What happens when burning embers from a cigar, pipe or cigarette fall into your lap ... when you're trying to keep your hands on the wheel, and your attention on the road?

Last week on Car Talk, Tommy shared a letter from listener George Kotjarapoglus, who had one such automotive-incendiary-erogenous incident.

George's letter prompted many other such tales. Turns out, it's not so uncommon. Who knew?

We thought you'd like to see the other tales of autos and hot ash.

Got a story of your own, involving embers and the open road? Let us know! You can share it right here.

Discuss | Email Tom and Ray


Dear Tom and Ray:

I think I can top your last week's "butt in the crotch" story.

Back in the early sixties, after my freshman year in college, I bought a motorcycle, a "wimpy" Honda Superhawk. One day I wound up at a Harley-slash-Indian dealer in Boston, along with my ever-present camera.

In the dealership's parking lot, there was an enormous, tattooed Hell's Angel type guy astride a huge Indian motorcycle. Innocently, I pulled out my camera and began to take pictures.

Cigarette clamped tightly between his lips, the guy started trying to kick-start his motorcycle. He'd leap into the air above the seat and come down on the kick-starter. Nothing happened. He did this over and over, becoming more frustrated and angry with each try.

Finally, his monster motorcycle let out a loud "kaa-POW" and backfired. The force of the pedal's kick-back sent the guy into a handstand over the handlebars; he landed flat on his back in the dirt in front of his bike.

Now truly furious, the sprawled-out biker tried to blow the lit cigarette out of his mouth. But the cigarette stuck to his upper lip and went straight up his nose. Fire-end first!

I quietly and respectfully put my camera back in its case without taking a picture. Which is probably why I got to keep all my body parts.

Still laughing,

Dale Williamson
Portand, Oregon



Dear Tom and Ray,

In 1962, I was driving my father's '58 Ford and was approaching one of New Jersey's rotary circles. I'd just lit a cigarette when I realized it was too warm in the car (it was summer and I had no a/c). So I reached down to open the ventilation door under the dash.

The cigarette in my mouth brushed the steering wheel and knocked the hot ash off of the end. The puff of air from the ventilator duct blew the hot ash right up my right nostril! Stunned, I used four lanes of a two-lane highway!

I still smoke. I still drive. I guess I'll never learn.

Yours truly,

Jim Johnson
Haddon Heights, NJ



Dear Guys,

I know how much it stinks to drop a burning ember down your shirt or on your crotch. I smoked for years growing up in Wisconsin and have set many parts of my body ablaze at one point or another.

The scariest moment came when I was 19 and drove a 1972 BMW 2002. I loved this car, which had 400,000 miles. One day, a friend was smoking in the backseat and dropped his cigarette between the seat and the side of the car. It was gone!

I quickly pulled over and ordered everyone out of the car. I pulled the seat bottom from the car to find the still-lit butt, resting on the GAS LINE!

Tragedy was avoided and the "agave arachnid," as the car was known, became a smoke free. Well, the passenger compartment anyway. The engine was a different story.

Hattiesburg, Miss



Dear Tom and Ray,

I thought I'd share my own smoking in the car story. I had borrowed my wife's car with the agreement I wouldn't smoke in it.

One day, I was riding down the Pike, smoking a cigarette with my hand resting on the shifter, when the cigarette fell out of my hand and landed inside the console.

With smoke billowing out of the shifter, I calmly reached over and took a bottle of Mountain Dew and poured the whole thing in the console. I have since quit drinking soda.

Please don't use my real name if you refer to this because I never told my wife about it.





Dear Tom and Ray:

Your story on smoking dangers reminds me of a trip I took to Chicago in 1992.

It was a beautiful June day when I exited the freeway. I dropped the top on my Geo Metro convertible to drive along Lakeshore Drive.

I lit a cigarette and flicked the ash out the window... or so I thought. As I drove, I began to hear a lot of honking but saw no reason to take any responsibility for several minutes.

Eventually, I stopped at a red light and glanced in the rearview mirror to see a thick plume of smoke trailing my car. Thinking it was an exhaust problem, I pulled to the side of the road. When I stopped at the curb, the smoldering lap robe I kept behind the seats burst into flames! Fortunately I was able to fling it out of the car and stomp on the flames before damaging more than the rear flooring... and my freewheeling bon vivant image.





Dear Tom and Ray,

When I was in high school 25 years ago, a few friends and I were waiting for another friend to meet us at church before we headed to a ball game.

Our soon-coming friend was driving his parents' mid-80s conversion van down the street in front of us when suddenly he veered to the right and then to the left, through a four-way-stop intersection, into a ditch, and across someone's front yard before finally bringing the van to rest against the corner of a house.

Startled, we ran to find out what had happened. It appears that he had opened the driver's side front window for a little fresh air, but instead an angry hornet flew into the van, circled my friend's head and took a dive into his lap.

