Possible sabotage

I remember when I was just a wee Tabkatta checking under my tricycle for bombs, because that was always what daddy did with his car if it had been out of his sight for long. So, I know how to check for bombs, but I was a little too young at the time to absorb how to check for anything much more subtle.

What I’d like to know is how to tell if someone is trying to shorten my lifespan via my car. I have heard that merely (!) cutting the brake lines won’t do it on a modern car; Is that true? How modern does it have to be? I have heard that loosening lug nuts can be dangerous, as well. How can I check that? What other things should I check for?

My current car is a '94 Mazda 626, so if there’s anything too look out for on something of that vintage, I’ll want to know!

Thanks in advance for any suggestions!

Just out of curiosity, I would like to know where tabkatta lives, since this is apparently a place where bombs and vehicular sabotage are a daily concern. Could you please share that information with us, tabkatta?

But, to return to the questions at hand:

Dual brake master cylinders became required safety equipment on cars sold in the US as of the 1967 model year. The design of the dual master cylinder is such that you would retain braking ability on two out of your four wheels if the brake line to one wheel was severed (either accidentally or on purpose). That being said, brakes that function only on two wheels will lead to VERY long stopping distances, even if technically you still have braking power.

So–your car does have a dual master cylinder. That is the good news.
The bad news is that after at least 16 years, your car can develop leaks in the brake hydraulic system–even without anyone sabotaging it. If this is a genuine concern, then I would suggest that you lift the hood daily and do a visual check of the master cylinder. If you don’t know how to do this, then you need to consult your Owner’s Manual. If you don’t have a manual, you need to get one–for many reasons. E-bay is a good source for low-cost manuals.

Also–I strongly suggest that you have your brake fluid changed every 3 years, as this will limit the amount of moisture in the brake hydraulic system and will help to reduce the chances of the system deteriorating to the point where it leaks or fails to function.

Yes, loosening lug nuts is dangerous. How can you check for that? Ummmm…have you ever changed a tire? If you have, then you know how to tighten lug nuts.

If you have never changed a tire, then you need to have someone instruct you in this very basic survival skill. Even if someone does not imagine that there are people lurking behind every bush, waiting to loosen her lug nuts, it is very important to know how to change a tire.

Heh, it wasn’t so much where we lived, but the time and that my father worked in intelligence. The risk that someone was going to blow him up was probably pretty small, but it was real.

I actually have only recently gotten this car, from a family member, so I’m still trying to figure out where everything is and how to check things and yes, how to change tires. ^^;; I’ve had it checked pretty comprehensively by a local mechanic, and after replacing a few things that had deteriorated over the years, my little car’s got a clean bill of health, so leaking shouldn’t be an issue!

Really, all of this is more something I’m curious about than something I really think will be a problem. My ties to the intelligence community are pretty loose these days, and I’m pretty sure you only resort to car sabotage if you have a spy that just won’t shut up. But you know, it seemed interesting, and I can always tell my dad that he’s raised a cautious child, right?

Thanks for your input! I’m thinking I need to sit down with the manual and try to puzzle out how all of the major systems go together. It being my first car, I can check the fluids (and for bombs, hah) but that was about the extent of my knowledge. So anything I learn is a good thing!

Cutting a single brake line will be highly noticable before you pull away. The pedal will most likely go to the floor before you get the car in Drive. If the lines are partially cut, with the intent of breaking on the road, it would need a weakened point on each circuit to fail together to have absolutely no brakes, but you’ll also still have the e-brake as a final back-up.

Loose lugnuts will also be very apparent before you get too far. I had lugnuts work loose on an old beater when I was in college. Even at 60+ mph, I had plenty of time to pull over and figure out what was wrong before I lost the wheel and control.

Of course, sabotage with the help of an add-on device is nearly impossible to guard against. I read a story about a guy that learned the FBI placed a GPS tracker on his car only after a service technician spotted a weird wire hanging under his car when it was in for service. They had to peel back the inner fender liner to find the device. It would have been nearly impossible to find if that wire didn’t fall out. http://www.wired.com/threatlevel/2010/10/fbi-tracking-device/

If the FBI can do this, and nearly get away with it, anyone else can do something similar for nefarious reasons.

That’s good to know! I’d like to think I’d notice if anything was odd with my brakes, since I (obvs) have to apply them before I can shift, but, well, I’ve never tried it with cut brake lines, so I didn’t know how obvious it would be. And it’s also rather comforting that loose lug nuts are easily identifiably wrong. I promise, I pull over and take a look if something seems off about how she drives. ^^

That article is…pretty scary. Although it mentions that stuff like that tends to be attached to the battery, so there should be some evidence, in that case. I know what it looks like now, so I bet if I look carefully I could tell if something new were attached…

Thank you for the information! It’s helpful and I appreciate it.

You are far more likely to get killed by failing to properly maintain the car than by someone monkeying with it. Keep up to date on all the maintenance, don’t drive around on bald tires, replace the brake fluid every 3 years, and enjoy life.

Besides, if they were going to kill you, they wouldn’t leave evidence behind in the form of a tampered with car, and they wouldn’t leave your death up to chance. They have much more creative ways of killing people now than cutting brake lines. :wink:

Ohhh, but we have some lovely mountain roads that would be SO PERFECT for brake-line-cutting shenanigans. XD

Yeah, I have a mechanic that I see regularly and know by name. I’m used to public transportation and the sheer joy of driving, let alone the freedom of going where I want when I want, makes me determined that this girl is gonna be the best-maintained car on the block. He’d probably catch anything odd even if I didn’t, but it’s fun to know and I secretly like to convince my neighbors I live a more interesting life than I really do anymore. ^^;;;

That GPS device had it’s own battery supply, the large cylinder. I understand they can provide power for a month or so. Maybe swapping out the batteries and getting sloppy lead to the wire dropping from hiding.

However, if someone else were to try something bad to you, they may not need that much reserve. A simple 9V or cell phone battery could give more than enough power for a 24 hour signal or, with a capacitor, set off a decent charge.

Hm, that’s true. I wonder if you could use an EMF meter to find something like that or if it would be overwhelmed by everything else going on in the engine compartment, since even if the car isn’t running there’s a charge keeping the computer and whatnot going…

I think it would be easier to move to a better 'hood rather than fret over things like this all the time.

The odds of being killed my a meteorite are much higher.

I think a garage is the best defense against someone trying to kill you in your car. In the book I’m reading, the guy just smeared some vaseline type stuff on the door handle that paralized. A lot easier that planting a bomb or cutting brake lines.

I post “write your Congressman” and you guys are full of the “foil hat” stuff, now this guy???