Any significant damage to a vehicle, particularly falling off a cliff, is liable to result in a large explosion even though real cars rarely explode. This is a subset of Stuff Blowing Up. Evidently, TV cars run on nitroglycerine instead of gasoline. This trope comes from the well accepted fact that vehicles are generally full of flammable substances like gasoline. It, of course, ignores that these flammable substances are not explosive unless vaporized and mixed with air at the proper ratio. At worst your "exploding" car would actually be a small fire. Needless to say, Rule of Cool is in effect.
While cars are the most common, it seems that anyform of transport has a good chance of exploding into a huge ball of flames and debris if it's shot at or wrecked. Aircraft, railroad locomotives, ships, pretty much anything bigger and more mechanically complex than a bread box. Sometimes, this happens to cars that are plunging off cliffs and haven't hit anything yet.
The trope namer is the now infamous Ford Pinto, a low-cost car put out by Ford in the early '70s. The gas tank was easy to damage in a rear-end collision and this often led to the damaged car going up in flames (still not an explosion). However, this trope actually predates the Pinto by quite a while.
If the massive numbers of parodies and Lampshade Hangings in recent years is any indication, this is on its way to being a Discredited Trope, especially after MythBustersdebunked it. However, there are still plenty of people who believe this trope is true, leading to well-meaning bystanders pulling accident victims out of cars and causing further harm.
Compare Made of Explodium and Damage Is Fire. Molotov Truck is often a weaponized version of this.
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Black Lagoon. Certain cars there will explode if they tip over.
Also, an early case has a Salary Man dying after his car crushes and explodes. His Office Lady girlfriend survives since some bystanders managed to pull her out of the vehicle before it went boom. She tricks Kogoro into finding the jerk asses who caused the accident so she can burn them and herself to death, but Conan and a friend of the deceased boyfriend manage to dissuade her.
Subverted in Gunsmith Cats: A villain drives off a raising bridge and her car explodes in midair. Two of the protagonists stare slack-jawed in amazement for a moment before suspecting that the third one had something to do with it. She smiles and shows that she's holding a remote detonator.
In the Mazin Kaiser OVA, Prof. Yumi and Roll inexplicably survive this without burns.
Futari wa Pretty Cure: In the 42nd episode, a variation of this trope results from a bad guy pressing Cure Black's Berserk Button, leading her to destroy an entire subway car with her Battle Aura, making this instance Every Subway Car Is A Pinto.
In the Seto no Hanayome OVA, a tanker truck crashes into a building and doesn't explode immediately, but it does start leaking and has somehow caused a fire to start in the building. Eventually it explodes.
In Speed Racer, there was a car that flew off of a cliff in every episode, which exploded in a violent manner. Since racing is the whole point of the show, one would think that they'd have the tracks a little bit further away from cliffs. Or active volcanoes, for that matter.
The intro also depicted a car falling off a cliff right before a big explosion.
In Sailor Moon, Mimete tampers with the brakes of Eudial's and sends both car and driver off a cliff. The first explodes, killing the second, and causes a LARGE water column to rise.
In Mobile Suit Gundam Wing, most non-Gundams are Made of Explodium (when not piloted by a main character), but Leos in particular appear to be designed with their fuel or ammunition evenly distributed around the entire body. Shot in the arm? Kaboom.
Same for a lot of mobile suits across the franchise, really. The original series at least justified this by way of said suits being powered by fusion reactors - touch them wrong and the entire suit goes up. This makes mobile suit combat in space colonies a generally bad idea, as these explosions are large and powerful enough to punch holes right through the walls of the colonies and open them to space.
Played Up to Eleven in Pani Poni Dash! In episode 15, after being stuck on the edge of a cliff all episode long, a bus that the girls are trapped in falls into the water, and then blows up like a friggin' A-bomb! (Right afterward, though, Becky mentions that everyone was rescued safe and sound.)
In the Don Rosa story "Guardians of the Lost Library", Donald Duck watches a succession of television shows that repeatedly feature the hero's transport catching on fire, be it a car, a speedboat, or even a horse. In a sci-fi version of that show, even the comet the hero is riding bursts into flame. Or possibly not, as, to use Donald's words "It's kinda hard to tell with comets."
Lampshaded rather neatly by Cyclops of the X-Men. "Blowing up a car is a lot harder than it looks in the movies. Puncturing both sides of a fuel tank to draw in the proper amount of oxygen is a million-to-one shot. Thankfully, I'm a pretty good shot." He zapps the fuel tank with his Eye Beams: kaboom. Then makes a mental note to send a check to the owner.
Used in the climax of Batman: Hush when the titular villain fires a single bullet at the Batmobile which promptly explodes. Justified moments later when Hush remarks that Batman hadn't noticed him strapping C4 to it.
Played straight, then subverted in a G.I. Joe issue where Scarlett, ordered to kill a Joe as a way to prove her loyalty to Cobra, shot a sniper round at them, but intentionally missed, hitting the engine compartment of their Jeep, which subsequently explodes, and two immolated Joes climb out of the car, stagger a bit, then collapse. It's later revealed to the reader that the Joes knew the shot was coming, had been wearing fire-protective gear, and exploded the car themselves.
In The Dark Tower comic, Alain blows up a large number of oil tankers by shooting them with a machine gun. In the books, however, this trope was averted; when Susan suggested that plan of action, Roland explained that crude oil isn't nearly as volatile as most people think.
The Adventures of Tintin: A large number of car crashes fall into this trope. Land of Black Gold makes a plot point out of cars mysteriously exploding; the reason for this turns out to be Applied Phlebotinum being added to the oil supply as a deliberate act of sabotage.
Averted in Sin City despite the many crashes shown and the tendancy for over-the-top violence.
In the story "Half-Baked", in issue #40 of Tales from the Crypt, the main character's car flipped over after a blowout and caught on fire almost immediately.
A Domino's Pizza Commercial has a flaming crossbow bolt hit the delivery driver's car, which promptly explodes. The delivery person is surprisingly not upset by this turn of events.
Luminosity averts and talks about this trope, with Bella noting and explaining why it is supremely unrealistic.
Last Action Hero.: Repeatedly parodied. A man is thrown from a moving car into an ice cream truck which then explodes for absolutely no reason. Another car jumps off a bridge and explodes in midair, also for seemingly no reason. Additionally, when Jack Slater ends up shooting a taxi multiple times in the real world, he is quite surprised that it does not blow up and wonders about a world where all the cars are bulletproof.
Top Secret: Parodied — an East German army vehicle is wildly out of control, until the driver realizes he's on a collision course with a Pinto that is inexplicably standing out by itself in the middle of an open field. In East Germany. (In a land of Trabants, the man with a Pinto is king?) Through dint of heroic effort, the driver wrestles his vehicle to a stop — almost. His front bumper ever-so-gently pings the rear bumper of the Pinto — the contact depicted aurally with a small bell — upon which the car promptly explodes. The german vehicle drives away from the accident, apparently running just fine, even though it's still got a few spot fires on it.
In The Naked Gun, a car-chase ends with the pursued villain crashing his car into the side of a tanker truck. Explosion #1. Then, straddling the flaming remains of his vehicle, he runs into an army missile being towed on a trailer. Explosion #2. Now riding the missile, he plows in through the front door of a fireworks factory. EXPLOSION NUMBER THREE, as Frank Drebin unsuccessfully attempts to shoo away gawking spectators: "Move along! There's nothing to see here!"
Towards the end of American Psycho (the movie), Patrick is involved in a shootout with the police. He shoots at them and misses, hitting their squad cars, which explode in a humongous fireball. Patrick just stares at his gun with an utterly confused expression, giving evidence that the incident was just another product of his insane mind.
Averted, in all places, in the Roger Corman exploitation flick Fighting Mad. In an effort to intimidate farmers unwilling to sell their land, some Goons from a Big Bad Corporation rough up a family, tie them up in the back of their car, cover the vehicle in gas and push said car off a cliff into a rock quarry. The car crashes to the bottom of the quarry - and comes to a stop, unharmed, the Goons at the top of the cliff with "What the hell do we do now" looks on their faces.
Unstoppable: Every train is a pinto. It mostly portrays trains and railway operations realistically, but the one time a train derails, the force of the engine falling over onto the ground is apparently so violent that it causes the entire thing to blow up. Is it even possible for a diesel-electric locomotive to explode?
Also happens in the 1976 remake of King Kong. The titular ape knocks over an 'electric elevated train' which, of course, bursts into flame when it hits the ground.
The Chase: Near the end, one of the main characters, wanting to show the police she's serious, shoots a landed helicopter with one shot from a 9mm handgun. It promptly blows up.
In the original Total Recall (1990), Arnie uses a taxi ("JohnnyCab") to flee from the bad guys. He has to sabotage the robotic driver, though, and drive the car himself. Once he arrives at his destination, he leaves the taxi, but the robotic driver shorts out and the car starts moving forward. It narrowly misses Arnie, then hits a wall at a very moderate speed and blows up. This has plot consequences, as the bad guys are informed a car has blown up and show up at the place, thus discovering Arnie is headed for Mars.
The 1981 cheeseball movie Condorman contained a chase scene that may be the penultimateultimate example of this trope. During the chase scene, the protagonists flee from a fleet of black sports cars driven by the KGB's vehicular stunt division or something. (It's that kind of movie, just go with it.) Excluding the car driven by the leader of the pack (who survives for future encounters), every single car that receives any sort of collateral damage worse than a sideswipe explodes into flames. Instantaneously. In one case it explodes in midair, before any collision has occurred. Guess the director was impatient...
In Deep Impact, the astronomer who discovers a comet capable of ending humanity races from his observatory to tell the world, only to run off the side of the road. On the very first bounce against the rocks on the way down the cliff, the car explodes in spectacular fashion.
In Terminator 2 the T-1000's hijacked semi-truck crashes headlong into a concrete bridge, ruptures its fuel tanks and explodes. This despite the fact spilled diesel fuel is not explosive. (As MythBusters found out, you can't even light it with a blow torch.)
James Bond films have this happen fairly frequently (the earlier ones in particular).
Dr. No has Bond in a high-speed road chase on a curvy mountain road. He passes an obstacle; his pursuers (driving a hearse) crash and burn. note The hearse also changes from a Cadillac to a Lasalle (GM brand lower than Cadillac) As the resulting wreck looks almost like a funeral pyre from a distance, when asked what had happened Bond takes the opportunity to tell the onlooker, "I think they were on their way to a funeral."
