The Top 10 Car Failures in Top Gear History

Top Gear Season 23 premieres on Monday, May 30 at 6:00 p.m. PT / 9:00 p.m. ET on BBC America. As we come into this new season, there are a few things to celebrate. We usher in a slightly controversial new era with an all-new cast with the new host-friends Matt LeBlanc and Chris Evans, and only time will tell how that goes.

However, this is also a time to remember the past years with the former cast of Top Gear and all the memories they instilled.

Top Gear holds a special place in my heart as I grew up watching the early seasons and it helped shape the gearhead I am today. The show has the best of all worlds: talk-show segments, car reviews, high-end cars, and what has always been most interesting to me, budget-car challenges.

Top Gear has experienced quite a few car breakdowns and failures over the years. Not surprisingly, many are related to those previously mentioned "budget cars." Here's my list of what I consider to be the top 10 car failures in Top Gear history, with my recommendations for approaches that would have provided better-quality repairs.

Failure #1: The Throttle Body Wiggle Test

BMW vs hammer
Image: BBC Top Gear
  • Driver: Jeremy Clarkson
  • Car: BMW 528i
  • Location: Uganda
  • Season 19 Episode 6

One of the most iconic repair scenes in the show is when Jeremy Clarkson has a throttle body fault causing the BMW 528i estate wagon to have a surging idle. Jeremy’s idea was that it must be a mechanical issue, therefore a mechanical repair is required. He proceeds to begin to tap everything electrical and other things that are not, with a hammer, in an attempt to perform a wiggle test.

If it were me, I would have pulled the engine covers off and inspected the wiring, the electronic throttle body, and various sensors that can cause the surging idle. While it's comical hitting things with a hammer to wiggle the wires, it is no substitute for repairing the wiring system properly. Especially given the magnitude of the trip in store for them.

Failure #2: The Spark Plug Mishap

mazda miata
Image: BBC Top Gear
  • Driver: Jeremy Clarkson
  • Car: Mazda Miata
  • Location: Iraq
  • Season 16 Episode 2

Another instance of Jeremy’s clever repairs is when they have a Mazda Miata in the Middle East. One of the spark plugs had fully come out of the engine. It seemed like the spark plug may be stripped from the cylinder head or the top connection between the coil and plug had failed. Jeremy decided to plug a wooden board, glove, and a piece of concrete to hold the plug in place.

It would have been a simple matter to use a coil repair kit or something more permanent to reattach the spark plug or wire.

Failure #3: The Power Steering Breakdown

Image: BBC Top Gear
  • Driver: Richard Hammond
  • Car: Ford Mach 1 Mustang
  • Location: Argentina
  • Season 22 Episode 1

Our next instance is with a Ford Mach 1 Mustang. This time Richard Hammond is quickly being left behind in a race. The power steering keeps failing and leaking out all of its fluid. Before long and multiple times of the car running out of fluid he has to call it quits.

I would have tried everything in my power to diagnose the articles of what exactly was causing the power steering leak. Driving on a quick fix generally leads to serious system damage over time.

Failure #4: The Wiring Harness Quick-Fix

Image: BBC Top Gear
  • Driver: Jeremy Clarkson
  • Car: Porsche 928 GT
  • Location: Argentina
  • Season 16 Episode 1

Jeremy Clarkson has some strange electrical issues with an old Porsche 928 GT. The car stops dead but is still running, even with the key removed. The electrical system freaks out and the wipers and windshield washers go crazy. After a quick investigation, it is found that the strut mount has failed, leading it to jam into the wiring harness and damage it. Jeremy simple pulls the harness out of the way and continues driving.

Though this is a race, the wiring harness could be repaired temporarily very quickly by just separating the wires that are damaged and wrapping them in electrical tape.

Failure #5: James' Volvo Versus Potholes

Image: BBC Top Gear
  • Driver: James May
  • Car: Volvo 850R
  • Location: Uganda
  • Season 19 Episode 7

A trip to discover the origins of the Nile River in Africa caused some heavy carnage with the guys. The first victim was James, running over some potholes at high speeds in his Volvo 850R. The holes were so large that it shattered two of his rims. This almost caused him to be dropped from the challenge.

This could've been avoided if they would have used a little less speed and a little more finesse.

Failure #6: The "Simple" Brake Light Replacement

porsche brakelight
Image: BBC Top Gear
  • Driver: Jeremy Clarkson
  • Car: Porsche 944
  • Location: France
  • Season 13 Episode 5

One of the first minor repairs Jeremy did on the show was when the brake light failed in his Porsche 944. Unconvinced of his technical abilities he doubts he can complete the light bulb replacement. Much to his surprise he is able to perform the repair and, much to his excitement, he is able to get back to the races.

I would have replaced the bulb myself as well, but what I would've done differently is to not doubt myself. Anyone has the ability to replace simple things like the brake light bulb if they have a mind to do it.

Failure #7: The Busted Suspension Arm

Image: BBC Top Gear
  • Driver: James May
  • Car: Toyota MR2
  • Location: United Kingdom
  • Season 18 Episode 7

At a rallycross event, James May runs into a bit of trouble after a few laps. He manages to break one of the suspension arms on his Toyota MR2, causing the tire to run into the side of the fender. They make a quick repair and the car performs poorly the rest of the day.

I would have quickly replaced the suspension arm and pulled the fender back. This wouldn’t have taken much time but would have helped greatly on the track.

Failure #8: The Amphibious Camper Van

Image: BBC Top Gear
  • Driver: Richard Hammond
  • Car: Volkswagen Camper Van
  • Location: United Kingdom
  • Season 8 Episode 3

A very interesting challenge on Top Gear was the amphibious vehicle challenge. Richard had a rough start to a good idea, when he was driving down the launch ramp he hits his propeller and breaks it. This caused his boat to take on water quickly and eventually sink.

I personally would have used an electric trolling motor or something of that sort. It would have taken a lot of guesswork out of it all and made it stronger.

Failure #9: The Rusted-Out Steering Arm

Image: BBC Top Gear
  • Driver: Richard Hammond
  • Car: Subaru WRX
  • Location: Uganda
  • Season 19 Episode 7

The Nile trip was not done taking its toll on the guys' cars. Richard's Subaru WRX wagon suffered heavy damage one night on the last run to the command center. The steering arm was rusted and it was a miracle that it lasted the trip up to this point. The arm finally fell apart and forced the wheel point in the wrong direction. It was fixed overnight with plated metal to allow the arm to be repaired for the time being.

It would have been much better to replace the arm than to weld it.

Failure #10: The Improvised Skid Plate

Image: BBC Top Gear
  • Driver: James May
  • Car: Volvo 850R
  • Location: Uganda
  • Season 19 Episode 7

The last failure was on James’ Volvo when the skid plate was ripped off. This skid plate was a critical safety feature that protects the engine from damage in rough environments like Africa. They fixed it by cutting a panel off one of the other cars and attaching it to the vehicle.

This is a great idea except for the effect of cannibalizing other vehicles. This set off a chain reaction of cutting parts off the others' cars.

The new season of Top Gear brings us to the end of a motorsports empire. With the old crew being replaced, BBC has brought on an entirely new staff and the show is billed as "all new," as well. I can't wait to see what the future has in store for this new phase. Surely there will be no shortage of car conundrums and catastrophes, and it will be fun to watch as they take on each repair.

The statements expressed above are only for informational purposes and should be independently verified. Please see our terms of service for more details

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