Artistic License – Cars

This is a listing of liberties taken with how cars are presented in fiction.

Often Acceptable Breaks from Reality, since portraying how real cars work can sometimes be considered incredibly boring. Many of these are either impossible or incredibly difficult to do in Real Life.

May overlap with Artistic License – Engineering or Artistic License – Physics.


Subtropes:

  • The Alleged Car: The level of decrepitude seen in most examples of this in popular media would, at the very least, render the vehicle illegal to drive, as it would not pass inspection under any circumstances (yes, there are plenty of sketchy garages that will just sell the sticker for an extra $20 or so, but doing so is quite illegal, you will eventually get pulled over, and the officer who pulled you over will be very curious as to why there's an up-to-date inspection sticker on a vehicle that never would have passed in a million years at a legitimate garage). At its most extreme, the vehicle just should not work outright. That's not to say that there aren't plenty of these on the road (and, as mentioned, plenty of shady garages that enable this), just that they're almost never as shitty as portrayed in fiction.
  • Carload of Cool Kids: Although it's not unheard of to have people sitting on the rear deck of a convertible, it is unlikely, let alone while driving. It is even more unlikely that the car will be able to drive fast when the convertible is filled past capacity with people even clinging to the back.
  • Driver Faces Passenger: Driving while spending more time looking at your passenger(s) than the road? Not a good idea.
  • Driving a Desk: Often while still in Park. It is, however, becoming more common for cars to be filmed on a special-built trailer.
  • Every Car Is a Pinto: Obviously cars don't actually explode in collisions. The infamous defect was the rear axle bolts, which would rupture the gas tank, coupled with a lack of a proper bumper, and the friction from the two cars could cause a fire. Interestingly, only the Pinto (and Mercury Bobcat) coupes were affected. The wagon and Ford Mustang II did not have the defect because they had the fuel tanks situated differently and used a different rear axle. The Mustang II was also equipped with a proper rear bumper, unlike the coupes.
  • Hassle-Free Hotwire: Every vehicle made for the North American market since 1969 has a steering column lock to prevent this very trope. And even then, crossing two wires may start the engine, but if only two are crossed, it won't stay running unless a third wire is connected. There are better ways that defeat the column lock, but it's probably best not to list them here.
  • Hollywood Police Driving Academy: Cops are required to pass a driving test just like the rest of us. Most cops also have to undergo special driving courses to learn how to act in a high-speed chase, as well as other police techniques like the PIT Maneuver.
  • V8 Engine Noises: Considering that most cars use an engine with six cylinders or less...
  • Vehicular Sabotage: Usually seen as cutting a brake line. Every vehicle made since the 1967 Model Year has been required to have a dual split master cylinder, which splits the braking power between the front and rear wheels (and, in newer front wheel drive cars, the left front and right rear, and the right front and left rear), for the express reason to keep half the brake power in the event one of the lines is ruptured. A light turns on when a loss of pressure is detected. Interestingly, victims hardly ever seem to try using the handbrake or changing to a lower gear as ways of slowing down (though Truth in Television, as the general public can be untrained in how to handle such situations).

Non-subtrope examples:

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    Comic Books 
  • In the first half of That Yellow Bastard, Hartigan, after dispatching Clump and Schlubb (Fat Man and Little Boy), tells himself to think like a cop and disable Junior's 1962 Jaguar XKE. He then leans over the engine, and the next panel has him holding two spark plugs... somehow, mentioning that Junior wouldn't be getting away, even though it's a six cylinder engine (it would misfire like crazy, but nothing else). A simple solution would to show Hartigan holding ignition wires instead.