Goldfinger has a moment where a car drives over a cliff and while it's just hanging in midair, it blows up in a spectacular fireball. Not after it hits anything, but when it's just about 15 feet past the cliff. This trope was abandoned fairly quickly in the series (except when explosives were concerned).
For Your Eyes Only: Both Justified and Averted. When Locque's car is kicked over the cliff by Bond, it gets totalled but doesn't explode. Surprisingly, only one car explodes in the whole film: 007's gadget-laden Lotus Esprit. It blows up after one of Kristatos' henchmen triggers the car's anti-theft mechanism. It also symbolised a parting of the ways with the gadget fetishes of earlier 007 films.
The Living Daylights with an exploding jeep that went off a cliff. The explosives contained in the rear are on fire. note Outside of movies, modern explosives won't readily detonate in fire. They require a pressure wave from a detonator to explode. The detonator itself is usually electric and also won't explode spontaneously in a fire.
In Die Another Day, when the hovercraft at the beginning collide into trees, they crumple up (as if they made of cardboard and tin foil) and burst into flames. They're driving over a mine-field, so things exploding with little to no warning does make a little more sense in that scene.
Parodied in Night at the Museum. The toy car that the two little model guys (A Roman soldier and a cowboy from the diorama room) are driving flips over a snowbank and inexplicably explodes. They're assumed dead until we see them all smoky and climbing the steps of the museum in time to not get turned into ash.
In True Lies, a van carrying a group of terrorists is attacked on a bridge by Marine Harriers, leaving it teetering at the end of the destroyed bridge. The van finally tips over (with help from a little birdie), and barely hits the water before exploding in a massive fireball. It falls a whopping ten feet. The film also has the scene where snowmobiles explode massively after hitting trees.
The terrorist van exploding could be explained from the large number of explosives it was carrying. One has to remember that that van DID shoot at the harriers with a Stinger. Odds are, there may have been more explosives in the van.
Der Wixxer: The German Edgar Wallace spoof has a scene where two bicycles collide in mid-air (E.T. reference included) and explode. The sequel even features stairlifts exploding on impact.
In Fool's Gold, a small bike driven by Matthew McConaughey goes off a cliff and explodes in an absurdly massive fireball.
Cherry 2000: Subverted, intentionally or otherwise, when a gang of wasteland marauders pushes a captured van off a cliff into a deep pit. The mangled van crunches to earth, the camera lingers, and... nothing happens. Perhaps the FX crew's explosives failed to detonate?
The Car: At the end of this horror flick when the eponymous vehicle goes over a cliff, it really blows up, belching forth a devil's head mushroom cloud. In this case, at the bottom of the cliff was a very large pile of dynamite.
Practically every vehicle that fell victim to The Car also did this. In one scene, a police car rolls gets pushed off a cliff by The Car, and you can actually see that the fire starts from within the police car's passenger compartment as it starts rolling down.
Averted in the film Good Girl Bad Girl, in the final chase scene the villain loses control of his car and goes off an overpass. The car hits the ground hard, but fails to explode, even when hit by an oncoming car.
Played straight in Alwaysnote a remake of a earlier film called A Man Named Joe. We see Richard Dreyfus — in a A-26 Intruder medium bomber-turned-firefighting-plane, mind you — make an impossible move to save a buddy's plane (a PBY Catalina), which has had an engine catch fire. He flies impossibly close over the buddy's plane, and dumps his tank of flame-retardant on the on-fire engine, dousing it. We then see that a single flaming splinter from the buddy's formerly-burning engine has embedded itself in the Intruder's wing. The two pilots look at each other — then boom! Never mind that the A-26 was a medium bomber from WWII and designed to be able to survive bullets through the wing...one flaming splinter is all it takes to make the plane explode. From the fuselage, natch.
Hudson Hawk: In the chase scene, an ambulance driven by the bad guys hits a mound of dirt and explodes in mid-air. Although, given this was a movie with a talking crucifix and David Caruso, one may think it's not to be taken seriously.
Die Hard 2 had a plane crash and explode in a fireball... despite one of the reasons it tried to land in the first place was because it was running out of fuel.
Actually, unless the plane has a fuel inerting system (which is still uncommon), an almost empty fuel tank is more dangerous, since the fuel vapors mixed with air are actually explosive, and there is less space for them if the tank is full. Which made the other exploding plane all the more implausible. Then again, explosions.
Then again, the reason it explodes was it broke up on landing, which, given the conditions, would be extremely implausible at best. As shown by the Gimli Glider, a 747 will not instantly break up when landing on its belly, or even anything other than a runway.
One should note that not only was the plane on fumes (as stated by the pilot), the terrorists also screwed with the navigation data that was telling the plane where the ground was. Unlike the Gimli Glider, this plane effectively plowed into the runway, rather then having a nice, soft (comparatively at least) landing on its landing gear. What should be brought into question is why the pilots didn't look at their altimeter and realized how close they were to the ground. But then again Rule of Cool.
In the case of the Gimli Glider, the front landing gear could not be lowered, so the belly of the plane skidded on asphalt during the landing. A snow covered runway and fully deployed landing gear would be smoother than the Gimli Glider, but still rougher than a normal landing.
The bad guys adjust the ILS system to set ground level for 200' below actual ground level in order to cause the Windsor flight to crash. This is not possible because the ILS system uses antennas mounted on the ground around the runway which send out signals to the receiving plane. The system is based on how far and where the plane is relative to the antennas. The antennas would have to be physically moved underground in order to change where the ILS glide-slope would be. Even if they were put 200' below ground, the signals would not reach an airplane.
Ong Bak: The Thai Warrior had a memorable chase scene involving tri-wheeled, golf cart-like taxis (Tuk Tuks), which explode rather dramatically one by one.
Paycheck has a scene where the bad guys are in a car, chasing the protagonist on a motorcycle. The protagonist rides through a pipe too small for the car, and the car explodes in classic style on impact. John Woo likes this trope and uses it in several of his films.
The Killer: At one point during the big shootout in the beach house from , Chow Yun-Fat's title character blasts the hell out of a car to cover the escape of his maverick cop partner and his love interest. Eventually, the gas tank goes up and the car goes kaboom.
Hard Boiled: Chow Yun-Fat's Tequila blows up several motorcycles with what appear to be explosive shells from his shotgun during the big warehouse shootout.
Deep Blue Sea: One of the more ridiculous examples of this trope. A regular rescue helicopter is pulled down to the research rig (in the middle of the ocean), by a shark that is holding onto the helicopter's rescue cord. Upon making contact with the research rig, it inexplicably explodes with an enormous fireball with a radius of at least fifty meters.
Vanishing Point: Kowalski's suicide crash at the end. Not only does the car explode before hitting the roadblock, but the Challenger is replaced with a Camaro for the explosion.
In Déjà Vu, Denzel Washington drives the car with the bomb in it off of the ferry. Every car his car bumps into on the way off explodes massively.
Averted in Hulk, where the military vehicles smashed by the Hulk conspicuously fail to explode... although cynics might says this was a case of Never Say "Die" rather than attempted realism.
Played arrow-straight by The Incredible Hulk. In the final fight scene between Hulk and The Abomination, cars occasionally blew up in anticipation of being hit.
The Last Boy Scout, has a car fall upside down in a pool before exploding. The villain aboard survives.
Mystery Science Theater 3000: If it happens in a film viewed on the show, you can bet they will comment. One of the most notable examples is in Space Mutiny in which two vehicles that can only be described as a cross between golf carts and floor cleaners crash into each other while doing speeds of nearly three miles per hour! This results in a huge explosion.
Mike: Wow, big explosion for a tiny electric cart.
Crow: Yeah he shouldn't have been carrying that case of cleaning fluid and nitroglycerin and gelignite in there.
Tom: Plus he microwaved an egg at the same time.
Oddly reversed in Riding With Death, in which we are told that a truck is carrying a compound so unstable, that it could take out an entire town. When it finally does explode, it's relatively tame.
Also oddly averted in The Giant Gila Monster, when the hero destroys the titular monster by driving his car into the beast, killing it in the resulting explosion (he dove out of the car in the nick of time). Averted in that he is actually shown placing some bottles of nitroglycerin in the passenger seat of the car.
In one episode, there was a chase scene that ended with the bad guy's car going over the edge of a cliff, at which point it cut to footage of an entirely different type of car which exploded before it got anywhere near the ground.
Crow: Oh no, it turned into a sedan and exploded!
Mike Nelson carried on this tradition when he started RiffTrax. Any time something explodes (especially if it's one of the movies he's riffing by himself), expect to hear him shout something like "No! I had my collection of antique dynamite in there!"
The Swarm: This disaster movie had one scene where an ambulance crashed through a plate glass window, at which point it promptly exploded. Also a train overturns, and not just the engine, but the carriages explode.
Justified in Raiders of the Lost Ark. The truck which Indy thinks Marion is in blows up after he knocks it over, but it was shown in a previous shot to be packed with explosives.
Also notably averted in The Last Crusade when the German tank goes over the cliff. Rather than explode, it promptly falls apart as it smashes against the rocks.
The 747 at the start of Final Destination blows up in a very Pinto-esque manner only a few seconds after takeoff. The problem isn't that the sequence is impossible; it's just that the NTSB animation of the real TWA 800 explosion is a million times scarier than the cartoon blow up in the movie.
The interstate vehicle pileup in Final Destination 2 is the complete embodiment of this trope. Regardless of if they're crashing headlong into a log or being hit by a garbage truck, just about every vehicle on the road blows up in spectacular fashion.
Ditto for The Final Destination, with even less realism as the explosions of the NASCAR race cars are somehow able to propel enough shrapnel through the fence to kill an audience of spectators.
Speed; when Annie gets asked if she can drive the bus (which is wired up to explode if it drops below 50mph) she replies "Yeah, it's just like driving a really big Pinto." And it explodes like a really big Pinto, along with the plane it collides with. Which was filled with fuel in anticipation of a scheduled takeoff. It doesn't help that the bus was rigged with a bomb that, due to flagging sleep, was about to go boom anyway. Yay pyrotechnics!