Thankfully, no one was injured in the accident or by the hornet. (And the house was well-built). Thank you for your show.


Chris Martin
Lahaina, Hawaii




When I was in a seminary, my assignment for Parables class was to speak to someone who might not have heard the story of the sower who dropped seed on the rocky ground, among thorns and nothing grew, then he dropped seed on good land and birds ate and fruit trees grew.... I was to ask some innocent what the parable might mean.

It was Sunday afternoon and I slowed at a yellow light. I was immediately hit from behind. The gentleman who got out of the car explained that his cigarette coal had dropped into his lap, so understandably he wasn't watching the road.

While we waited for the police, we got talking. At last, I asked him if he would like to help me with my homework, and when he agreed, I told him the parable and asked him to tell me what it meant.

"When a man sets out to do something," he said, "sometimes it has unintended consequences. Take those birds, for instance ... the man hadn't meant to feed them, but they got seeds to eat."

I reported all of this in my next Parables class, eliciting the comment from our professor, "Galen, only you."

Graduation followed shortly. The man's insurance company issued a check to me, and my mechanics did the bodywork for hundreds of dollars less. I, like the birds who got the seeds, benefited from the unintended consequence of a man's Sunday shopping trip.




Dear Tom and Ray,

My father had a classic "smoking while driving" story that he was able to tell us when we came "of age."

He was a suave, distinguished architect in Nashville. One cloudy Saturday, he headed for his downtown office to do a little weekend work.

He was driving his new Buick and, not expecting to see anyone he knew, my father was uncharacteristically unshaven, wearing an old jumpsuit, and he was smoking. Suddenly, the sky opened up and a downpour ensued. As he pulled up to a traffic light, he noticed a woman with her young child caught in the rainstorm as they waited for a bus.

Now this was in the day when taking a ride from a nice-looking stranger under such circumstances was not considered unusual. He pressed the power window button to offer a ride, and at the same time, dropped his cigarette into his lap. As he began wriggling around, grabbing his crotch and offering his "services," the woman grasped her child with both arms, backed away, and violently shook her drenched head.

Needless to say, my father drove off feeling a bit mortified, but with a gem of a story to tell.





Dear Tom and Ray:

After listening to the tale of the lap dance occasioned by dropping hot cigarette ash into one's lap, I've got one to top it.

I was taking a springtime joy ride with my best friend Neil Hirsh in his mother's brand-new 1957 Cadillac convertible. Like any self-respecting "wise guy" teenagers of that period, we were smoking because we thought it made us look cool. While stopped at a red light, Neil took the opportunity to take off his sweater.

As he was pulling the sweater over his head, he started writhing in his seat. Muffled utterances of distress exploded from under his sweater. The worse his struggles got, the more entangled in the sweater he became.

When I reached over and yanked the sweater off of Neil's head, the cause of his discomfort was revealed. In removing his sweater over his head, Neil had inadvertently inserted the lit cigarette butt that was in his mouth into his left nostril.

Although Neil was in some temporary discomfort, I think that his pride was more injured than his left nostril.





Dear Tom and Ray:

One winter 40 years ago, I was driving in New York City. I had a leather jacket on and had unzipped it since it was warm in the car. This was during my stupid smoking days and I had a cigarette in my mouth.

I was confused as to which way to go at a five-way intersection and I ended up running a stop sign. A policeman stopped me. I got so nervous I dropped the cigarette and it went right down into my jacket and under my blouse.

As I was trying to do something to get rid of it, the policeman felt sorry for me and said just to be more careful next time and left.





Dear Tom and Ray:

I'm listening to your program that opens with stories of drivers burning themselves with lit tobacco products.

I affected pipe smoking as a 1969 high-school senior. My two cousins commuted 20 miles each way with me in my '62 two-door Grand Prix, which was just far enough to smoke a bowl of Cherry blend.

One afternoon on a hot day, I finished a pipe a few miles before returning home from school. My window was up so I could smoke, so I tapped the ashes out through the wing, then rolled my window down for the breeze and drove on.

I happened to be looking in the mirror a minute or so later, just as my younger cousin, asleep in the back directly behind me, opened his eyes and sat up, screaming, and beating his lap with his hand.

His window was down. The hot ash from my pipe blew onto his crotch, eventually heating his zipper to the point ... need I say more?





Dear Tom and Ray:

I do not smoke, nevertheless, I was able to provide a bus load of passengers with a moment of hilarity.

When I was living in Chicago, I was driving home from work on a typical hot and humid August afternoon. I was wearing nylon hose and decided to take them off as I was driving. So I stuck my hand up and under my skirt and started pulling on them. Imagine my surprise when I noticed that the bus pulled up next to me, and the passengers watched my struggle.