Really not sure exactly what happened

(Not car savvy, but would like to know why I almost died. Also not sure if this goes here. There’s a tldr)

I was driving home in my 2003 Chevy Cavalier (mi:213,273) today, when it was almost like the brake was stomped and I heard a squeal/grind. I was nearly at 70mph when this happened, so needless to say it was jarring.

And to be absolutely clear- there wasn’t anyone or anything near me. No cars, road hazards, didn’t run off the side of the road. It caught me completely off guard.

After I realized I was not in fact dead I continued toward home. It was a bit rough- a little wobbly, difficulty reaching 55 mph (15mph below the limit on this stretch), but I got home.

I get out to check on my car,and first thing noticed EVERY body pannel had shifted, if only just a bit (one has a gap of an inch and some change), the driver’s side fog light was MIA, both headlights had shifted, windshield cracked where it meets the hood on the driver’s side, some abnormal (imo) in body panels (spider webbed but maintained original shape, deep v shaped dent [driver’s side, about a foot back from the headlight, ~4" deep], most damage not near each other but also primarily toward the front of the vehicle, etc).

I looked underneath the car from the side and noticed some bars (supports?) that ran the width of the car we’re bent, as well as the entire length of the car being bent in a barely noticeable curve with the seam of the front and rear doors marking the center (more or less), and this is also when i noticed that each bottom of all four tires was protruding outward from the car while the tops tilted toward the car. The brakes (or what I think are the brakes- visible through the rim, round, diameter of about 8"[?]) are rusted around the rim and edge, and worn down to smooth shiny metal notably deeper than said rust.

(I understand this is some sort of style, but it was a result of [UNNAMED FORCE] as opposed to choice)

I pop the hood, the engine is tilted noticeably farther toward the rear of the car, with components slightly skewed throughout the whole compartment. And black liquid right on the other side of the radiator from the front (couldn’t figure out what part it was for sure, sorry)

Additional information:

I live on a steep hill with a very rough driveway since I bought this car new.

When turning at an angle of more than ~40 degrees, ~15mph/hitting shallow potholes there had been a popping sound that sounded like it was coming from the front passenger side (had been going on for about a year before the accident)

Medium potholes turn everyone into a bobblehead, large ones can kinda hurt.

Engine stuttered violently while running, less so when in park or neutral than in drive (had been going on for at least five years). The shaking would get significantly more violent, then the engine would shut off.

Maintenance pretty much consisted of tires, oil refill (didn’t actually change it as often as I should), and topping off the “coolant” (water). I think there was an alignment or two since 2003, bit not since 2012.

TLDR: My car randomly braked violently while getting up to interstate speeds, there’s severe(?) frame damage, engine compartment is shaken up a bit.

A reason for that insanity would be greatly appreciated! Thanks for your time!

If something locked up and prevented one wheel from rotating, that could be the effect. That could put a shear (twisting) force on the entire car. You’ll need a shop inspection to figure it out. I expect the cause will be pretty obvious once the car is on the rack. Good for you for keeping it under control, not always an easy thing to do in this sort of situation.

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It wasn’t so much of a twisting force I don’t think. It was as if I had hit the brakes with some energy, I lurched forward violently and then everything was back to normal.

Thanks for the reply!

We could guess a dozen things that could do this. It’s not really an anomaly. But as @George_San_Jose1 said, a mechanic can take a look at it and probably come up with the cause rather easily.

Do you live in the rust belt?


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I do not. This happened in backwoods Alabama.

Ah, I know. She likely won’t make it into a shop though. It’d be a bit too pricey for soon-to-be scrap. I do enjoy hearing people’s theories though. I couldn’t find a situation where most of these things occurred at the same time or similarly with my limited resources, so I figured this would be a good place to ask.

You had a collision and fled the scene. Applying the brake won’t cause body or structural damage or break windows.

Sounds like thousands of dollars of damage, not worth paying for an inspection to repair this.


What I said was it felt like I hit the brakes- as in my forward movement was arrested. I’ve been in a couple of accidents, I haven’t and wouldn’t flee the scene, especially if it caused harm to someone. I’m addition it’s not as if all the windows shattered. There is a small, hair-thin crack at the base of the windshield, as well as some sort of separation (looks like small bubbles?) on the edge of the windshield, driver’s side bottom corner.

Thanks for the reply!

You gotta start taking pictures of this car!


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When I get some daylight I’ll get some. What would be the main things to get?

Show the whole car side/side, front/rear.

Then close in on the damage.


I’m sure it was not your intent to leave the scene but if you go back to that location you might find a dead animal or a large piece of debris in the road.

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Ah. That could be true, but this was during the day, and I hope I’d be able to see something that could cause that much damage!

Alright, simple enough. I’ll get on it in the a.m.

My wild guess is that your motor mounts completely gave out and the motor shifted drastically and suddenly. The shaking that you describe in the past would correlate with this. If that’s what happened, then of course it would have been best for this to be addressed then instead of ignored.

Honestly that wouldn’t surprise me! I did take a under there, and it seemed like one or two things that held it in place were a bit bent. Everything under the hood seems just as secure as before, just a little off form where they should be. Ah! And the [large black tube that deals with air in the front of the compartment] has decided to gush what I can only assume is oil.

Edit: Yes, it could have been avoided with proper care and maintenance. After getting so many small things fixed in the first five or so years, I’d decided to get a more reliable vehicle and focus on maintaining that one. Maybe not the best choice, but it’s how it went.

My vote is that either a CV joint or an engine mount let go while you were driving too fast in this 16 year old under maintained car.

That wouldn’t explain the body and structural damage. Engine torque control mounts are generally enclosed in a bracket or have safety catches so the mount can’t completely separate and cause a dangerous situation.

I don’t deny I didn’t properly care for it, not the brightest choices, but I’ve definitely learned from them. And it definitely wouldn’t surprise me if that were the case!