In a scene cut from Iron Man 1, a small Humongous Mecha is hit by an expensive car and is knocked into a hydrogen-powered bus. The bus explodes. In the final cut of the movie, the bus explodes after that same Humongous Mecha fires a rocket into it, which is easier to understand. The second-to-last scene before the credits actually mentions the bus explosion in a stream of news text.
Transformers (2007) has an exploding bus. Bonecrusher (one of the baddies) rollerblades through a bus, causing it to split in half and explode in flames. The bus is labeled as being hydrogen powered. The rest of the film seems to avert this trope. Any damaged car simply is smashed, and doesn't explode.
Also averted later in Revenge of the Fallen; the car the heroes are in is dropped 20 feet into an abandoned warehouse by the Decepticons, but it doesn't blow up. Not surprising, considering they are the main characters. How they survive the fall and subsequent crash without getting any serious injuries, however...
Parodied and justified when a pair of mooks drive a golf cart very slowly into a gas main. There is a small delay, and then the whole thing explodes violently.
During the big chase scene with White She Devil, one of her Mook's motorcycles crashes and immediately bursts into flames.
Appears in The Lost World: Jurassic Park. When the research trailer and the SUV fall off the cliff, they both violently explode. Strangely, the SUV's explosion is actually bigger than that of the trailer. Even more strange, the trailers/SUV were electric.
Justified in Carrie. When Billy and Chris' car explodes after rolling over several times, it's strongly implied that Carrie had made it explode.
In the 2009 Made-for-TV Movie of The Last Templar, a rickety old pickup truck plows through a state of the art SUV causing the SUV to explode while the pickup truck emerges unharmed!
MST3K showcases this in Escape 2000, vans explode in giant balls of flame after being hit by mere shotgun shells and pistol bullets. Not even high explosive rounds would do the amount of damage these bullets do. The trope even extends to a helicopter in the movie, as the hero Trash is able to blow it up with a regular pistol. At least American movies generally use high caliber bullets when they cause cars and helicopters to blow up.
In the full-length film version of The Grinch, at one point the Grinch attempts to flee on a tiny car and ultimately spins out and crashes. Upon crashing the car, the Grinch flees from the inevitable giant fireball.
In the classic Steve McQueen movie Bullitt, the iconic car chase ends with the villains' car suffering this fate. The car was forced off the road and ran into a row of gasoline pumps. note As established on MythBusters you don't get an explosion outside the movies: in Real Life gasoline pumps aren't volatile enough to explode from impacts.
In the WWII movie Where Eagles Dare a car bursts into flames in mid air and another does so just rolling down an incline before reaching the cliff, and it was rolling on its wheels.
Averted in the Speed Racer movie. The cars constantly crash, jump, flip, smash, and attack each other while racing at insane speeds. only the most intense crashes (head-on into a solid structure at high speed) result in an explosion.
Brazenly subverted in Duel. A tanker truck (with "Flammable" prominently displayed on the side), after attempting to ram the protagonist off the road for the entire movie, is itself run off a cliff. The protagonist runs to the cliff, waiting for the inevitable explosion. And... nothing happens. Fade to black, roll credits.
Billy Madison: In one of the most well remembered scenes from the movie, the entire O'Doyle family is driving down the road chanting "O'Doyle rules!" over and over again. The car hits the banana peel that a guy threw out the window of a bus earlier in the movie, inexplicably causing the car to skid out of control and fly off a cliff (all while the family continues to chant "O'Doyle Rules!"). Though it isn't shown directly, the car inexplicably explodes in a loud explosion off screen.
In Back To The Future Part III a steam locomotive gets its boiler supercharged to the limit of its pressure capacity and then explodes in a quite realistically violent manner after it goes hurtling off a cliff. Steam locomotives occasionally exploded spectacularly in real life, sometimes hurling pieces of themselves tremendous distances.
Averted in the first film with the Libyans' van, which merely tips over after hitting the photo booth. On the other hand, this does create a bit of a Plot Hole, since the terrorists are treated as no longer being a threat after this even though they apparently survived.
Just because the van did not explode doesn't mean that the inhabitants survived. Even if any did survive, they likely would have been in no condition to continue their pursuit, and probably would have had some explaining to do to the authorities after a hospital stay.
The Libyans were shown almost keeping pace with Marty in that chase scene, despite the fact that Marty was (of course) driving 88 miles per hour when the chase ended. They didn't have much time to slow down, so they were most likely still going 50-60 MPH when they slammed into the structure. A crash like that might be survivable in a modern car with airbags and crumple zones, but probably not in a 1960s VW minibus...
Averted also in the third film when the DeLorean is hit by a train after returning to 1985. Rather than explode in a fireball (it didn't even have any gas in it that could have ignited in such an unrealistic fashion), it more or less shattered into pieces without any pyrotechnics.
Though a car appearing out of nowhere, on the tracks, and getting hit by a train seems to go completely unnoticed by authorities and traffic stopped at the nearby crossing.
Also, Biff's 1946 Ford crashed into a manure truck twice at a reasonably high speed, but nothing caught fire or exploded in either incident.
Averted in Woody Allen's Sleeper, wherein Woody Allen's character pushes a Volkswagen Beetle he'd used as a getaway car off a tall cliff into a lake to throw off pursuit. The car lands almost completely intact and the water turns out to be only a few inches deep.
Saving Private Ryan: When the wounded Captain Miller (Tom Hanks) defiantly empties his pistol into an oncoming German tank, which explodes in spectacular fashion. As Miller stares in wonder an Allied aircraft swoops overhead, revealing that the tank had been destroyed from above.
The Avengers (1998). Mrs. Peel's car blows up after taking damage from attacking flying robot insects. Noteworthy in that the explosion takes place several minutes after the damage occurs and without any warning.
Lampshaded in The Toxic Avenger IV. After the car flips into the air, Evil Kabukiman notes that American cars that flip into the air and crash down always explode. Toxie and Evil Kabukiman get out of the car quickly and as noted, it explodes.
A variation of this appears in Van Helsing, where a horse-drawn carriage is seen to explode. Justified, since It was filled with explosives, as an anti-vampire trap. Another one of those hand traps that work on regular folks too!
It's actually a surprise in Der Clown ? Payday that only one police car explodes under machine gun fire, and that none of the police cars in the hand grenades on the Autobahn scene explodes upon impact on the tarmac.
Parodied in Loaded Weapon 1, Colt and Luger both commandeer two bicycles, which promptly explode. Later the pair hail a taxi, which also explodes for no reason.
If you look close enough, the Corvette in xXx explodes a split-second before hitting the ground.
The countless cars blown up by the helicopter-mounted Gatling are Truth in Television, though. Even the U.S. President's limousine would explode if shot with dozens of explosive rounds per second.
Let's not forget Pinto snowmobiles and a Pinto boat. The latter should definitely not have anything explosive in its bow, would this be Real Life.
In the movie The Great Raid, a truck operated by a Japanese soldier is hit with bullets as it is coming out of a garage. The truck bursts into flames. At the same time, Japanese soldiers quickly evacuate the back of the truck. A little bit of fridge logic makes you wonder why the Japanese soldiers were loaded in the truck that was parked in the garage.
The Rastafarian albino twins' SUV after Morpheus shot its gas tank on the freeway overpass.
The two semi trucks after they collided on the freeway (apparently their diesel fuel spilled and ignited.).
Trinity's motorcycle after she dropped it into the building.
Could be handwaved away by saying that, since the main characters are capable of bending the laws of physics while inside the Matrix, they made stuff blow-up-able.
The classic film The Wages of Fear is based on this trope. However, it is fully justified since the plot is four men transporting trucks loaded with drums of nitroglycerin with no safety precautions across unmaintained and dangerous roadways.
And averted: When the surviving driver runs off the road in the end
Averted in Star Trek. Of course, being the future, maybe the car didn't run on gas.
The novelization explicitly states that it's an "antique" gasoline engine car.
Escape to Athena (1979). Telly Savalas sabotages the brakes on a Nazi officer's car. It not only slams into a wall and explodes, it also blows up a German ammunition dump in the process. Result!
Cannonball, one of the earliest car action movies, takes this trope Up to Eleven during the mass pile-up near the end. Every single car that crashes explodes, most of them immediately. The three girls have to be extra careful to not hit any car no matter how slighly, lest their van would explode, too.
In The Cannonball Run, when a car runs into a van at about 5 MPH, the van explodes in a huge fireball. And falls off a bridge, for good measure.
This is playing with the term vehicle loosely, but in Disney's The Hunchback of Notre Dame, when Frolo rides down with the gargoyle they appear to explode in the distance.
Parodied in Spirit of 76, with a Pinto just missing getting hit in the midst of a car chase, but exploding anyway.
Tommy: Uh oh. Is that the kind of car I think it is? Adam 11: But it didn't even hit it. Chris: Doesn't have to. Let's get out of here!
The Guns of Navarone. When a German truck is shoved over the edge of a cliff it explodes even before it touches the ground.
Justified in Lethal Weapon. One of the villains' cars is hit by a bus and catches fire, and only explodes when the fire spreads to some live grenades in the back seat.
In Darkman II The Return Of Durant, at the very end, Durant's limo explodes like the Fourth of July. This is only minutes after it was explained in detail the insane amount of armor plating, bulletproof glass, and other features added (including a 10-disk CD changer in the trunk). Of course, the car hadn't been designed to withstand bombs inside of it, but one would expect a car like that to contain the blast somewhat.
Parodied in Groundhog Day. When Phil Connors's car falls off a cliff, another character proclaims unconvincingly that he could still be alive. The car then immediately explodes. This being a "Groundhog Day" Loop, Phil gets better.
Death Wish 3 features a hilarious example: After Bronson's character briefly walks away from his love interest's car (by this point the movies had run out of his family members to stuff in the fridge) and some punks immediately -like, the second Bronson turns around- punch her out and shift her car into neutral. The car rolls down a slight grade and bonks into another vehicle at about 15 miles per hour. And then, after a beat, both cars explode.
In Iron Eagle, you could say everything is a Pinto. Doug Masters steals an F-16 and everything he shoots at explodes whether it's explosive or not. He shoots at a radio tower - Boom! An anti-aircraft gun - Boom! A Jeep - Boom! A tent - Boom! Everything erupts in a big ball of fire with people doing flips to get away from it. To be fair, the F-16 is equipped with a 20mmVulcan Cannon, but that shouldn't make buildings go up in huge balls of flame.
