BMW driver crashes going 130 - Claims pedal stuck & brakes overpowered - Plausible?

IIRC almost all “stuck pedal” stories are due to driver (mostly older driver) confusion. Per the story I didn’t realize a car’s engine could overpower it’s brakes. Is this story plausible?

Driver’s terrifying 130mph drive

He was “unable to put the car in neutral”? Why? He refused to turn off his engine? Why?

99% chance this was operator error, he had his foot jammed on the “brake”, not realizing he really had his foot jammed on the accelerator.

Sounds to me like a guy who should never be allowed to drive a car again.

I could see a circumstance that it could happen, that being if the brakes overheated, which would quickly happen if the car was up to speed when the accelerator got stuck, but even if that happened, the guy should not be allowed to drive if he way not smart enough to turn off the car and/or shift into N

I really doubt this. If you ever slam on your brakes at say sixty miles an hour, you’ll notice that you stop in a much shorter time than you accelerate to sixty. The brakes are more powerful than your engine is. Plus BMWs tend to have very good brakes.

My understanding was that shutting off the engine will cause the steering to get locked (and that’s the reason the guy in the article didn’t do that). But if you put the car in neutral, it will eventually drift to a stop. So that seems like the thing to do.

This isn’t the first time this has happened. A few years ago a woman was travelling down the interstate somewhere in the US when her gas pedal stuck. She also crashed, and also managed to walk away relatively unharmed. Investigators could not find anything wrong with the shift lever or the ignition key that would have prevented her from either shifting into nuetral or shutting the car off. It was assumed that the driver panicked after the throttle stuck.

I had the throttle stick on my about fifteen years ago. Just my luck I happened to be on I-270 coming out of washington DC (a very, very busy road). When I put the car in nuetral the engine revved to the point where I thought it was going to damage itself, so I put it back into gear and tried to slow the car with the brakes. I had enough difficulty stopping the car that I turned the ignition off at that point and pulled over on the shoulder.

I think what happens if you keep trying to use the brakes to stop the car is that the brake fluid overheats and boils, and you effectively lose your brakes at that point.

Was this the one in Denver? I recall that one…the woman was fine, but she killed someone in the crash.
I can’t imagine why the guy wasn’t able to put it neutral.
I had brakes go out on me once because a brake line broke and dumped all the fluid. But it was easy to stop (and drive) by using the emergency brake. Couldn’t the BMW guy have done that?

From reading his account, it sounds like his brakes overheated since they “started to fail.” Panic will make different people do different things.

The big question here is, why did he own a BMW without a clutch? :wink:

No. The brakes will always overcome the engine.
The only feasible scenario for his claim is that his brakes were seriously defective or improperly maintained.
During the whole original “unintended acceleration” situation, I saw tests. The strongest Jeep they made wasn’t able to beat its own brakes from a stop, even in low gear.
Compare the amount of “kicked back in the seat” you experienced in the fastest car you ever drove to the amount of “thrown against the seat belt by the brakes”.
Even if this BMW was the fastest model (and it was in fact the slowest) they have, it wouldn’t happen.
Even if it could happen, your engine couldn’t possibly push the car around at top speed with the brakes on.
A 1998 BMW 318 makes 138 horsepower [1]. 130 is probably as fast as it can go, and I wonder if it didn’t have to go downhill to get up to that speed.
Odd about it not shifting into neutral. I’ve never been in a car that wouldn’t go into neutral at speed, although I’ve also never driven a BMW.


That’s a vastly different situation from applying the brakes when the vehicle is already moving at high speed, and under full throttle.

I used to have the same exact BMW. No way in hell was that anything but driver error. BMW’s have superb brakes and you can always shift into neutral or turn the car off if it in the extremely unlikely event of a runaway engine.

We discussed an Italian driver a while ago who did the same thing. He claimed that he was forced to go on a high-speed joy ride due to multiple malfunctions yet he stopped “by strong brake force” when it became perilous. Good going numb nuts. Sometimes it is the last thing the think of.

Turning the key off would probably lock the steering, but you could always turn it back to ‘ACC’ (or perhaps even ‘RUN’) w/o the engine coming back on. It hope I’d have thought of that - looks like he may have had ~15 busy minutes to do it in.

Edsel? John Deere? Rolls-Royce Phantom II? :stuck_out_tongue:

The problem with this is ‘from a stop’. We can assume that, if true, which is isn’t, the BMW was going at the max the speed limit, because this guy never breaks the law. So lets say 65mph, lets assume he is going downhill when the evil BMW decides to excede the limit. The law abiding but brain deficient driver slams on the brakes when the needle exceded 66 MPH. The downhill and the engine in it’s max torque band simply overpower and overheat the brakes. Once overheated this poor victim of this evil BMW is at it’s mercy, as he is not smart enough to put the car in N, or turn it off, the BMW quickly accelerates to the 130 MPH just intime to frame this poor law abiding soul as they pass that cop at the bottom of the hill.

