The Big Bad, The Dragon, and everything with teeth are just outside the character's locked car door, salivating and howling to get in. Naturally, the car will not start. No doubt the character is thinking "My car hates me."
Note that even if the car is stalled during an earthquake on a burning railroad track with two trains coming and a nuclear warhead heading toward the area, the driver will keep turning the ignition key, hitting the gas pedal, and praying, "Please start, please start..." but not simply get out of the car and run for it. Chalk it up to either Genre Blindness or being horrifically attached to personal property. Some may even get out only to apply Percussive Maintenance to the hood, which has a higher success rate than you would guess.
A favourite device of Slasher Movie and Horror in general. A common consequence of driving The Alleged Car. Also see Plot Sensitive Items.
Plot-Driven Breakdown is the supertrope to this.
Into the Night: Inverted. Insomniac Jeff Goldblum, who drove to the airport after finding his wife in flagrante delicto, has decided to go back home, but he can't get his car started. Enter Michelle Pfeiffer, being chased by Iranian diamond smugglers. She jumps into his car and tells him to go — and the car starts right up!
Back to the Future — the moment it becomes critical for the time-traveling DeLorean to start up, it doesn't. There's an elaborate fan theory as to why this is, involving the supposition that the DeLorean's time circuit is being used at another point in time (preventing the one in the "now" from working), but it could also just be Plot DrivenPhlebotinum Breakdown. Of course, despite the fact that he was working on a very strict timetable, and failed to get moving as soon as his alarm went off, he still managed to hit the wire at the exact moment lightning struck.
To be fair, the movie does establish that there is something wrong with the starter, so it isn't as if the car ran perfectly until the very moment the plot needed it to break down.
The Empire Strikes Back: The Millennium Falcon. The ship flies just fine, but the faster-than-light "hyperdrive" system is unreliable. Of course, this happens the first time after taking damage in battle, and the second time because of sabotage at the place of repair. Once R2-D2 manages to find and fix the uncoupled power coupling, it functions perfectly for the duration of the final film.
In 28 Weeks Later, the protagonists jump into a handy van by the side of the road to outrun an advancing cloud of gas, horde of infected, and friendly troops with misguided orders. Of course, it doesn't start. This prompts one of the characters to sacrifice himself by jumping out and pushing the van to get it rolling, only to choke on the zombie-killing gas and then get incinerated by the flamethrower-wielding troops.
In Gone in Sixty Seconds the main character is recklessly driving a Shelby GT500 (nicknamed Eleanor), performing insane stunts and crazy maneuvers in order to get the police off his tail. He eventually manages to do so, and hides in an empty road. But just as a cop car shows up and he wants to inconspicuously get away, he accidentally breaks a sideview mirror and Eleanor's engine dies. He repeatedly tries to start it up (attracting the cop's attention), and when he eventually does the chase resumes with renewed vigor. In the same movie, after the original Eleanor gets destroyed, the main character's friends give him a (mostly) restored Eleanor as a present. He drives off with it, but as the screen fades out we hear the engine die again...
Double Indemnity. They've pulled off the perfect crime, the plan's unfolded like clockwork, they hop in the getaway car and exchange a grin of triumph... cue trope. Supposedly inspired by director Billy Wilder trying to drive off the lot during a break in filming the scene.
Spoofed in Clue. "Why is the car stopped?" "It's frightened."
Subverted in the monster movie parody Monster! when Genre Savvy hero Lloyd piles into the car with his frantic girlfriend Jill to escape the monster, which is literally right on top of them. Lloyd turns the key in the ignition twice to no avail; finally, he holds up a finger for pause and announces "Wait for it." The monster punches a claw through the hood of the car. Lloyd tries the ignition again — it works! "Got it," Lloyd declares brightly, and stomps on the gas.
In the first Evil Dead film. The car actually starts when the side-passenger says that she knows it won't start.
