Fact Check

Gear Disaster

Do photographs show a rental car ruined by a tourist who drove it 130 miles in first gear?

Published Jan 28, 2010

Claim:   Photographs show a rental car ruined by an American tourist (or a woman) who drove it over 130 miles in first gear.

Status:   Real pictures; inaccurate description.

Examples:   [Collected via e-mail, 2005]



A woman rented a Citroen C4 in Budapest.

She drove from Budapest to Pécs.

Approximately 220km.

In 1st gear.

She thought it was automatic.

Attached the insurance photo's of the engine and the bonnet.

Click to enlarge

Click to enlarge

Click to enlarge

Click to enlarge

Origins:   Several common urban legends (such as the "Cruise Control" and "Choke Hold" tales) are based on a motif of disparaging a particular group
(e.g., women, foreigners, the elderly) by portraying them as causing automotive mishaps through their lack of sophistication and unfamiliarity
with modern technology. The text and photos reproduced above are another entry in this vein — first circulated via e-mail in July 2005, the accompanying text originally proclaimed the photographs to be pictures of a standard-transmission automobile rented in Hungary by a clueless American tourist who thought it was equipped with an automatic transmission and drove it 220 km (over 130 miles) in first gear.

Versions circulated later in the year changed the villain from an American tourist to a generic woman.

(By way of explanation, we note that is it quite unusual to find rental car outfits in the U.S. offering vehicles with standard transmissions, but it is fairly common in other countries. Thus for purposes of local humor, an American tourist traveling in a foreign country could be presumed unfamiliar with anything other than an automatic transmission. However, it's unlikely a motorist completely unfamiliar with the use of a standard transmission could manage to get a car so equipped out of the parking lot successfully, much less drive it over a hundred miles.)

Although the above-displayed photographs are real and do indeed depict a Citroen C4 rented from a SIXT rental car outlet

in Budapest, Hungary, the damage shown was not caused by anyone's (American, female, or otherwise) cluelessly driving it hundreds of kilometers in first gear. The motorist who rented the automobile had been driving it for several days when the Citroen's engine block simply burst into flame and had to be extinguished by firefighters. The "dumb American" comments were possibly written by an employee of the Citroen service shop where the car was taken for repairs.

Last updated:   16 November 2005


  Sources Sources:

    Carlile, Jennifer .   "A New Way to View London: From a Toilet."

    MSNBC.com.   5 March 2004.


David Mikkelson founded the site now known as snopes.com back in 1994.

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