Parodied in Rango, when the bats that are used for transportation inexplicably explode upon crashing or when shot.
In Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers, Michael chases the protagonists in a car. Even though the car is barely going at a running-pace, it still explodes when it collides with a tree. Though this does add to the creepy factor when Michael nonchalantly gets out of the car completely unscathed.
Apparently, the pickup truck that kicks off the plot in Super 8 is Made of Explodium, as it is all that it takes to derail a train in a firey spectacular fashion.
In the same movie, the deputy shoots a fuel-tank truck to make it explode as a distraction. Conceivably justified, as he was using an automatic rifle and might have hit a hose with volatile compounds inside, not the tanker's tough metal shell.
We also see a tank headed straight toward a parked Ford Pinto, but the scene is cut away from before any impact and the total lack of sound effects in the next shot (indoor, in the house the car's in front of) leaves the presumption the tank driver swerved in time.
In Mr. and Mrs. Smith, when John and Jane Smith are running away from their agencies who both want to kill them, John has a ridiculously easy time shooting at the cars chasing them in order to make them explode.
Jimmy Lait is being chased by mooks in two cars. He draws them up to the roof of the parking structure, and while his shooting at the cars doesn't cause them to explode, and they keep stopping from the other cars they bang into, they both are supposedly driving fast enough that when they hit a cinder-block wall hard enough to go through it and over the edge, one of the cars explodes just from having struck the wall.
Jimmy is lured to a full size Phone Booth at a vacant lot. A dump truck smashes the glass and steel booth, without any trouble, but Jimmy is able to hang on and jump in the back. He then pulls one of the mooks out of the passenger side of truck, and the other tries to shoot at him through the door and top of the cab, but Jimmy jumps off. The truck drives up a ramp, crashes through the cardboard sign on a billboard and explodes.
In Escape from L.A., practically every motorcycle is a Pinto. Snake also managed to turn one car into a giant Molotov cocktail.
Averted in Twister. Jo's truck falls from the sky and doesn't explode, Bill's truck goes though a lot without exploding...the only explosion was a gas tanker,which is understandably justified.
GI Joe The Rise Of Cobra: There are ample cars blowing up in the Parisian chase scene. Partially justified, in that some of them were blown up by missiles launched from Cobra's modified Hummer (although how they managed to fit those missile racks in the doors is beyond us) and others were shot with the roof-mounted pulse cannon.
In 21 Jump Street, a truck hauling propane tanks and a gasoline tanker get put through the wringer during a freeway car chase, but inexplicably don't explode much to the protagonists' surprise. Then a runaway motorcycle collides with a chicken truck, and THAT one explodes.
Parodied in Disney's Frozen: a character's vehicle falls off of a cliff and crashes to the ground below, then erupts into a fireball seconds later. The vehicle? A reindeer-pulled sled.
Parodied in a scene in the Discworld novel Soul Music. Mort and Ysabell go round a hairpin bend and go over the edge of a cliff. Upon landing, there is a large explosion, and "because there are certain conventions, even in tragedy" a burning wheel rolls out of the wreckage. The only thing is that they're not in a car, with petrol and electronics and other vaguely explodable things - this is the Discworld, so they're in a coach. It's suggested it was triggered by the oil lamps, but really it just happens because that's what happens.
The Humongous Mecha in BattleTech novels explode, despite being powered by fusion reactors which in real life would shut down cleanly rather than going up as they'd no longer be able to sustain the nuclear reaction. The phenomenon is referred to as "stackpoling" after Michael A. Stackpole, who was particularly fond of it. (Ironically, fusion engines in the board game itself do not normally explode...except when explicitly using an optional rule intended to mimic the novels in turn.)
This actually became such an issue it was discussed at length in a source book which vainly attempts to explain how this could possibly happen. If I recall one explanation was something like if the reactor was penetrated rapidly while still running air would get into it and then expand explosively... or something, honestly none of it really sounded very plausible and it came off as very Voodoo Shark'ish. In one particularly hilarious example they used they totally retconned one incident where some ships bombed a fusion reactor. (Which of course exploded like a nuclear bomb...) See what "really" happened was that the ships bombed the plant which had snow on the roof which then fell into a giant vat of liquid sodium that happened to be next to the reactor and THAT exploded like a nuclear bomb... Because that's way more plausible!
Can be partially justified though, in that while the 'Mechs are fusion-powered, most often for heat reasons the weapons are NOT, and the ammo has to be stored somewhere...BattleTech even allows for this in the rules by allowing players to use a item in their 'Mechs called CASE, which confines ammo explosions to the part of the 'Mech they happen in, rather than allowing the explosions to travel to (and damage) other parts of the 'Mech.
The part about ammo exploding when the 'Mech is damaged is a case of Truth in Television, as this happens in Real Life when a vehicle that carries ammo gets too hot for whatever reason. The soldiers refer to this as the ammo "cooking off" in a vehicle on-fire. This is what contributed to the reputation that the Sheridan light tank had in Vietnam, where it was referred to as a "deathtrap" by the men who used it. A fifty-pound mine could penetrate the floor of the tank, and as the shell propellant was stored in bags instead of shell casings...well, when a mine hit it, it often was just too bad for the crew.
Stephanie Plum: Steph is very hard on cars. She seems to get them shot up, wrecked, set on fire, or blown up approximately once a book (on average). Uncle Sandor's 1953 Buick, on the other hand, is seemingly indestructible.
The Takers: Lampshaded in the Jerry Ahern novel where the hero Josh Culhane (a writer of action adventure novels) witnesses his brother shotgunned off the road.
"His car went over the embankment and it caught fire. Big fallacy in movies and books like I write? Cars don't always explode and catch on fire when they do a nosedive, you know but, uh, but his did..."
Justified in Marooned In Realtime, when Della Lu reveals that her ship carries two tonnes of antimatter so that she can escape attacks by setting it off while turning on a temporary, but impenetrable shield. Brierson is alarmed by this strategy and likens it to wearing a flak jacket made of explosives.
Parodied in Bill Fitzhugh's Pest Control, whose protagonist actually drives a Pinto. When some armed assassins open fire on him, the narration notes they could save time and effort by simply rear-ending his car. They don't. The car is blown up, though.
Harry Turtledove does this in his Alternate History WWII novels- there are multiple instances where truck convoys or civilian cars are set on fire by machine gun fire (which should just stop them or kill the occupants). Of course, as mentioned above, this also realistically happens when vehicles are strafed by fighters, which fire ammunition designed to turn Every Car into A Pinto.
Lampshaded and subverted in the Tom Clancy novel Debt of Honor. When two cars involved in a highway traffic accident explode and burn, killing most of their passengers, an NTSA investigation is immediately called because, unlike in Hollywood, cars usually don't burn. When the investigation results in the discovery of a serious safety defect in a popular brand of Japanese automobile, the public outcry and resulting Congressional investigation set off the main plot of the story.
Cars in The Adventures of Fox Tayle explode occasionally, but especially notable is a Honda Accord that gets flipped over before leaking gas and exploding.
Full Tilt justifies this via Amusement Park of Doom—the bumper cars in an early ride are designed to kill their occupants. Later on it takes this to the point of Refuge in Audacity with thousands of actual Pintos made to float in space as a sort of 3D minefield.
In a Noodle Incident from Sewer, Gas & Electric, businessman Christian Gomez, who considered safety features a waste of money, was ironically and fatally pinned in a freak collision between a driverless Lincoln Continental (failed parking brake) and a Pinto parked the wrong way around (this trope).
Taken to an extreme in one episode of the 1970s buddy cop series CHiPs. In a second-season episode, a multi-car pileup occurs on the freeway, and a huge explosion occurs, resulting in mass deaths and destruction of vintage iron. (One cop makes a dark joke about finding an "F" that had blown off the tailgate of a Ford station wagon that was involved in the crash.) Ironically, no Pintos were damaged during the filming of this scene.
Babylon 5 has many notorious scenes where a spacecraft is hit, seems OK for a moment, then goes off like it was made of nitrocellulose.
Although this is a justified trope, in that what we’re actually seeing (sometimes explicitly-stated) is that, rather than the spacecraft being made of delayed explodium, the death of a spaceship is the result a cascading failure of all kinds of systems, including the reactor, exacerbated by spreading fires. (This, of course, is why organic spacecraft, such as Shadow vessels, don’t explode, but merely fall apart when killed.)
Averted in episode "A Case of Immunity" of Columbo. A car is pushed off a cliff, it tumbles down and... nothing happens.
MythBusters thoroughly disproved this trope's real life existence when they shot up a car in an attempt to deliberately set off the gas tank — to no avail. In a later episode, they revisited the myth and were able to set the fuel on fire with a tracer round, though it still did not explode.
That said, if they're investigating a myth where there's even the slightest chance of an explosion, they will go out of their way to make sure it happens one way or another. A semi accurate description of the show's practices is, "Let's try it again, only with 50 pounds of TNT."
Later, in the Viewers Choice Special, they blow up a car the Real way (after having some Hollywood fun). And the singular flying wheel can be seen bouncing and rolling back onscreen from the bottom right.
In yet another episode, they try to detonate a gas tank from a burning trail of leaking gasoline (such as seen in movies like Payback), again to no avail. Even with a fire raging inside the tank, it refused to explode.
And if the car's moving faster than about two miles an hour, the flame will never catch up with it.
And in yet another myth ("Cement Mix-Up") they use inadvisable amounts of ANFO to absolutely annihilate a cement truck.You better believe it.
Recently they took a look at the "going over a cliff" part of this trope. They finally got an explosion on the fourth car ... the one with gas containers wrapped in det cord tucked neatly inside.
In an episode of 24, a helicopter survives the shockwave from a nuclear explosion to crash on the roof of a two-story house, intact. When it tumbles off the house, however, it explodes in a dramatic fireball.
In the first season of 24, an escape car utilized by Teri and Kim to get away from a compromised safe house explodes after a fairly short drop off a steep slope.
The re-imagined Battlestar Galactica averts this, showing many scenes of Vipers and Cylon fighters simply breaking up with a minimal explosion (from the missile warhead or explosive tipped ammunition). The most memorable example of this aversion is from the mini-series: Cylon missiles impact the cockpits of the new Vipers, which causes the pilot to be blown out to space, leaving the rest of the Viper more or less intact.