Subverted in Sin City. When the Yellow Bastard kidnaps Nancy for the final time, her finicky car, which only Nancy can keep running, dies on him along the way, which gives Hartigan enough time to find and save her. Naturally, Nancy had pretended to not know why the car had died.
Gremlins had a beat up Volkswagen that wouldn't start at an inopportune time. Since he wasn't parked long enough for any Gremlins to screw with his car, you have to wonder why Billy didn't just leave the engine running.
The entire plot of the film Premonition was that a woman was living a week of time in mixed-up order and that at some point during the week her husband dies. His death eventually ends up being caused by a mix of her actions (distracting him) and by him being too stupid to get out of the car with an out-of-control semi barreling down the road toward his stalled car.
Children of Men: This happens when the heroes try to escape the farm. A tense chase then ensues, with the heroes pushing their non-starting car, followed by angry pursuers — on foot.
Out of Sight: Jack Foley was arrested shortly after robbing a bank because his getaway car wouldn't start.
La Cite De La Peur: Spoofed hilariously in the beginning of the French comedy. The hero of the painfully bad movie-within-the-movie is chased by Red the Communist serial-killer and runs to his car, produces a gigantic keyring and goes on to try all of them (including big old-school door keys). The camera zooms out as the killer approaches and the viewer discovers... it's a convertible. Once in, he proceeds to plug in the radio, the A/C, the phone and the fax machine before trying the ignition, and the car waits the appropriate amount of time before starting off at the last possible second. Red ends up being run over and sent in a pool of gasoline twice.
Bumer: The titular car in the Russian movie ("bumer" being a slang term for BMW) does absolutely nothing but fall victim to one Plot-Driven Breakdown after another.
The Mummy Returns: Rick's car hates Jonathan. He tries to start it when he hears fighting so that when Rick, Evie and Ardeth emerge from the British Museum they can all get away, but instead the key snaps off in the ignition and Jonathan has to steal a double decker bus.
In The Princess Diaries, the emergency brake in the main character's car comes right off in her hand. Naturally, this is as she's going up a hill in San Fransisco. It makes you wonder why she decided to use the same car again when she had to rush out to the climatic ball, as it predictably stalls and won't start again. Though it isn't a life threatening situation, if she didn't announce her ascension to the throne at that time, she would lose her crown and someone else would take over. The car was established as a piece of shit even before all of this, though.
In the third Tremors movie, Desert Jack has a switch in his jeep that he uses to deliberately invoke this trope to make his Graboid safaris more exciting.
The Love Bug: All of the movies at some point have Herbie refusing to start after the main character insults the car, and of course is right when they are about to race.
Rainbow Valley: This John Wayne western manages to pull this off with just one automobile in a movie full of horses. As a posse heads off under the mistaken impression that John Wayne is working for the bad guys his car-owning friend receives a telegram with the news that he's actually undercover. The car won't start so he ends up hitching it to a team of horses.
Kidnapping, Caucasian Style: Edik's ambulance in the Soviet comedy is, in the (translated) words of the driver, an "asthmatic vacuum cleaner." Hopefully, it doesn't have these kinds of problems when there's a medical emergency...
Terminator 2: John Connor's motorcycle fails to start while trying to escape from the T-1000 until it eventually gets going and he makes his escape.
The Gods Must Be Crazy Has a landrover affectionately called "The Antichrist". Needless to say, a lot of bad things happen with it including having no handbrake, no brakes at all, and even being stuck up in a tree.
In Poltergeist II The Other Side when the father is cursing his car, Taylor tells him that his car is literally angry at him and refuses to work properly because of that. This of course leads to a dramatic situation when the family is trying to escape.
Inverted as part of the symbolism in Tucker & Dale Vs. Evil—when college kid Chad finally goes from crazy but functional to just plain crazy, the hillbillies he insists are crazed murderers frantically try to start their car while he comes towards them with an axe.
