No brakes!

We were being driven down a steep mountain road in New Zealand when the driver asked the owner of the 1996 Toyota Land Cruiser Prada when she last had the oil changed. The driver asked because the oil light had just come on. Before the owner (who was in the back seat) could answer, the car lost its power steering and power brake boost. The driver began swerving across the lanes and was lossing control. She thought the brakes had failed because of how hard they were to pump compared to when the boost worked. The car picked up speed. Someone was watching over us because at the approaching curve was a steep uphill driveway straight in front of us. The driver barreled up the driveway and wanked on the handbreak.

When the tow truck driver examined the car he said the dip stick was dry. He towed us to the garage where the owner had had the car serviced 3 months ago, and we left it over night after explaining what the tow truck driver had told us.

Next morning the mechanic told us the oil was fine. (In fact it was still clear after 6,000 km of driver.) He said there was a problem with the catalytic converter which had decided to remove at the equivalent of $150 US.

This solution makes no sense to me. I say the car had no oil. Doesn’t new oil discolor quickly after added to an engine with over 100,000 miles on it? The mechanic also said the catalytic converter doesn’t do much anyway, but if the owner wanted another one installed, it would cost about $1,200 US.

Any thoughts?

So do the tow truck driver and the person who was driving the Land Cruiser know each other? Because this sounds like a “I’ll make them think the car is broken to get the tow truck driver business and then we’ll split the profits” scam to me.

The engine died. That will cause the oil light to come on, the loss of power steering, and the loss of the power brake boost. It’s the only thing that will cause all of these at once.

There’s not enough information here to guess the cause of the engine dying. A clogged cat converter could cause an engine to die, and a cat converter can clog if the honeycomb becomes damaged and crumbles, clogging the exit hole, but without more data it’s impossible to verify this as the cause.

If it was all a setup, then how did the driver cause the oil light to come on?

the driver SAID the oil light had come on. The OP never said that anyone verified this visually.

The way it was described in the first half of the post there are only three scenarios that make sense.

  1. The driver lied about the oil light coming on and then claimed it lost power steering and brakes to scare the passengers into paying for a tow (hint: The car doesn’t start swerving wildly when it loses power steering. If anything, it goes straighter because it’s harder to turn the wheels, and at anything over 15 mph you won’t even notice that there’s no power steering).

  2. The driver told the truth about the oil light coming on and then everything else lost power, which means the engine seized. The problem with that is that the car didn’t slow down (a seized engine in gear will stop the car, very suddenly) and of course that the mechanic found that the oil was still in there.

  3. The driver can’t recognize a dead engine when one dies. The tow truck driver is a crook who lied about the dipstick being dry, or an idiot who checked something that wasn’t the dipstick.

[i] oesn't new oil discolor quickly after added to an engine with over 100,000 miles on it?[/i] 

OIl in a diesel gets black in exactly 8.5 seconds.  In a gasoline car it may never get really dirty looking. I varies. How many miles on the engine has very little to do with it.

Doesn’t new oil discolor quickly after added to an engine with over 100,000 miles on it?

I have an 18 yo Toyota Celica with 360,000 miles on it with the original engine. The oil doesn’t begin to get dark until 2,500 miles of use, and I can still see through it on the dipstick when I change it at 4,000 miles. Same for my '88 Supra with 256,000 miles on it.

I vote for an engine stall that lost power to steering and brakes on the down hill. The dipstick maybe appeared dry due to the steep slope of the driveway you were parked on. A clogged catalytic converter will cause engine problems, like stalling. The cat does a lot to clean up the emissions from the engine, and, here in America, is a Federal crime to remove and not replace.