Parodied in Doctor Who, "The Sontaran Stratagem": The Doctor is actually disappointed when the autopilot in the car he's just jumped out of self-destructs with a tiny 'phut' instead of taking the whole car with it. According to The Other Wiki, the writer originally wanted to play the trope straight, but the lack of budget prompted her to lampoon the trope instead.
Justified on Pushing Daisies, since it's explicitly stated that a flaw in the design of a car causes it (under specific conditions) to explode.
Sons Of Guns frequently features cars rigged to explode when fired upon, usually at the end of the episode.
At least one episode of Walker, Texas Ranger, and probably more besides that, had a particularly bad instance of this: Walker confronts a car full of gang members by calmly walking out into the street, drawing his gun, and firing a single shot into the hood, setting it on fire and out of control.
This happens in nearly every episode of the show, but one of the worst is when a villain, in making his getaway, barely so much as taps another car on his way out of the area, only for said car to explode spectacularly. What makes it worse, is that a few scenes later, Walker's truck survives a grenade exploding under it with the only damage being the front bumper falling off.
That's because his truck runs on Awesome, which is, as we all know, non-flammable.
Directly addressed and averted in an episode of Burn Notice, as Michael's Helpful Explanatory Voice-Over tells us: "Most people think that shooting the gas tank of a vehicle makes it explode. Unless the car is on fire, you'll just spill a few bucks worth of gas. An explosion requires something extra... like a few bags of acetone peroxide taped to the gas tank."
Then he proceeds to shoot the gas tank, put on his glasses, and do an Unflinching Walk away from the scene.
The rule of thumb on the show is that if a car explodes, it's because they did something specific to make it explode, i.e. put a blasting cap on the tank, rigged it with C4, shot it with a rocket launcher, etc....
Played with in an episode of Due South. Fraser and Ray (the second one) are driving a flaming car down the street— just go with it - and Fraser insists, "It's very, very rare that a car ever actually explodes." Two seconds later... the car explodes. Sort of.
In the episode "The Man Who Knew Too Little," Ian (who is a compulsive liar) says, "Are you aware that the gas tank in this particular make of car explodes on impact?" Later, Fraser, Vecchio and Ian have two bad guys shooting at them and have only One Bullet Left to kill both of them with:
Fraser: When I was flipping through the service manual of your car, I discovered that your gas tank is only eleven inches from your rear fender. Vecchio: You opened my manual? Fraser: Only for three seconds. Now one bullet can penetrate the tank and spark an explosion. Ian: I was right? Vecchio: Yeah, and if you're lucky you can take that information to the grave.
Lampshaded in The Listener, first episode. Title character says that cars don't explode when on fire, and then it did.
In season one of Smallville, Clark manages to blow up a gas canister by throwing a screwdriver at it. No naked flames, no sparks, just a screwdriver. What. The. Hell.
Every car Clark seems to come in contact with explodes for no apparent reason other than "it looks real neat on camera."
In one notable instance, a man flips a car after a plant makes him delirious. Clark's father pulls the man from the car just before it blows up in a miniature MUSHROOM CLOUD explosion. Seriously.
Subverted in It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia when Mac and Charlie try to fake their own deaths by creating a goodbye video and then trying to blow up the car they said they were in. They try speeding into a brick wall, shooting the gas tank of the car and even using a grenade to blow up the car, but nothing works.
The X-Files Season 4 Episode 12 - Leonard Betts' retreating car blows up after Mulder and Scully each shoot one bullet in its general direction. Admittedly Betts was trying to fake his death, but there's no mention of the car being packed with fuel cans or something.
In an episode of Scrubs, the Janitor bets his van against Cox's sports car that he can get a date with Elliot "Blonde Doctor" Reed. Cox only accepted the bet for the joy of destroying Janitor's van in front of him. When Cox eventually wins the bet he ties a brick to the gas pedal and crashes the van into a wall. Ted assures the Janitor that the damage is minimal and it can easily be fixed when the van explodes spectacularly.
Also, in the episode My Unicorn, while on a model plane field, Matthew Perry's character dive-bombs his plane at JD, causing it to crash and not only burst into flame, but explode.
Variant in Bang Bang It's Reeves And Mortimer: one of the more surreal recurring sketches (and that's really saying something) involved the duo in a car where, at some point, Bob would hit a button that made the bonnet and boot lid blast off into the air - when they landed in a field, they would then detonate in absurdly large explosions.
Parodied in a Russ Abbot sketch which was spoofing James Bond films; the hero is being chased by four nudists in a Sinclair C5 electric tricycle. Which still ends up exploding in a fireball.
In the old PI show Mannix it was routine for a car to explode into flame after it drove off a cliff... even before impact, while still in mid-air. Someone apparently liked this so much that an example showed up in the opening title sequence so we could see it every week! (It's about 6 seconds in)
In an episode of House M.D. called Distractions, a buggy explodes in a fireball after slamming into a pile of steel tubes. The ridiculous factor is cranked up to 11, since this pile of tubes is sitting in the middle of a forest.
Happens hilariously in the Law & Order: Special Victims Unit episode "Bullseye". A suspected pedophile is leaving the courthouse when he sees his wife, whom he had planned on hiding his arrest from, there to pick him up. When she jumps out to greet him, he jumps in the car and speeds away, slamming perpendicularly into a trailer of an 18-wheeler. At first, it seems nothing is going to happen (maybe an attempt to trick the viewer into thinking the show is averting this trope) and the detectives start to run towards the car. Suddenly, there is a huge explosion, with flames literally two or three stories high (the amount of gasoline the special effects guys needed must have been mind-boggling). This was a particularly egregious example since there the only damage was to the front of the car and there was such a delay between collision and explosion.
Averted in the fifth episode of Terriers, where main characters Britt and Hank drop a car from a cliff in order to get rid of evidence. Britt keeps staring at the car for a while after it has crashed to the ground: "Huh." To Hank's question "What were you thinking, that it would explode?", Britt replies: "I was kinda hoping, yeah."
Happened at least once in Eureka, season 2 episode 6: Noche de Sueños. A gas truck filled with toxic waste, sideswipes a little sports car, causing it (the little car) to explode fantastically.
In the The Aquabats! Super Show! episode "EagleClaw!", Eagleclaw blows up Eaglebones' motorcycle in this manner using a guitar that shoots lasers. Later on, in "Ladyfingers!" Eaglebones unintentionally blows up a van with his own guitar that shoots lasers, and the partygoers associated with the van end up taking refuge in the Battletram.
In one episode of NCIS, a car explodes when a runaway shopping cart taps the rear bumper. Justified, as terrorists put explosives in the back trunk.
In the episode The Changeling of Stargate, Teal'c gets in the explosion of a burning car. Justified, as this is just a hallucination of a person with limited knowledge about earth technology, but who has seen quite a lot earth movies. So of course everything happens as he has seen it on TV.
Played with in Justified. The good guys want the car to explode, but even rigged with an IED and repeatedly shot at by a professional sniper, it doesn't blow until Tim throws a molotov cocktail at it.
The Night Gallery segment "Hell's Bells" begins with a hippie driving off a cliff. His car explodes violently even though it's not staged as an action scene, probably to convince viewers he's dead without having to show his corpse.
Calvin once imagines a car falling into the Grand Canyon and exploding - in mid-air. Apparently a Mercedes is even worse than a Pinto.
The playfield for Bally's Wizard!! shows a car wreathed in flames plummeting to its doom.
The rules of Diana: Warrior Princess explicitly state that every vehicle "going down" explodes and catches fire, even submarines.
The New World of Darkness provides rules for both regular vehicular damage and "dramatic" vehicular damage. Cars are far more likely to blow up in the latter case.
In Traveller a hit to the engine of a vehicle powered by anything but fusion has a good chance of causing a catastrophic explosion.
In BattleTech, 'Mechs and vehicles with internal combustion or fuel cell engines may spontaneously explode from fuel tank or engine hits (the rules differ a bit between unit types) even under the standard tournament rules. The reason this is listed here instead of under Shoot The Fuel Tank is that the relevant critical hit slots can't be targeted on purpose, but any damage may randomly strike them and set them off — including that from physical attacks or collisions. For additional fun, a VTOL that takes internal damage specifically from a crash automatically explodes.
The cars in many racing games explode on impact. Pole Position is especially famous for this, where running into a billboard or even clipping an opponent's tire turns your car into a fireball. Pole Position II carried this a step further, with car parts spewing out of the exploding wreckage.
This was also the case with similar games of the era such as Road Fighter and F1 Race. Simply hitting on a wall, guard rail or even a safety barrier will cause the vehicle to go asplode.
The Grand Theft Auto series of games fulfills this trope nicely, in that every vehicle will explode when damaged enough, even if it's from a guy standing on top of the car and stomping on the hood. Later games allow for cars (and trucks, motorcycles, helicopters, tanks, and anything else with a motor in it) to explode instantly if shot in the gas tank, and even a completely undamaged car will explode if overturned. Though maybe this is why there is little heat from the owners when you rob them of their forms of transportation. All wheels vehicles tend to spontaneously lose at least one wheel.
If you are able to steal a tank in GTA III (and other games of the series as well) even grazing a nearby car at relatively low speeds causes enough damage for the car to explode on impact. If you can call it that. More like touching. The tank, on the other hand, remains unaffected. Great fun for driving down highways in the wrong direction. It should be noted that a tank will eventually explode from damage. They're not invulnerable, they just have extremely high endurance.
In GTA: San Andreas, shooting a car or bike's gas tank capwill cause it to explode, which is ridiculous because the tank is almost nowhere near the cap (not that the tank itself will explode if shot). One of the cars exploded when you shot its rear license plate - the Real Life car it was based on had the filler cap behind the rear plate.
If you melee a bicycle, or otherwise find a way to flip one over, it will smoke for a few seconds and explode.
Oddly, in SA, driving a car over a hundred foot cliff does nothing...if it lands square on all four wheels. But, as noted, one bullet to the cap...
GTA IV and V avert this to a degree. When a car suffers massive damage from collisions, the engine usually just dies and grinds to a halt. Also, cars no longer catch fire or explode simply from being flipped over. Cars still blow up from explosives, gunshots, or catching fire.