In P2, Angela's BMW doesn't start when she tries to make it home on Christmas Eve evening. Justified, in that it's implied that her stalker sabotaged it so Angela would be stuck in the parking garage to serve as his Captive Date.
Parodied in Everything You Always Wanted To Know About Sex (But Were Afraid To Ask). In a segment parodying horror movies, Woody Allen discovers at an inopportune time, "The battery's dead and we're out of gas, oil, and water."
In Stephen King's Cujo, mom and son are trapped for several days on a yard in a Ford Pinto by the eponymous dog. It's a Ford Pinto. They're (un)lucky the car got them there in the first place, (they went there to get it fixed) and it's surprising the dog jumping on the back of the thing didn't cause it to explode. As King himself owned a Ford Pinto at one time, the choice of car is probably a Take That at Ford.
Needful Things: Later called back, as one of the characters ends up next to the same house where the events of Cujo happened. Then she thinks she hears a dog growling. Then she thinks she sees glowing red eyes to match the growling. Then her car won't start. Then, as whatever it is starts moving towards her...the car finally starts and she gets away. Phew.
In Jim Butcher's The Dresden Files novels, Wizard Harry Dresden drives an old beat up VW Beetle, choosing it for its simple and rugged nature so that it won't be overly hexed by his magic-ness. However that doesn't stop him from getting troped by this one very often, usually at the most inopportune of times.
Justified, in that a side effect of Harry's magic is that he is a Walking Tech Bane. His abilities (and consequently, his anti-tech aura) are enhanced by emotion, and this trope practically requires that the victim be upset/frustrated/scarred out of their wits when trying to start the car.
Also in that his car has been shot at, spun out into a wall, run into and over a chlorofiend, infested by mold demons, jumped by werewolves, and clawed by something Harry either can't or won't name. He freely admits the only reason the Beetle is still moving is courtesy of his ridiculously talented mechanic.
The legendary turquoise Ford Anglia from Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets was actually a very faithful (flying) automobile indeed (from staying airborne much longer than it was used to, to saving Harry and Ron's necks from a swarm of hungry Acromantulas). It did, however, happen to lose steam at the most unfortunate time- when Ron and Harry were positioned right above the Whomping Willow.
The movie has a straighter example. When Harry and Ron are trying to escape the spiders, the flying gear happens to be jammed until Ron manages to unjam it at the last moment.
Live Action TV
The Twilight Zone episode "The Monsters Are Due On Maple Street" (first aired February 4th, 1960) is perhaps the earliest instance of this trope on TV. Twilight Zone has done this more than once, with "A Thing About Machines," featuring a man who hates machinery being murdered by his car, and "You Drive," where after a hit-and-run accident the car won't stop honking, running the radio, and attempting to kill him until the owner gives up and sits in the car... and it drives him to the police station.
In the Fawlty Towers episode "Gourmet Night," Basil shows not only that his car hates him, but he hates his car in return and promptly gives it a damn good thrashing. This scene won the series a BAFTA award. They tried it with branches of varying size, until they found the funniest one.
Arrived at serendipitously in an episode of Seinfeld. After the characters spend the entire episode looking for their car in a mall parking garage, the intended ending was for them to just find the car and drive off. No one was happy with it, but none of them could think of a better ending. Then they actually shot the scene, and the car wouldn't start. Everyone knew they had found their better ending.
Subverted in the Firefly episode "Jaynestown". Wash can't seem to get Serenity up in the air when the crew needs to make a quick getaway, until Inara walks into the cockpit and asks if there's a problem, when Wash gears up to yell at her-and the engines finally turn over. Subverted because there was a legitimate reason it wouldn't start; the magistrate had a landlock put on Serenity to keep Jayne hanging around long enough to bring him to "justice", and it finally started when the magistrate's son put a call into port to lift the landlock-Inara's pep talk about what really makes a man made more of a man out of him than losing his virginity ever could, and he says so. His father actually backs out of the room, baffled and angrily mute, unable to fathom that his own son might object to the way he runs his mud farm.
