car has collision there may be some compensation, but I believe that any insurance company would make this a write-off based on the age of the car and what happened.

I would call Gieco and tell them you were driving someone else’ car and go from there. Your insurance may have better coverage for his car than if you wrecked your own. Don’t beat yourself up. We all screw up. My wife was sitting in the back and my son was up front. She never sits in the back and she started asking about a light on my dash. It was dark and rainy. I looked down and said it was the headlights on. She says no the other one. I look down again and then look up and see a white spot. I slammed on the brakes and tried to swerve, to late. I hit the front end of a Honda parked against the traffic. My son spoke up and said, " Mom, that’s the crash light". At that point I just cracked up. I did not hit hard, but it caused $5000 in damage.