One of the most ridiculous examples is in GTA III, where the M16, with its oddly gatling-likerate of fire can destroy almost any vehicle in three seconds' worth of bullets.
If you manage to hijack a train in GTA 1, drive it around town for long enough to encounter a second train, and hit that train, all cars of both trains will explode. Someone must have played too much Transport Tycoon.
One should exercise caution when firing near vehicles in the Hunter: The Reckoning series of games. Stray gunfire can easily set off the many abandoned cars.
In the Burnout series, crashes and explosions are integral to the game. "Crash Junctions" challenge you to cause as much damage as possible by plowing into traffic. Starting with Burnout 3: Takedown, certain junctions have explosives strategically placed, making your car explode and creating even more havoc if you can hit them. Once enough cars have crashed, your car can explode yet again. Burnout: Revenge carries the idea even further; when your car crashes during a crashbreaker race, a perfectly timed explosion can turn the tables on a rival. Note that you get to STEER your burning wreck in mid-air because Burnout is just that awesome.
Burnout Paradise allows you to turn any stretch of road into a Crash Junction. Simply turn on Crash mode, and your car will suddenly flip into the air and begin running into crap. Even worse, most of the stuff you can run into will have at least minor explosions, but god help you if you run into a bus or a tanker truck.
In the Halo series, various armored military vehicles will spectacularly explode when they suffer sufficient damage from gunfire or plasma weapons; in Halo 3, it is even possible to make heavily-armored battle tanks explode by simply boarding them and punching them several times.
There's also the part where he can flip aforementioned battle tank over with all the fanfare of flipping a coin, without so much of a sound. In fact, in Halo 3 if you manage to get one of them upside down (no small task), you can flip the massive 'Elephant' troop carriers that appear on several maps, which often ends with them hilariously dancing around as they bounce off of terrain. Of course, the elephant flipping is somewhat less than canon. Even the prompt message in the game says something to the effect of "Press XRB to... Wait, what? How'd you do that?"
In fact, if MC is killed while in a vehicle, it will often suffer Critical Existence Failure and explode, no matter what cosmetic shape it is in.
Averted in the first Halo game where the only destructible vehicles are Covenant vehicles in the singleplayer mode.
Every vehicle in Mercenaries: Playground of Destruction has a health meter; when it's reduced to 20%, it automatically starts losing health, giving off flames and flashing and sending everyone nearby running for cover. Once it hits 0%, boom. Exploding vehicles deal splash damage, and thus you can even set off chain reactions if you weaken its neighbors enough. It was reported that the sequel would us a more realistic system, but it doesn't. Somewhat annoying when you are just trying to use a light vehicle to get to places quickly...
For real fun in the first game, turn on God Mode, shoot a car enough to get it to that 20%, then quickly climb inside. Your invincibility will extend to the car, allowing you to drive a giant bomb around for pretty much as long as you want, until you ditch it at something at high speeds, bailing out at the last second.
Every whole-looking car in Call of Duty4 's multiplayer is apparently packed to the rafters with explosives. Enough damage to a vehicle will cause it to burn, then violently detonate. (Inflicting a great deal of damage, such as with grenades or other explosives, makes it skip straight to the 'sploding.)
Single player, too. This is lampshaded in "Death From Above", where hitting a car and blowing it up will prompt one of the pilots to say, "Shit, musta been a full tank of gas", though considering the gun in question is from an AC-130...
In FEAR: Extraction Point, there are times when hitting a car in any way, be it gunfire or punching, will immediately cause it to explode. Since it doesn't happen consistently, it could possibly be just a bug.
Every machine that gets destroyed a Super Robot Wars game explodes dramatically; even units that are ostensibly biological rather than mechanical explode when destroyed.
Despite a general scarcity of explosive weapons in Supreme Commander (assuming UEF gauss cannons are simply kinetic-energy weapons and the various Aeon energy weapons are non-explosive), every unit and structure in the game goes out with a bang. Particular units helpfully tagged as "volatile" explode in an area of effect detonation.
There's an infamous part near the end of Stalker: Shadow of Chernobyl where you can make an Armored Carrier explode by stabbing it with a knife. Once.
To be fair, the knife does a ridiculous amount of damage, and the APC is one of the only remaining drivable vehicles in the game. The rest were cut because of bugs like this.
Works on helicopters too, if you can get high enough.
This is even more absurd when you comparing to the work that inspired it: in the movie, cars are brutally smashed when the tank runs over them, but don't explode. In the game, just touch a car with the tank and it blows to smithereens.
Everything in Starcraftblows up when it dies. Everything. Every Terran and Protoss building or vehicle (even SCVs and Probes) exploded either red/orange (Terran) or blue/white (Protoss); biological units might as well have, for all the blood involved. About the only exceptions were Zealots (Protoss soldiers in armored suits), which turned into little blue flares, and Dragoons (giant-spider Mecha), which cracked open when they died. Heck, if you killed a worker unit while it was carrying resources, the Vespene containers or minerals would go up in their own explosion.
Crysis make no effort to avert this trope. Most of the time. Wanna know the best way to get rid of the KPA cheap knock off of a hummer? Shoot one single bullet in the gas tank on the rear side. Wait 5 seconds. Boom. However, if you shoot the mounted missile launchers of a helicopter, it will only make a tiny explosion, and the helicopter will still be able to shoot you missiles. Nonsense at its best.
Furthermore, your meathead marine can, like Master Chief, punch vehicles to fiery explosions, including boats.
Strangely, when you're driving them, the vehicles are surprisingly durable, and only display their Pinto-like qualities when you're not driving them. In fact, they're most susceptible right after you've bailed out of your vehicle. A collision that would leave the car unscathed while you're driving tends to cause the vehicle to explode if you've just jumped out of it.
In Fallout 3, you'll find cars that explode with a mushroom cloud effect. Though the cars do run on nuclear power, any really big explosion, nuclear or non-nuclear, will produce a mushroom cloud. So in this case it's instead justified by the Rule of Cool. What makes it worse is that the AI likes to use these nuclear deathtraps as cover.
Usually there's only a few at a time in many places, but there's a road near the Theodore Roosevelt academy that has dozens of them lined up. If you're traveling on it, one should be careful because Super Mutants and Raiders like to hang around it. Misfire and at the very least, your computer will lag like crazy.
This is taken Up to Eleven with a long stretch of a multilane highway just north of the Rad Racer Factory on the outskirts of western D.C. It is filled with dozens up on dozens of vehicles abandoned in gridlock. Clear out the local raiders, save your game, perch yourself up on the Scavenger Bridge, and shoot a car at the end of the chain until it catches on fire. Stand back and watch the fireworks. Hours of fun to be had... provided your computer can handle it.
The AI will also use them against you. The sniper Arkansas in Minefield is scripted to purposely shoot at the cars and set them off.
Every other car besides the player car in Zombie Driver will explode when you lightly tap into it.
In Red Steel on the Docks multiplayer map, shooting the car with anything, anywhere, three times will make it explode and kill anyone unfortunate enough to be close to it.
In the Arcade game Point Blank, one of the challenges is to unload 60 to 100 rounds into a parked car in approximately 15 seconds. Depending upon where you shoot the car, the windshield will break, tires will go flat, door hinges will break, and the hood will be blown off. And how do you know that you've successfully completed the challenge? The car explodes.
In Far Cry 2, vehicles will take damage, resulting the engine smoking white, and then black, as well as noticeably performing worse. If, however, you leave the engine alone while it's spewing black smoke, eventually it will catch on fire. At that point, you have about ten seconds before it goes boom. Oh, and don't forget about shooting things with rockets or tossing grenades in the bed of a truck. Funny thing is that many cars in this game actually are Pintos!
In Total Overdose: A Gunslinger's Tale in Mexico, every vehicle has some cinema-realistic level of resistance to damage from collision. As in most driver-shooter sandboxes, a vehicle will explode if sufficiently damaged, usually after a warning flickering of flames. But leaping from that vehicle instantly transforms it into Explodium, a rolling missile that will impact with great balls of fire. Even a highly armored, perfectly undamaged vehicle coasting to a stop from a 10 MPH cruise will detonate on a front-end impact with something as small as a road sign.
In the Battlefield series, every single vehicle explodes when it suffers enough damage, turning into a blackened wreck, and then that explodes into tiny bits after it either suffers enough damage or stays there long enough.
Averted for dramatic effect in one mission of Battlefield: Bad Company 2: at one point, the armored convoy the player is currently fighting alongside is ambushed, and they take cover behind their Humvees. Despite the torrent of enemy bullets, said Humvees remain undamaged no matter how long the player hides behind them.
The Saints Row series. Any car can become a super-heated shrapnel dispenser, even if it is shot with the weakest pistol in game.
In Saints Row The Third, at one point in the "Return to Steelpot" mission you ride in a chariot being pulled by a guy in gimp gear, while Morningstar goons who are also riding in "pony carts" chase you. Shoot the enemy gimps, and they explode.
True Crime: Streets of LA featured this, but not only in the form of cars crashing and the like: the protagonist can receive training which makes him an exceptionally good shot. Following this training, when aiming at the rear license plate the targeting reticule will turn red. If you fire, the car instantly explodes, killing everyone inside.
Oddly, if you were in a mission that required the driver to survive, they would be unhurt in the following cutscene.
All of the Jak and Daxter games feature vehicles that explode. (One mission in the second game even let you bring down special upgraded enemy flying tanks simply by crashing your car in the appropriate place to cause a chain reaction).
Particularly annoying in Borderlands, due to the lethal combination of terrible driving controls (you can only steer by moving the camera), being very vulnerable to the explosion's damage, the vehicles being extremely fragile, and the "exit" animation taking a good full four seconds until you regain control, during which you're just as vulnerable to the potential explosion. In the second playthrough, they're really only useful for transportation; if you don't bail out the moment you start taking damage, you will be either killed or left vehicle-less at the very least. Oh, and if a car so much as grazes an Exploding Barrel, the barrel explodes, the car explodes, you die.
The Godfather: The Game uses this trope. Crashing, shooting or even punching a vehicle enough would make it catch fire and explode.
In Operation Flashpoint and the ARMA series, vehicles that take enough damage from explosive weapons, such as an RPG launcher, explode. The torched wreck then explodes again. It keeps doing this occasionally for a significant period of time, typically when a player is walking by it.
