5

"Se descompuso el auto" translates as The car broke down.

"Se me descompuso el auto" translates as My car broke down.

Can someone explain the use of 'me' in the second sentence? Is this a common way of expressing possession?

5

Me indicates whose car broke down.

Se me descompuso el carro. My car broke down
Se te descompuso el carro. Your car broke down
Se le descompuso el carro. His/her car..
Se les... .Their car..

Se descompuso el carro = The car broke down (whose car is not specified)

3

I agree with both pablodf76 and AlfonsoPC that we are faced with a dative of interest that indicates possession.

In this article we can read, under Dativo posesivo o simpatético, the following:

El dativo posesivo es, en rigor, un subtipo del dativo de interés, puesto que el poseedor es afectado por el proceso. Es uno de los diferentes valores semánticos que pueden asignarse al complemento llamado específicamente dativo, o al objeto indirecto, en el sentido más amplio de este término. En los ejemplos:

Le cerraron los ojos. (They closed his/her eyes.)

Me duele la cabeza. (My head hurts.)

Le sale sangre por la nariz. (His nose is bleeding.)

el pronombre personal en dativo equivale a un posesivo: sus ojos, mi cabeza, su nariz.

[The bolds and translations are mine.]

Although we can say in correct Spanish:

  • Mi auto se descompuso.

we tend to reserve this construction for animate subjects (Mi amiga se descompuso) and use the dative of interest to couple the possession with the benefit/harm meaning (the owner of the car being affected by its breakdown in the case of Se me descompuso el auto).

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