What is a Car Bomb?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

A car bomb is a car which has been outfitted with explosives, turning the car into a giant bomb. When a car bomb is well designed, it can cause substantial damage, making car bombs a serious concern in some regions of the world, especially the Middle East, where car bombs are in common use. As a general rule, the use of car bombs is classified as a terrorist tactic, especially since such weapons are often designed to target innocent civilians, with the goal of fomenting fear.

Some car bombs are linked to the ignition switch, detonating when the key is turned.
Some car bombs are linked to the ignition switch, detonating when the key is turned.

The history of car bombs is almost as old as the history of cars themselves; the first recorded example of a car bomb was in 1905. It was used in an unsuccessful assassination attempt on Abdul Hamid II, the Ottoman Sultan; he was ultimately deposed when assassination didn't work out. The earliest car bombs were assassination devices, classically linked to the ignition of the car so that they would explode when the vehicle was turned on. Later designs were remotely detonated, or installed with timers which triggered the bomb after a set period of time, or after a set travel distance.

Car bombings are commonly used as a weapon of terror and assassination in the volatile countries of the Middle East.
Car bombings are commonly used as a weapon of terror and assassination in the volatile countries of the Middle East.

Over time, car bombs came to be used more as weapons, rather than as specific vehicles, so to speak, for assassination. By the 1960s, the use of car bombs in some regions such as Asia and separatist Ireland, was quite common, and by the 1990s, car bombs had become a serious concern in the Middle East as well.

There are two ways for a car bomb to work. It can either be remotely detonated, or driven to a site and then detonated. The advantage of a remotely detonated car bomb is that no terrorists are injured or killed in the attack, thereby conserving men for future activities. However, parking a large car or truck in a sensitive location can arouse the suspicion of law enforcement, so remotely detonated car bombs do not always reach their target. As a result, the use of suicide car bombs is increasingly common, and in some cases such car bombs are actually proxy bombs, driven by people who are forced under duress, rather than volunteering for the job.

In the military, a car bomb is known as a Vehicle Borne Improvised Explosive Device, or VBIED. Suicide car bombs are SVBIEDs. Thanks to the frequency of use of car bombs in some regions, many militaries offer training in identifying and avoiding car bombs, with several agencies issuing guides illustrating the blast radius of various vehicle sizes. Most perniciously, some terrorist organizations have started using two car bombs, using one to attract first responders to an area, and then detonating another to kill or injure the first responders.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


This sounds strange, but did you know that one of the first vehicles used as a bomb was a wagon? Someone parked a wagon on Wall Street in New York City in the 1920s. The wagon was filled with explosives and when they went off over a hundred people were injured and some were killed.


I am a big fan of the Internet and I go to it all the time to find out how to make things and to read news articles and get lots of other information. However, the Internet is also a frightening place. The other day I read an article about school kids who were making bombs. And guess how they learned to make them.

They got it all from the Internet. After going on line, I learned that a person can learn how to make any type of bomb this way. It's really frightening to know that you can find a car bomb recipe online and easily as you can find a cake recipe.


This article talks about how terrorists use car bombs. I would certainly be scared if someone started blowing up cars in my city. However, when I was visiting in London years ago, I rode he train almost everywhere that wasn't in walking distance. My friend and I were returning to the city one day after spending the night in the country.

For no apparent reason, the trained stopped when we were still fifteen minutes or so out of the city. We sat there for a long time not moving. Then I heard someone near me say that the train had probably stopped because of another bomb threat by the IRA.

As scary as car bombs would be, I think people would be more afraid if terrorists started blowing up trains. That could really bring a city to a stand still.

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