Did somebody shoot my car?
August 9, 2009 4:52 PM   Subscribe

Did somebody shoot my car?

This morning in Tucson, AZ we came out of the house we were visiting to find the driver's window of our rental car shattered -- that is, the glass was cracked into tiny pieces but almost entirely still in the windowframe, apart from a small hole, about hand-sized, near the mirror. That part of the glass was scattered on the driver's seat. There was also a small hole in the driver's side door, a little above the handle; the door was still locked. There was nothing of value in the car, and the interior was, as far as we could tell, untouched. No marks on the trunk.

So what happened here? Attempted break-in? But then why not sweep all the glass out of the window? And why not try to force the trunk, when the car itself was visibly empty of valuables? The folks at the rental car agency said the hole in the door looked like a bullet hole. But do people randomly shoot at parked cars in the middle of the night? Would a bullet fired at a car penetrate the outside metal of the door but not enter the cabin? (There was no hole on the inside of the door, and no bullet inside.) And would shooting the door of a car shatter the driver's side window?
posted by escabeche to Travel & Transportation (20 answers total)
It is also possible that while the shooter did not aim at your car, they inadvertently hit it while attempting to hit something or someone else.
posted by DMan at 5:05 PM on August 9, 2009

Hmm, this is pure speculation, but I did a google image search for car window bullet hole, and none of the results show a hand sized hole. Almost all of them show a hole about the size of a quarter, with spider cracks coming out from that.

I'm no expert, but from your description it seems more like someone threw a brink or used a baseball bat. It could be an accident ("Hey timmy, look how far I can throw this brick! OH CRAP RUN") or some asshole who was trying to steal your car but got scared.
posted by arcolz at 5:07 PM on August 9, 2009

posted by arcolz at 5:08 PM on August 9, 2009

One Halloween they had groups of kids/teens driving around Hartford,CT shooting random car windows with a BB gun. May just be one of those sort of things.
posted by Captain_Science at 5:08 PM on August 9, 2009

Kids breaking windows with stuff. If there is no trace of a bullet inside the car then I think it's safe to assume it's not a shooting incident.
posted by fire&wings at 5:16 PM on August 9, 2009

Response by poster: But what I don't get about the "kid smashes window with brick or bat" theory is: where did the nickel-sized hole in the door came from? What do kids have access to that can punch a hole in a car door?
posted by escabeche at 5:18 PM on August 9, 2009

Was the hole round? The sheet metal on a car isn't really all that thick. A strong swing with a crowbar could conceivably make a hole. Maybe someone was aiming for the window and missed the first time?
posted by arcolz at 5:24 PM on August 9, 2009

Response by poster: Yep, round.
posted by escabeche at 5:27 PM on August 9, 2009

Best answer: Here's my theory ... the question is, where is the manual door luck? Toward the rear or the front of the door?

The small hole in the door was created first, with a sharpened screwdriver. Sheet metal is thin; you can just punch a hole through there. Rocket scientist criminal thinks he can open a locked door by futzing with the handle. No luck.

Then he decides, I know, I'll just break the window near the front of the door, and then reach in and open the manual lock.

So he breaks the window, but holy shit, that was loud. Aww, screw it. I'm outta here.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 5:31 PM on August 9, 2009 [1 favorite]

First, someone tried to break into your car by hammering a screwdriver into it; I've had this happen, right above the door handle, to try and jimmy the lock up. That it's round (like a bullet hole) rather than elliptical just means they used a philips screwdriver rather than a blade -- which is possibly why they were less than successful opening the door. That, or they didn't know that newer cars have better protection against such things.

Then, when they couldn't get the car open, they got frustrated and decided to vandalize your car before they left; the hole in the windshield is from the hammer.
posted by davejay at 5:32 PM on August 9, 2009

Heh, should have previewed; Cool Papa Bell beats me by one minute.

and now I shall go smash CPB's windshield out of frustration
posted by davejay at 5:34 PM on August 9, 2009 [1 favorite]

By the way...

Would a bullet fired at a car penetrate the outside metal of the door but not enter the cabin?

Yes. A small .22 caliber is tiny little thing, without a lot of oomph.

And would shooting the door of a car shatter the driver's side window?

