Free Wheel

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"Wheels on fire, rolling down the road."

When a car is wrecked (or explodes), often a lone wheel will be seen rolling (or flying) away from the vehicle. Since Every Car Is a Pinto, it may well be on fire. This is pretty much a Dead Horse Trope (if not a Dead Unicorn Trope), so expect to almost only see it in parodies.

Also often seen after an Offscreen Crash, rolling into view from Behind the Black and gradually wobbling to a halt.

The vehicular equivalent of Smoldering Shoes.

In a more minor version, expect to see a stray hubcap or two during chase scenes.

Not to be confused with Freewheelers, which was a 70s British kids' drama series.


Examples:

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    Advertising 
  • Parodied in an Australian insurance advertisement from around the late 1970s or early 1980s, where a wheel comes loose from a moving car and leaves a trail of destruction in its wake. It's still rolling at the end of the advert.

    Anime & Manga 
  • Played absolutely, unashamedly straight in just about every episode of Speed Racer ever.
  • In the Cold Open of The Castle of Cagliostro, the casino staff's cars fall apart as a result of Vehicular Sabotage. A wheel from one rolls away and hits the bumper of the one car that had remained intact thus far, causing it to collapse. Additionally, when the car carrying the thugs chasing Clarice crashes, one of its wheels goes flying.
  • Black Lagoon. During the Greenback Jane arc, after the gangsters chasing the title character make the mistake of firing on the Rip-Off Church, only to get a hail of bullets in response (including from an M60 machine gun), they beat a hasty retreat in their shot-up cars. A wheel comes off in the process, but they (wisely) don't stop.

    Comic Books 
  • "The Wheel", a story in the DC Comics Anthology Comic The Witching Hour, has this happen with a wrecked carriage. In this case, the wheel survived because it was "haunted" and indeed had caused the crash in the first place.

    Comic Strips 
  • In this Garfield strip, Jon wound up crashing while roller skating. One of the stray wheels from his skates bounces past Garfield.

    Films — Animation 
  • In the Monsters, Inc. short film "Mike's New Car", when he finally zooms offscreen and crashes, five of the six wheels come bouncing back, followed by the sixth one which is just rolling.
  • In Shrek the Third, after the villains have taken over, one of the things shown in the scenes of destruction is a single wagon wheel rolling down the street. The accident that caused it to fall off isn't shown.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Terminator 2: Judgment Day after the truck is blown up, shortly followed by the iconic Out of the Inferno shot.
  • In The Titfield Thunderbolt when the railway's locomotive is derailed. Which really shouldn't be physically possible to achieve with a steam locomotive, but hey, Rule of Funny.
  • In Airplane! we see a hubcap rolling across the tarmac after an ambulance crashes.
  • In Final Destination 4, the first victim of Death's damage-control dies when a burning tire from the (unseen) mass pileup is flung clear out of the stadium and plummets down onto her in the parking lot.
  • In the New Zealand-made action film Never Say "Die", a fleet of police cars drives into a one-way bus tunnel to pursue the protagonists - not realising that there actually is a bus heading towards them. Predictably, a wheel can be seen rolling out of the tunnel not long after.
  • It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World - Terry-Thomas's Jeep, its front end damaged by an off-road swerve, rides more and more erratically until it goes into a tunnel with a large smash - a single wheel rolls out the other end, followed by the rest of the Jeep that finally rolls over and dies.
  • One of the more visible continuity goofs in Diamonds Are Forever is the loose wheel from the moon buggy that bounces through the chase while the buggy continues on with all its wheels.
  • Indiana Jones:
  • Occasionally lampshaded during B-Fest screenings of Plan 9 from Outer Space, when someone will roll a single tire in front of the screen after the Sound-Only Death of the "grieving old man".
  • In /Film/Deadpool, Deadpool emerges from a vehicle that rolled over and crashed on a bridge, after a rogue rim spins out to the side.
  • An unusual variation occurs in The Love Bug, where the racers driving Herbie see a lone wheel roll away after getting sideswiped by Thorndyke's car, only to discover moments later that it is their wheel that has just fallen off (thanks to some earlier Vehicular Sabotage). Naturally, this causes a crash.

    Literature 
  • Discworld:
    • Terry Pratchett's Soul Music hangs a lampshade on it when describing the carriage crash that kills the heroine's parents. In fact, due to Discworld's Law Of Narrative Causality, this happens in every single crash. Not just the ones featured in the books - every one.
      Then the oil from the coach lamps ignites and there is a second explosion, out of which rolls — because there are certain conventions, even in tragedy — a burning wheel.
    • Analogously, whenever a waiter drops plates or some similar accident occurs, there is always one undamaged plate that rolls out of the wreckage (as mentioned in Hogfather).
  • Happens in The Zombie Knight when Hector tosses aside a boulder and it bounces off a tree and hits his motorcycle.
    Garovel: Maybe it still runs. (tree falls on motorcycle. Wheel rolls out) As a unicycle.
  • Animorphs: The Visser's latest plan is to unleash a living tornado that's attracted to morphing energy, pursuing Marco morphing to gorilla as he drives a truck. The monster eats a minivan, with Marco seeing the wheel following him.