    Film 
  • The "bat country" scene in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, the Shark is clearly in Park for all of the closeup shots of the interior.
  • The Fast and the Furious has the wrong wheels powered quite a bit, accomplished by either disabling the front wheels (by removing the CV shafts) on an all wheel drive Nissan Skyline, to filming a front wheel drive car doing a powerslide in reverse, then played backwards.
  • The Blues Brothers has several:
    • The Bluesmobile 'throws a rod' halfway through the chase through Chicago and sprays oil on the windshield, which then disappears moments later. The rear window that is shot out early on also reappears throughout the film, finally disappearing in final chase.
    • While being chased through Chicago, Elwood takes a wrong turn on the highway and ends up on an unfinished portion, slams on the brakes, and shifts to reverse. The rear end dips down, causing the Bluesmobile to flip end over end, and somehow face the opposite direction. No one's figured out how.note  The Nazis chasing them drive right off the end, and crash into a street, causing a hole to break open in the road, which the second car then drives into.
    • A deleted scene had Elwood fill the tires of the police cars at the concert with an overcharged glue that would cause the tires to explode when heated up.
  • Gone in Sixty Seconds (2000) uses hotwiring almost exclusively to steal the cars.
  • The Last Stand. Ahnold jumps a Corvette onto the guard rail of a highway, slides sideways like a skateboard, hops off and drives away.
  • Near the end of Speed, the bus flies off an unfinished highway, without a ramp, and manages to land on the other side. MythBusters proved this completely impossible: it would have fallen no matter what.
  • Wanted has a Conspicuous CG Viper and Lada1200/VAZ 2101 leap into the air without ramps, do barrel rolls, and otherwise handle in impossible ways. This is the film that gave physics the finger, but still.
  • Little Cars In the Big Race has a scene where Wrangler, one of the racecars, spits out a wad of gum on the racetrack. Somehow, one car manages to get stuck on the gum and can't move, despite the gum having very little to hold onto the tire with.
  • The King of Hatay in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade is given a 1935 Rolls Royce 20/25 h.p. by the Nazis (donated by an American traitor) to convince him to lend them equipment and the tank (which he had modified with a turret). He calls it a Phantom II, but describes the slightly newer 25/30 h.p., and even uses the taxation horsepower rating.
    Rolls-Royce Phantom two. 4.3 litre, 30 horsepower, six cylinder engine, with Stromberg downdraft carburetor, can go from zero to 100 kilometres an hour in 12.5 seconds. And I even like the color.
    • The Phantom II had a 7.7 L straight six and a Rolls Royce-made twin jet downdraft carb, and never received a power rating. The 20/25 h.p. had a 3.7 L, an SU type carburator, 25 HP rating (but actual output was closer to 70 or 80), and a 0-100 of about 14.5. The 25/30 h.p. had a 4.3 L engine (a bored out version of the 20/25's engine) and a Stromberg carb.
    • The motorcycles used to chase Indy are 1977 Honda XL 500 trail bikes, with almost nothing done to resemble a BMW.
    • There were no Kübelwagens in 1938. Ferdinand Porsche wouldn't develop them unto 1940. Also, the two seen in the film are given to the Nazis by the Hatayan sultan along with the tank and trucks (they have the Hatayan symbol on them). This is likewise impossible, as Germany never exported the Kübelwagen.
  • The 1961 Ferrari 250 GT Spyder California in Ferris Bueller's Day Off. Actually a fiberglass replica built on an MGB, it has a back seat (the real Spyder Californias were only available as a two seater), and an odometer with anti-tamper mechanicals to stop it from being rolled back (such devices were first mandated in the 1970s), which would not be on a 1961 model year vehicle.
  • In Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, the T-X hacks into, and remotely controls, two police Crown Victorias, an Econoline ambulance and a 1985 Chevy C-30 crew cab. None of those vehicles had the type of computers that would allow this. They all used cable-driven throttles, ignition cylinders that require a physical key to operate and mechanical steering with hydraulic boost. note 
  • In National Lampoons Vacation, Clark takes his old car, a 1970 Oldsmobile Vista Cruiser, to a dealership as a trade-in on his new car. The dealership, which, for some reason, has an on-site crusher, crushes his car when he has them eveluate its value, then, having ordered the wrong model, forces him to buy it. Clark should have called the police for destruction of private property, bait and switch, and coercion. They also do not transfer the license plates from the old car to the new one, and Clark never puts a License Applied For sticker on the window. Clark would have been ticketed as soon as he left the dealership.
  • In a Bollywood film, Ra.One, we see several Volkswagens, all right-hand drive, driving along the right lane of every road in an American city. Surely, product placement gone wrong.
  • Bollywood again- This time, in Three Idiots, the Smug Snake Chatur brags of his 'new Lamborghini, 6496cc, very fast'. He's talking of the Murcielago, but on his phone, shows an image of a Diablo, a decade-old Lamborghini, at least 500cc less, and surely not so fast.
  • Bollywood is called so because it is the film industry (like Hollywood) in erstwhile Bombay (now Mumbai), but they still make obvious mistakes pertaining to Mumbai's traffic rules. They mention southern/central city districts, but show autorickshaws (three-wheeled mini taxis) there, which do not ply in the city districts, beyond the suburbs.
  • Towards the climax of the British movie Doomsday, the main characters find a getaway vehicle that was stored inside an underground bunker... because the plot said so. The car was stored there for at least twenty-seven years. Even if it were fresh off the assembly line, most of the car parts wouldn't work from lack of use. The metal would become stiff and the rubber in the tires would start to rot, among other things. The gasoline in its tank would also have gone bad many years previously.