Yes. The window glass is larger than the visible window itself; it extends beneath the frame. In theory, you could break the window by breaking the glass inside in the door frame. But since there's a fist-sized hole in the window, you already know pretty much what happened.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 5:35 PM on August 9, 2009

Oh, one more thing: that there was nothing in the car worth taking (presumably) doesn't mean anything when it comes to car thieves; in the incident with my own door handle, the thief tried to get in through the door handle AND the trunk, breaking both locks in the process -- but not noticing that all four windows were halfway down precisely to let them break in without doing damage (it was new year's eve in a bad neighborhood, so I expected it.)
posted by davejay at 5:37 PM on August 9, 2009

Unless your initials are Barack Obama, if a bullet that's going to leave a nickle sized hole goes through the skin of the driver's door, it's also going through the inside of the door and the inside of the passenger's door and out the skin on the other side.

As has been pointed out, it's not that hard to punch a hole in sheet metal. A "Whiteney Punch" is an over-glorified paper punch that will let you casually pop 1/4" holes in 1/16" thick sheet metal.

Given that there was breakage but no entry I'm doubting theft as the motive. If I was breaking into a car and thought someone heard me, I'd run off to where I thought I was safe and watch, then finish the job once it was clear that no one was coming to see what was going on. If yours was the only car damaged, then random vandalism seems unlikely too unless your friend has an insane neighbor who is going to take the law into his own hands to enforce the neighborhood covenant re: non-residents and overnight parking. (Weirder shit has happened, but it seems pretty unlikely.)

Depending on how and where you were parked, what this sounds a lot like is someone with crap (I'm thinking two pieces of rebar) hanging out of the back of their pickup truck, backing out of their driveway just far enough that things would have been fine if crap hadn't been hanging out the back of their pickup truck, punching some holes, and driving off without having a clue that they just skewered you.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 6:00 PM on August 9, 2009

A .22LR might go through the outside skin of the car, but in doing so lose so much energy that it's not able to penetrate further—if this was the case you ought to find bullet fragments inside the door, if you cared and had time to remove it. However, the large hole in the window isn't consistent with a bullet; they make smaller holes in auto glass (at least in the few cases I've seen them).

I was unaware of the screwdriver-through-the-door technique used by thieves; that sounds like the most plausible scenario offered so far.
posted by Kadin2048 at 6:22 PM on August 9, 2009

Slightly off topic . . . did you file a police report for insurance purposes? They should be able to tell you what they think happened.
posted by 6:1 at 6:52 PM on August 9, 2009

At first I'd thought that the scenario was a small hole in the driver's side door and a fist-sized hole in the passenger window, in which case I was going to suggest that you look a little closer for the hole on the inside of the driver's side door. It's totally plausible that a bullet of a caliber larger than a .22 would penetrate the door cleanly, take on a little tumble on its way into the cabin, and then smash a big hole in the far window. (Coincidentally, I spent this evening target-shooting with my .22 and my Mauser, including -- and I recommend this highly -- a can of shaving cream, which was just spectacular. Tiny hole in the front of the can, the back was torn open in a glorious spray of foam.)

But, no, shooting directly at the window would not have put a fist-sized hole in there. Of course, it's possible that they shot a hole in it and then smashed it with a fist, I suppose.
posted by waldo at 7:01 PM on August 9, 2009

Youtube has lots of videos of idiots using tiny broken bits of sparkplug ceramic to smash car windows.
posted by bonobothegreat at 7:48 PM on August 9, 2009

I don't have an answer, but I shared your experience. The only difference in my case was that there was no hole. The passenger side window was in place, but broken into a thousand pieces. I had climbed into the driver's seat before I noticed it. Dimwitted, I closed the driver's door. Slam, pop. Broken glass everywhere.

I have no idea what could have applied sufficient impact to my window to shatter it, but not break it out, when only the slam of the other door would have been sufficient to do the job. (Though maybe air pressure caused it to fall out.)
posted by rlk at 7:37 AM on August 10, 2009

using tiny broken bits of sparkplug ceramic to smash car windows

That's because it's tempered safety glass. You can also use an automatic center punch to do basically the same thing, with little to no noise. Fire & rescue personnel usually have these on-hand for vehicular accidents. This doesn't explain the hole in the sheet metal, however, and as Kid Charlemagne said, any bullet leaving a hole that big would either be exit damage (which means there has to be entry damage on the other side) or, were it entry damage, would have left an exit hole large enough to put your fist through.

I think CPB has it.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 6:22 PM on August 10, 2009

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