    Live-Action TV 
  • The Reliant Robin in Mr. Bean repeatedly does this as a Running Gag.
  • Several times on Top Gear — for example, when Clarkson tries to use his Spiked Wheels in the "alternative police car" challenge.
  • One Leverage episode uses it for misdirection: it'd be natural to think that the camera's focusing on the wheel rolling out of the wreckage just because that's a standard convention for filming car explosions, but it's actually because that wheel is where all the money got hidden...
  • This happened on an early NCIS episode. We see Gibbs diving to avoid a car bomb blast, then a flaming tire lands next to him.
  • Often done as a gag on Canada's Worst Driver. One time, it was the steering wheel.
  • Once on America's Funniest Home Videos this happened to an airplane that was landing (single-engined light airplane, with non-retractable tricycle landing-gear). On landing, the nose-wheel started wildly wobbling like a dodgy caster on a shopping cart. Eventually the nose wheel strut collapsed, and as the camera man panned to follow the plane, just as the plane stopped, the nosewheel came to a stop just in front of the camera, with perfect comedic timing. Fortunately, nobody was hurt. Hey, any landing you can walk away from is a good one!
  • Used for a spoof on Australian comedy series Full Frontal about Arnold Schwarzenegger doing a road safety video. He appears as the Terminator and blows up the vehicle with a rocket launcher. Cue flaming tire. "Now it is safe to cross."
  • A non-vehicular version occurs in Band of Brothers. When the counterattack at Carentan is routed, a German soldier's death is indicated by his helmet rolling downhill.

    Music Videos 
  • Happens in the Gorillaz Music Video "19-2000" after the "Geep" is blown up by its own missiles.

    Video Games 
  • Command & Conquer: Tiberian Sun had this; upon the destruction/death of a vehicle, it would spawn a random assortment of debris items that would go flying off, such as explosive gas tanks, chunks of armour plating, and so on. Wheeled vehicles could spawn rogue wheels, of course.
  • Prince of Persia: The Two Thrones, at the end of one of the chariot-driving sequences.
  • The intro for the old Driving Game Ignition has a car race across the screen, crash off-screen, and a wheel from the car rolls back into the camera's view, forming part of the game's logo.
  • An exploding Runner or Racer in Borderlands will usually throw off at least one of these (of the "on fire" variant).
  • The intro sequence of Day of the Tentacle has the car wreck offscreen with a bouncing wheel.
  • In B.C.'s Quest for Tires, if the unicycle crashes, its wheel comes loose and bounces across the screen.
  • This happen's when you crash in Taito's Continental Circus, the game was also made with a stereoscopic 3D Edition, making it even scarier as it flies towards your face.

    Web Animation 
  • In Red vs. Blue: Revelation Episode 4, after the Meta blasts the Red's Warthog into wreckage, a stray burning tire from it rolls over Grif as he gets up.

    Western Animation 
  • Parodied in The Simpsons. After Abe crashes Homer's car and consequently has to walk along the neighborhood, a hub cap manages to roll alongside him, even though the crash happened the previous day. Abe just tells it to "go home", and it seems to oblige.
  • Also parodied in Futurama where a tire can be seen flying away from an exploding spaceship.
  • In Ed, Edd 'n' Eddy, Johnny takes Kevin's bike out for a ride, crashes it off screen and one of the wheels rolls to Kevin's feet. This is the point where he's desperate enough to pay Eddy to keep Johnny away from himself.
  • SpongeBob SquarePants This occurs in the episode ''Something Smells" when SpongeBob tries asking a boat driver if he is ugly. When his breath distracts the driver, he crashes the car and it explodes to leave one tire to land on SpongeBob's face.
  • The Powerpuffgirls, In "Octi-Evil" Buttercup throws a water tower into a monster that then lands on a senior citizen riding a power scooter. A loose tire rolls to Buttercup's feet and then the senior citizen pokes his head out of it, showing that he's just fine.

    Real Life 
  • This is fairly common in car crashes in general. Here's a peculiar case : during a high speed police chase with a lumber truck, the rear of the trailer caught fire, causing one of the flaming tires to blow loose and roll free alongside the still moving truck.
  • Even dislocated wheels can have a mind of their own, as shown in this V8 Supercars clip. And a sense of humor.
  • Used to be fairly common with open-wheel racecars (like the Formula One series) until new safety measures (redundant wheel tethers) were taken specifically to prevent it. It still tends to happen on particularly violent crashes.

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