Partially justified, because only vehicles with ammunition or a large quantity of fuel stored in them explode with enough force to create splash damage.
In Enter the Matrix, the driving minigames tend to require that the player empty absurd amounts of ammunition into the police cars chasing them, all of which explode violently upon Critical Existence Failure. It's not necessary to shoot up civilian vehicles to pass the levels, but they take a lot less damage to blow up, and it's fun besides. The Agents' cars, however, are immune to damage.
Played more than straight in Transport Tycoon. When a train hits a road vehicle on a level crossing, the road vehicle explodes in a spectacular fireball including a mushroom cloud while the train moves on without the slightest speed loss. When two trains collide, every single vehicle in each train (and be it an empty steel car) explodes in a similarly spectacular fireball. Planes can crash and explode, too. The only non-explosive vehicles are ships which (like aircraft) don't support clipping anyway.
RollerCoaster Tycoon's explosions are less spectacular, but also affect all cars on a train (a roller coaster train, usually) instantly. It's not unheard of for one of the trains to survive unscathed, though.
Any prop in Stunt Island can be set up to explode upon impact. Yes, even street signs, rocks, and buildings.
The Nitrome game Off the Rails applies this to the protagonists' hand-powered trolley cart, in what seems to be a deliberate parody of the trope.
BloodRayne 2 has a least two vehicles that explode if you throw people at them.
Stranglehold: Blast up a vehicle badly enough in the game and it will go boom in classic John Woo style.
Every single non-native unit in Alpha Centauri does this when destroyed, although this is justified, as it's probably the fission/fusion/quantum/controlled singularity (delete as appropriate) reactor blowing up.
In Ghost Dogs of Moon Lake, you can blow up a boat simply by adjusting the outboard motor's screws the wrong way. You can also crash a snowmobile so it explodes in White Wolf of Icicle Creek, although it takes several collisions to do it.
And yet, in Trail of the Twister, crashing your car results in nothing but a game over.
Prototype plays it straight big time. All vehicles explode after losing their last hit point, even as they show progressive physical damage which culminates in flames on the vehicle just before going boom with Battlefield-style wreckage. Soft-skinned vehicles are more susceptible to trivial damage than armor, which results in funny situations where you can actually jump and land on a truck/car/helicopter enough times as it gets more beat up, then ka-boom.
Probably even more amusing is the fact that sometimes Alex kicks down hard enough on an object to actually do damage when parkour-ing over something. Meaning you can sprint over the same car over and over, until sufficient kicks blow the car up.
Maxed Musclemass jacks up the throw damage so much that weaker vehicles like sedans explode immediately upon impact, even if it did not suffer any damage prior to being thrown.
Lampshaded multiple times in Postal II. The Dude repeatedly refers to all the cars in Paradise as "useless exploding props". Sure enough, any car you come across explodes violently and flies high into the air with just a few bullets.
At the end of the Bear trial in Heavy Rain, Ethan's car flips over and catches fire. It's scripted to explode immediately after Ethan escapes from the wreckage.
In Phantasy Star Online 2, the City area is dotted with numerous damaged, abandoned vehicles that will go up in flames shortly after receiving a few hits from anything. On higher difficulties, this causes enough damage to potentially be a One-Hit Kill if you're caught in the radius, so on fighting on or around them tends to be a bad idea.
Downplayed in Road Of The Dead. It needs multiple collisions or massive firepower to blow up a car. Played straight with fuel trucks, which explode at the slightest touch.
Cars in Spider-Man: Web of Shadows will explode if they don't land on their wheels after getting knocked around; a single kick is enough to send a car spiraling through the air (justifiable, considering who's delivering the kick). Subsequently, the explosion will propel the car's driver through the air, who will then get up with no sign of injury.
In XCOM: Enemy Unknown cars explode at the drop of a hat. Almost any weapon bigger than the basic pistol will cause a one turn countdown to explosion. In most cases this is indicated by the front of the car inexplicably catching on fire. Powerful weapons and explosives can cause the car to explode instantly. In early levels the cars explode with enough force to kill anyone taking cover, be they early alien or human soldiers.
In earlier versions of the game, some cars would spontaneously explode for no reason at all. This has since been fixed.
In "Ayla and the Late Trevor James Goodkind" in the Whateley Universe, Phase specifically points out that gas tanks don't explode for real, like they do in movies. Just as the mutant supervillain blasts the car beside Phase and its gas tank explodes, blowing Phase across the street.
Happens on one memorable occasion in Survival of the Fittest - whereupon a car is crashed into a warehouse by a contestant and proceeds to explode a few seconds later. Bonus points for this causing the building to go up in a gigantic fireball too.
During the infamous Death Battle between Justin Bieber and Rebecca Black, the "getaway car" Black was riding on crashed into Bieber and then into a wall, killing both driver and passenger. The Jonas Brothers walked on the scene, but could only get off a Flat "What." before the car exploded. Bieber's katana wound up flying through the air as a result... and landing in the forehead of Miley Cyrus.
This video describes it best: "As everyone knows, cars are highly volatile machines, seemingly made of tissue paper, birch bark, and lighter fluid, or so you would think by how often, easily, and massively they explode."
The Simpsons has parodied it many times, including an exploding milk truck and a Gremlin driven by Hans Moleman... which coasts to a stop and doesn't hit anything, but still explodes. And it's not just cars, either. At least one episode had an empty shopping cart run into a tree and burst into flames.
In another episode, Bart claims the ridiculously run down and unsafe school bus they are in is "much better than the old bus". Cut to said bus completely immobile on some bricks only to burst into flames when a leaf falls on it.
Speaking of buses, "The Otto Show" featured the bus of Spinal Tap driving off the road and subsequently exploding into flames, the result of Otto's reckless driving.
Lisa and Marge fire bees at a Jeep. All of the bees seen hit the tires, causing them to deflate. Then, the Jeep catches on fire.
In another Halloween episode, Homer saves a baby from a stroller as the stroller rolls out into the street. The stroller then explodes and catches on fire.
And who can forget the Canyonero, which might catch on fire randomly?
The South Park episode "Cartoon Wars" features a scene where Kyle's tricycle is driven off a cliff. The tricycle then bounces over rocks all the way down, hits the bottom... then explodes.
Family Guy did an obligatory parody, in which Meg races a man on a horse drawn carriage. The man loses control on a sharp turn and crashes through the guard rail. The carriage bursts into flame and the horse lands upright, notices what happened to the carriage, and flashes a nervous look to the viewer just before he too explodes.
Also parodied in the It's a Trap! spoof of ''Return of the Jedi' with the famous speederbike chase, except with regular bicycles. And yes, they explode when hitting a tree. Additionally, a bicycle crashes, and a hurt stormtrooper gets up and limps a little before he blows up.
At the very end of A Goofy Movie, there is a hilarious use of this. This movie had not used a lot of slapstick comedy before this moment, so it comes as a complete surprise when Goofy kicks his car, which was a little broken and he smiles and points at it, resulting in a beat after which the entire car BLOWS THE HELL UP and knocks Goofy straight up out of his socks until he crashes through Roxanne's roof.
In Gargoyles, it was almost easier to count the number of plot-relevant vehicles that did not explode on impact. A motorbike exploded and burst into flames from a fairly slow impact with a wall in the opening arc of the series, and not long after a motorcycle exploded violently after being shot in the front fender.
Jonny Quest TOS episode "The Quetong Missile Mystery". When Lieutenant Singh's car falls into a gully and is smashed up, it bursts into flames seconds later.
Futurama does this in the episode "The Sting" when running from the giant space bees, several of them crash into the walls of the beehive and instantly burst into flames and explode.
Averted in 101 Dalmatians. When Horace and Jasper's truck crashes into Cruella's car at the end, both vehicles get smashed to bits as they fly off the edge of a cliff, but there's no explosion. Of course, the fact that Cruella, Horace, and Jasper all survive this is somewhat improbable, but it has nothing to do with this trope.
Spoofed in the Duck Dodgers episode "Diamond Boogie", set on a planet that's a pastiche of seventies action movies. The bad guys' cars explode before they hit the ground.
Paprika Solo: Not sure. Now that you mention it, that happens a lot around here.
According to Daria and Jane, Trent's car averts this. You have to hit a Pinto first before it bursts into flames.
Following a series of fiery accidents involving 1973-1987 Chevrolet/GMC pickups prompted the TV magazine Dateline NBC to report on the crashworthiness of the trucks' gas tanks. A live demonstration seemed to back up the claim that the gas tanks were indeed susceptable to being damaged and causing deadly fires in the event of a side-impact crash on the gas-tank side (much like with the 1971-1976 Ford Pintos). However, a later investigation — at GM's request — showed the truck had been rigged to explode. The report severely damaged the reputation of NBC News (which settled a lawsuit with GM, and was forced to retract its story in an embarrasing on-air apology) and resulted in the resignation of its president, Michael Gartner, an Iowa journalist whose primary background was in newspapers ... a career that eventually won him a Pulitzer Prize.
The video in question was shot by researchers at UCLA who were investigating what a gas tank explosion would do to a car's interior. Their first crash attempt had failed to produce a fire, so for their second attempt, they rigged the gas tank to explode on impact. 20/20 showed the film without mentioning that little detail, leaving an impression on viewers' minds that Ford Pintos would routinely explode on impact. They did have a design flaw where a rear impact could rupture the gas tank, leaking gas which could then be ignited by friction or sparks from broken wires in the electrical system. But even if both those events occurred, the result would be a fire, not an explosion.
They did the same thing with the "problem" with the gas tanks on Chevrolet pick-ups.
Space shuttles and rockets during the takeoff phase tend to blow up when their fuel tanks are damaged. Thankfully, so far, Challenger has been the only US example that killed anyone.
... and in reality, the Challenger explosion did not actually kill the astronauts. It was later revealed that the cabin survived and the passengers were still alive. Unfortunately they found themselves lacking air-worthiness and falling at high speed. Investigations concluded that the free-fall impact with the water killed them. And on top of that, signs pointed to the astronauts desperately trying to find a solution or exit during the fall.
Note that unmanned rockets are usually fitted with self-destruct charges so that the Range Safety Officer can deliberately blow them to bits if they go off course. So any rocket malfunction which doesn't make the rocket explode... gets the rocket blown up.