    Literature 
  • In Murder With Peacocks, protagonist Meg is familiar with the trope of removing a car's distributor cap to temporarily disable it. Needing to keep her best friend from leaving town without choosing and getting fitted for a wedding gown, Meg enlists friends to help her stage a daring midnight raid on her car. But first, they have to figure out, with Meg's own car, where exactly the distributor cap is, how to get it off, and then how to get it back on properly so that her car will be drivable. Which is all a lot more complicated than the movies made it seem to be.

    Live Action TV 
  • In Season 3 of House of Cards (US), set in 2015-2016, the Presidential State Car is shown to be a 2005 Cadillac DTS from the Bush era, rather than the unique Cadillac limousine that President Barack Obama uses. The use of such a vehicle is rather justified, as the current State Car is a unique, highly classified model not based on any existing Cadillac models (it is instead an amalgamation of various Cadillac parts built on a GMC Topkick heavy truck chassis) and the White House certainly would never loan it for filming.
  • In "The Bris" episode of Seinfeld, George's car is in Park during the drive to the hospital.
    • Jerry's Saab 900 in "The Bottle Deposit". After Kramer and Newman pack groceries unde the hood because they had bought so much they ran out of space elsewhere, Jerry mentions the AAA guy told him it was "this close to sucking a muffin down the carburetor." Saab 900s are fuel injected. When the police find a similar model chopped up in a a garage, he refers to the "angle of the V6" and says it was turbocharged, which a woman mentions is her 9000. Saab never offered either the 900 or 9000 with a turbocharged V6. Jerry then says his is a 900S, but the car Tony is driving when Kramer finds him is the higher up 900SE.
    • In "The Money", Morty and Helen claim to never use the Northstar System in their Cadillac Fleetwood. The Northstar System is another name for the Northstar V8 engine, which was never available on any Fleetwood; the Fleetwood was only offered with a Chevy L05 350 in 1993 and the Chevy LT1 350 in 1994-96. Earlier in "The Cadillac", they are seen driving without a license plate or a temporary registration, required by Florida law.
  • One episode of Person of Interest had a Marine vet who lost his right arm defusing an IED steal a motorcycle from a dealership and drive off with it at speed. Now granted, he had one of the fancy electronic prosthetics, but even so it's highly unlikely he would even have been able to get it moving, seeing as how 99% of stock bikes have the throttle on the right handlebar (the new prosthetics are a definite improvement over the plastic arm with a hook/claw at the end, but they're not that good). Overlaps with Artistic License – Medicine—the POI is also shown aiming a gun with the thing.
  • An ubiquitous one is an actor moving the steering wheel even if they're driving on a straight road. In many Driver's Ed classes the instructor has to explain how the car will continue to follow a straight course even if the wheel isn't moved. A good example of this is in the pilot of The Rockford Files, where James Garner is vigorously rocking the steering wheel back and forth, even though he's driving on a straight highway. This is especially funny because when they cut to the car he's chasing, the other actor has his hands in the 10 and 2 positions and keeps them there.
  • In The King of Queens, Arthur cashes in his IRA to buy Doug and Carrie a new car to replace Doug's aging '80s Toyota Tercel wagon. He buys a "Douchenburger", apparently made in Luxembourg and quite popular there. The actual car, however, is a 1970 Mini 850 Mk. III, and is even right hand drive. Luxembourg is left hand drive like the rest of Continental Europe and does not have any local automakers (their cars are from the rest of Europe). About the only thing done to disguise the fact it's a Mini is the emblem has been removed.
  • Mission: Impossible, when the story is set in a Soviet Bloc nation, frequently used Checker A12 Marathons in place of Soviet cars, most likely meant to represent GAZ M-13 Chaikas and M-23 Volgas (M-21 with the V8 and automatic transmission of the M-13). Both vehicles were available only to KGB and Soviet officials and not common folk (though the Chaika could be rented for weddings and special occasions, and the four cylinder standard trans M-21 could be bought by anyone), and were therefore definitely not available to Hollywood filmmakers. The three cars look nothing alike.
  • In M*A*S*H, a character tries to leave the camp to get back to his unit by hotwiring a Jeep, and in "Abyssinia Henry", Henry gives Radar the keys to a Jeep. Jeeps, like all military vehicles, were expected to be used by anyone at any time, so they had a pushbutton ignition switch instead of keys, which could easily be misplaced or lost in the field.
    • In "Welcome to Korea", Hawkeye sarcastically asks if a Jeep is olive drab and made in Detroit. All Korean War-era Jeeps were made in Toledo, Ohio.
  • Community has a minor example. In "Spanish As A Second Language", both Jeff and Abed refer to Jeff's Lexus being a 2002. The Lexus in question is a second generation IS making it a 2005 at the earliest.
  • The Castle episode "Ghosts" has a murder victim found in a bathtub full of motor oil, with emptied jugs everywhere. Only problem is, the oil is black. Fresh motor oil is yellow, and only turns black after it's been in an engine for a couple thousand miles (because it's picked up various kinds of gunk from circulating in the engine). Might cross over with Reality Is Unrealistic since an average person might not recognize unused motor oil as quickly as used.
  • Nash Bridges: In "Ressurection", a plotwise-dramatic collision involving main character's daughter has a set of details that don't add up. The truck runs a perpendicular course and hits the passenger door of a sedan to drag said sedan across and smash it against a big bulldozer that chilled at the other side of intersection. Sedan had to have enough momentum to not stay in place to be speared into the bulldozer. And the said bulldozer was blocking off that side of road intersection, so the truck had nowhere to travel to at such high speed. Truck driver wasn't unconcious either, per his testimony, which is milked for tears a bit later.
  • Enforced due to Product Placement in Bones when Booth trades in his Chevy SUV for a Toyota Sequoia. In real life Booth would be driving an American make (at least for his company car) due to a federal law that requires government agencies to favor US products.
  • In season two of Arrested Development, George Sr. is looking at a Ford Escape at a dealership and is told by a salesman that it's the replacement for the Bronco, which was dropped to distance Ford from the "fugitive from justice" image from the O J Simpson police chase. It isn't, and it wasn't. The Bronco was discontinued because of a combination of declining sales, safety concerns regarding the removable roof note  and the increasing redundancy compared to the two-door, fixed roof Explorer coupled with the lack of a competitive product for the GM Suburban. The Bronco's replacement was the full size, four door Ford Expedition. Naturally, this was done to make a pun about George Bluth Sr.'s escape from prison.
  • Lampshaded on Top Gear, when Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond ruin days' worth of filming on the remake of The Sweeney, due to Clarkson's inability to grasp the concept of Acceptable Breaks from Reality, and of course for comedy. Clarkson shows the director the stunts the car can do with and without the traction control engaged; the director states that he wants the traction control off but Clarkson insists that car nerds will watch and their immersion will be spoiled by the knowledge that the car in question won't do the cooler stunt work with the traction control on, and then sends said director right over the edge by adding over a minutes' worth of footage to the chase scene to show the protagonists going through the process of deactivating the traction control.