I just don’t buy this at all. Modern brakes (and especially BMW brakes, which are legendarily over-engineered) have masses of stopping capacity. They have the ability to stop a car from the speed limit to zero several times in succession without fading.

I don’t have time right now to do the equations, but the energy of a car doing the speed limit is massive. If the brakes on this car can absorb that energy several times over in a few minutes, I think they’d be able to absorb the energy put out by the engine over the period of time that it would take to stop the car once.

Bear in mind that the brakes don’t have to absorb that energy for a long period. All the guy needs to do is apply the brakes once, hard, till the car stops and the engine stalls or he turns it off.

I’d love to see someone do the equations to work this out, but like I said I don’t have time right now.

The consensus is the guy is a dickwad who can’t drive. Turning off the ignition doesn’t lock the steering until the last of three positions, and as mentioned the brakes should be powerful enough to stall the engine. I think he tried to modulate his speed by applying moderate braking, and it just burned out his brakes pads and discs and boiled the brake fluid.

There was a similar tale of a runaway truck in the UK, also with a throttle stuck open. In this case the trucker’s attempts to brake to a stop failed, and he destroyed his brakes trying. Police cleared the road ahead of him, and he eventually managed to grind it to a halt against a crash barrier, stopping just before a car parked in the breakdown lane.

I don’t know why in either of these cases the driver couldn’t have dropped the clutch or popped it into neutral.

"The former lorry driver sobbed as he told Sky News today that he felt lucky to be alive, but was not sure he would ever be able to drive again.|

Hold that thought.

What does that mean?

When you turn off the car, the engine stops one click before the key moves into the “lock” position, hence, worries about locking the steering wheel whilst at 130mph are ill-founded. You will lose the power assist, but that shouldn’t make much difference in a BMW 3-series except at very low speeds.

I’d agree with those who suggest that the guy panicked and wasn’t thinking clearly. I had the throttle on my Rabbit stick one time, and it’s very disconcerting. First instinct is to hit the clutch, which results in the engine revving to the point where one fears damage. I just shut it off and coasted onto the shoulder, though. Still, it was unsettling enough that I wasn’t thinking very clearly myself in that situation.

I’ve been behind the wheel when the brake fluid boiled. All it took was several very vigorous applications of the brakes, and perhaps not the freshest brake fluid. (This was in a Porsche, also known for good brakes.) If the brake pads of the car in the OP were close to being worn out, a few heavy applications could have worn them down to the metal, which would have heated the fluid even faster.

As engineer_comp_geek says, once you boil the fluid, the brake pedal goes to the floor, and you got nothing.

There are lots of Monday morning driving instructors here quick to blame the driver. While I’ll admit that he was at fault and should have acted more quickly, it’s very easy to sit in front of your computer and say, “Put it in neutral, dummy.” It’s entirely another thing when you’re in a car that seems to be out of control. Unless you’ve had special training, you can’t be sure how you would react in such a situation.

As it happens, I teach high performance driving, and most beginners (i.e., ordinary drivers) have no idea how hard they can can press on their brakes. When I tell them, “hit your brakes as hard as you can,” most people only use about 75% of the car’s braking power. I usually have to yell, “Harder!” a couple of times before they get to the point of locking them up.

If the driver in the OP held the brakes against the racing engine for some time without pressing hard enough to stop completely, he could easily have worn them to the metal and/or boiled the fluid.

Yes, he should have put it in neutral or turned off the engine. But before you smugly dismiss him as an incompetent driver, wait until you are in a similarly panicky situation and see how you cope with it.

A 318 overpowered the BMW’s brakes? Snerk. 318’s are gutless wonders.
According to the article linked in the OP he is a former truck driver. I would assume that a truck driver has some clue as to how to use his brakes, and what to do in an emergency.
Anyway getting to the point, the column does not lock until the key is removed on every car I have ever worked on or driven. I’m not sure about BMW but I have no reason to expect any different.
As far as the brake thing goes, there is a test done to check the condition of various parts of the auto transmission called a stall test. The mechanic pushes the brake down and floorboards the gas pedal. Pressure inside the trans is measured, and the maximum RPM that is achieved is observed. The test is done first in drive and then in reverse. Anyway since there are not large holes in the back wall of every AAMCO transmission shop you drive by, you can draw the conclusion that the brakes infact are way stronger than the throttle.

IMHO we are left with (pick one or more)
The guy is an idiot
The guy has unsafe brakes
The guy is a liar
FTR commasense I had the throttle stick on a car I had never driven before a few months ago. To compound the problem the car had been parked for a month or so and the brake rotors were covered in a glaze of rust. The throttle stuck wide open. I nailed the brakes and when they did not grab I killed the key. It was really no big thing.