Manned rockets also have self-destruct charges. In the Challenger accident, after it broke up (much like Columbia, it was the aerodynamic forces that destroyed the vehicle, not an explosion), the solid rocket boosters continued flying separated from the vehicle, and the RSO had to blow them up.
Soviet Soyuz rocket flying a Soyuz T-10 mission on September 26, 1983, suffered a fuel leak shortly before launch, setting the booster on fire and engulfing the spacecraft in a huge fireball. Fortunately, just like its American counterpart the Apollo, but unlike the Space Shuttle, Soyuz is equipped with a Launch Escape System, a powerful solid engine that pulls the capsule away from the main rocket, and it performed flawlessly, so the crew survived with nothing worse to wear than huge bruises note The escape involves G-forces in a 15 g range and was described by one of the crewmembers as a kick in the back.
All rockets, being designed to operate outside of the atmosphere, carry both fuel (say, hydrogen) and oxidizer (say, liquid oxygen). The two components are picked BECAUSE they burn together very very hot. Bad consequences if they mix and ignite in the wrong place (outside the engine) or at the wrong time. This has happened to every sort of rocket, from the pre-V2 rockets of both Robert Goddard and the VfR in Germany, to modern satellite carriers. Worse, some of them can use "hypergolic" fuel/oxidizer chemicals, which means they ignite themselves when mixed. One bad valve and FOOM!
The Me-163 Komet was a rocket powered interceptor in World War 2 that used hypergolic fuels. These occasionally exploded on landing. And sometimes on takeoff.
It used a high-proof hydrogen peroxide as an oxidizer, which is not only so corrosive that it routinely ate the tanks in which it was held, and in one case dissolved a pilot in seconds, but is also prone to spontaneous decomposition, a reaction that is both exotermic and activated by heat, resulting in a big "BOOM" and a cloud of very hot atomic oxygen. Spontaneous decomposition of the hydrogen peroxide in the torpedo engine and the subsequent warhead explosion is now believed to be responsible for the Russian submarine Kursk sinking in 2000.
Soviet SLBMs and ICBMs used a Hydrazine derivative and N2O4 as hypergolic fuels - leading to at least one accident: when a SSBN's silo was flooded with seawater, traces of N2O4 reacted to nitric acid which damaged the fuel tanks. Just search for K-219 or Hostile Waters.
Not only were hypergolic fuels used in Soviet ICBMs, some of the fuel components were also corrosive - a fact that, in combination with Poor Communication Kills led to the event known as the Nedelin catastrophe, claiming the lives of some 100 Soviet rocket engineers and military dignitaries.
Nedelin catastrophe has exactly zilch to do with the fuel and the properties thereof, it was caused by a haste during the launch preparation, which resulted in the launch timer of the second stage being improperly wired and mistakenly not being reset after one of the tests. When the next test begun, the current pulse went to the timer through the faulty wiring and caused it to advance to the "Launch" position, immolating everyone around and causing the first stage, with its much bigger fuel tanks to catch fire and subsequently explode. It was more of the Failsafe Failure case.
The TSA ban on carry-on liquids and gels is in part a precaution against homemade hypergolic bombs, following the discovery of a plot to use them on airplanes.
The most common fuel for model engines is a mixture of nitromethane and methanol, because this requires less air to burn: the main limiting factor when building an engine that small is that it's hard to get enough air through it to burn petrol efficiently. It's no more dangerous to handle than petrol most of the time, but not so much if it's contaminated or degraded.
The early versions of the World War II era M4 Sherman battle tank gained grim nicknames like "Tommycooker" (after a type of field stove and the fact that British soldiers are sometimes called "tommies") or "Ronson" (after a brand of lighter that, according to advertisements of the era, "Lights up the first time, every time!") because of their Pinto-esque tendency to burn up when hit by high-velocity rounds.
All European Theatre Allied tanks used gasoline engines instead of diesel, because it was easier for logistics, as did the Germans (the Soviets, however, used diesel engines in all their vehicles). Most of these early tanks served with allied nations before the US joined the war, and many earned reputations (and nicknames) years before the US Army actually fielded them.
In the early Sherman types' case, it was a combination of being gasoline-powered, and having badly placed ammo storage. A modification to 'wet storage' of rounds (basically that damage to the ammo store would flood it, preventing fire from setting the ammo off) caused a dramatic drop in crew deaths.
Plus the adaptation of M1 Abrams with a heavy duty door sealing off the rounds when not firing and exterior panels which blow off should the ammo detonate, instead of sending the blast into the cabin.
The early versions of the Bradley Fighting Vehicle also had a problem with catching fire when hit.
The Panzer V Panther and T-34 both had serious problems, and were more likely to catch fire when hit than Shermans. In the Panther's case, this was a result of the engine compartment being completely watertight (to better ford rivers), causing overheating problems, and uninsulated fuel lines, which would rupture under a variety of circumstances. Neither problem was properly addressed. In the T-34's case, it was insufficient armour on earlier models, but was lessened by the use of less flamable diesel. Later models and the T-34-85 had more armour and were less susceptible to engine fires.
While this trope does occur in real life sometimes, it is very rare. Sadly, Hollywood has convinced the public that it is extremely common and that crashed cars are in danger of exploding at any moment (typically, the instant the hero throws himself to the ground). Every year, dozens of car accident victims are injured further (sometimes to the point of paralysis), not by the car exploding, but by other people pulling the victim out of the car because Hollywood has taught them that cars explode and victims must be pulled out as soon as possible. Do not remove an accident victim from a wrecked car unless the car is actually burning! Sometimes not even if the car is actually burning. If a car is burning, it's usually burning at or near the engine. There's a lot of stuff that doesn't burn between the engine and the seats, including, y'know, the engine itself.
That includes at least one case in New Zealand in about 2005, which caused a coroner to issue that very warning. Shows New Zealand teens are far too influenced by American TV, something the coroner mentioned as well.
It's also worth mentioning that several people get killed because they refuse to wear seat belts because of the "explosion hazard".
The pervasion of this trope leads many people to be killed when they exit their crashed vehicle under their own power (fearing the explosion) and then get run over by other traffic. Once again kids, stay in the vehicle unless it's on fire.
Zig-Zagged in Spain in 2011 when a suicidal woman loaded her car to the top with gasoline cans, rear-ended a lorry, and survived with no damage due to fire. The trope was thus invoked, exaggerated, inverted and averted.
There are many videos of race cars crashing and exploding into flames. Most spectacularly, nitromethane-powered dragsters. This is partially due to most racing accidents occur at very high speeds and are therefore a lot more severe than your typical highway accident, and partly due to higher-octane fuels used. The Indy Racing League, for example, uses methanol instead of gasoline—a much more volatile fuel.
Not entirely unexpected, as nitromethane is highly combustible and has a very energetic burn. Its vapors are even more volatile, so it is basically Explodium in liquid form.
As a demonstation of excellent safety design, Formula One cars nowadays don't burst into flames from crashing (even in the most spectacular crashes like what happened to Robert Kubica in one Canadian GP that totalled his car and landed him in the hospital). The only instances of F1 cars going up in flames recently have been due to spilled fuel during refuelling (which is why refuelling was banned this season).
This, of cource, doesn't mean that all racecars are that safe. When the very same Robert Kubica crashed in a rally car, he suffered broken legs and his arm was basically torn to shreds, so he was forced to skip the 2011 season.
A rather significant example from NASCAR would be Juan Pablo Montoya's collision with a jet fuel dryer on lap 160 of the 2012 Daytona 500, which destroyed Montoya's car and caused jet fuel in the dryer to leak and burst into flames, creating a fire wall across the track in turn 3, leading to a 2 hour long red flag.
Part of the reason the 1955 Le Mans disaster was so bad was because the car body of the Mercedes that flew off the track, and killed 84 people, was made of a magnesium alloy, and magnesium burns extremely intensely.
The 1969 24 Hours of Le Mans had a Porsche crash on the first lap, get its fuel tank knocked out from under it and have a Ferrari run over it, causing it to explode into a giant pillar of smoke and fire. This, and the fact that the driver of the Porsche was killed due to not properly securing his safety harness thanks to the nature of the Le Mans start, was what caused a massive revamp of safety for next year's event.
One particularly stunning and breathtaking example of this trope played straight was Tetsuya Ota's crash at the 1998 JGTC Fuji Speedway race. A T-bone collision between his Ferrari and another racers Porsche sparked a tremendous explosive fireball that engulfed both cars. The Porsche driver was able to get out of his quickly and receive assistance, but Ota was trapped in his burning Ferrari for a full minute and a half, and his visor literally melted in the heat and sagged onto his face. The footage of the impact is not for the faint of heart.
During the start of a V8 Supercars race in Perth, Australia, a Holden Commodore driven by Karl Reindler exploded in flames after stalling and being rear-ended by another race car.
An old story. A very early prototype of what would eventually become the automobile was steam powered and could reach a top speed of three miles an hour. Despite these relatively innocuous details, it ran into a wall at "top speed" and its boiler exploded.
Justified in this case, because a steam boiler works by building up steam at great pressure to run the engine (in modern boilers, often a turbine of some sort). They are still common in certain applications, such as ship engines, because of the amount of power that can be produced. The trick is to have safety measure in place to release the steam safely before a rupture can occur, and to place the boiler in a safe place (deep within the guts of the ship, away from potential collisions).
High-performance supercars can be slightly closer to Truth in Television here, because of the exotic materials used in their construction and the red-line conditions they're often subjected to. And regardless of the increased danger, they tend to burn up very quickly and intensely because of the exotic materials.
The best recent example would be the Ferrari 458 Italia, the manufacturer's current flagship RWD sports car. It had a minor design defect: the adhesive used in the rear wheel arches was too heat-sensitive. In the right conditions it could catch fire, and the fire could spread into the engine bay. Ten 458s caught fire this way in 2010, and Ferrari wound up recalling over a thousand cars to replace the glue with mechanical fasteners.
The demise of Group B rallying is partially to do with this trope (minimal regulations on power and safety, along with tight roads, really), especially after an infamous accident in 1986, where Henri Toivonen, one of the champions of the class, went off a cliff, had his fuel cell (mounted under his seat) punctured, killing him and his navigator, and, as the car's body was made of kevlar and plastic, burning the car down to its space frame.