    Video Games 
  • The Driver series has several:
    • In the opening cutscene of Driver 2, Jericho is driving a Pontiac Catalina (for some reason with a 1977 Chevy front), but the interior scenes show it's in Park and has no key in the ignition (or signs of hotwiring).
    • In the cutscene before the final level, the front wheels of the 1964 Thunderbird Tanner pursues Pink Lenny's helicopter in spin when he peels out, despite the Thunderbird being rear wheel drive for almost its entire lifetime (moved to a FWD platform in 1999, then axed in 2004).
    • Driv3r has a number of front wheel drive French and Italian compact cars perform as though they were rear wheel drive.

    Western Animation 
  • The Simpsons has Homer accidentally cut the rear brake line on Marge's station wagon while doing... something underneath (and supporting the car with a wicker basket), which causes the "Brakes Cut" light to illuminate while Marge was in the hill district of Springfield note  and somehow prevents the front brakes or emergency brake from being engaged.
  • Archer:
    • Although the rendering is excellent, for some reason all the GM G-series vans have mid-'70s (F-series-based) Ford Econoline front ends, and the VW Type 2s have late-'60s (snubnosed) Econoline front end. The tricked out 1970 Dodge Challenger spy car Archer receives for his birthday has very BMW style gauges — in particular, a fuel consumption gauge — which a Dodge doesn't have.
    • In "Coyote Lovely", Archer, Lana and Cyril use a 1973 Chevy Impala station wagon in a border patrol mission. With the hood open, it appears to have strut towers and an LT1 350 from a 1990s Caprice, with the home plate delete mod. It also has Impala trim all around, but a Caprice grille up front.

Alternative Title(s):

You Fail Auto Shop Forever, Cars Do Not Work That Way, Somewhere A Mechanic Is Crying