In Doctor Who, this has happened to the TARDIS at least once.
Mitch Hedburg references it in one of his shows - "I'd be a terrible mechanic. If someone told me their car didn't start, I'd say 'Maybe you're being followed by a crazy killer!'"
Parodied in the 'Audition Tape' short which ended Stephen Colbert's WHCA speech. Colbert reaches the car, with Helen Thomas in hot gradual pursuit, but is so terrified that he repeatedly fumbles the keys (in an exaggerated fashion) until he finally realizes the keys have a remote lock. Once he's in the car, He again fumbles the keys to get them in the ignition. However once he does, the car starts first time. He does however wait in the car engine running. He screams for a while, then backs out of the spot. Then stops for some more screaming. Then finally he drives out.
In Primeval the presence of dinosaurs causes ignitions to fail.
In South America the trio travels along the Yungas Road aka El Camino de la Muerte — the Road of Death. A dead battery caused by a non-functional alternator means that James May has to swap batteries with Richard Hammond (who's alternator is one of the few things on his car that does work), strap a pair of torches/flashlights to the front since using the headlights drains the battery too fast and follow Hammond so closely their bumpers are almost touching. Genuinely terrifying.
Also happens regularly in their Cheap Car Challenges.
In an episode of ER, as Doug is driving to a benefit that he doesn't want to attend, his car suddenly blows a tire. Suddenly, the trope is subverted as this results in a young boy coming to him for help in saving his trapped brother, in one of the show's best episodes.
It's pretty much a Running Gag that the cast and crew of Destination Truth are simply incapable of using a vehicle without having it break down or otherwise run into trouble. Pretty much every vehicle they've used on screen over the course of multiple seasons has had these troubles. They've lampshaded it recently, as it's now fairly common to hear somebody say "Can't we just get a car that works? Just once?"
The narrator in the song ''Two Ton Paperweight'' by Psychostick is under the impression this is the case ("You never get me very far, when you decide driving to the store is a mortal sin"), and assures that, like in Fawlty Towers, the feeling is indeed mutual ("I guess I'm just a little angry, but for some reason getting stranded kinda chafes my hide").
Referenced in "Stuck In A Movie!" by the Aquabats:
Coming after you, and it's getting dark You fumble with your keys, and your car won't start
Brazilian example: Raimundos, "Eu Quero Ver o Oco" is about the bad experiences of the narrator with cars - a line goes "My hatred for automotives started early, when I trapped my fingers in the door of an Opalão".
The song "Sabbatical With Options" by hip-hop producer Prefuse 73, featuring rapper Aesop Rock, has a short middle section where Aesop pleads with his car:
1985 Dodge Aries hand-me-down freebie piece-of-fucked-with-shit with the fucking yellow plates, you are going to start for me... Do NOT do this to me today. Look, man, look...you have been a very good car to me, okay? I'm going to point you in one direction, all you have to do it go - Look, I'm not even going to steer, man, please!
Adam Sandler sings about this in the song "Ode to my Car", complaining about how the car that is so busted up that it barely runs a few feet.
Exmortis 2: In the Point and Click game, there's a mini game of this trope. The player must find the keys to start a car in the back yard of a building while the clouds of Exmotis approach him.
Dead Rising: The intro scene features a young mother and child attempting to start their car, to find themselves surrounded by zombies and their car hates them.
In the ending sequence of Campfire Legends: The Hookman the main character's boyfriend's car wouldn't start until right after the titular villain grabbed the door handle with his hook-hand.
In Freefall, Sam's spaceship quiteliterallyhates him. It hasn't refused to start when he needs to escape, but it's certainly found other ways to make its displeasure clear.
The Gmod Idiot Box: Episode 7 up with a guy (presumably a parody of YouTube visitors on DasBoSchitt's profile) not bothering to read the video description. A Combine soldier then attacks his house. His first instinct is to escape in his car, but it does not start and is promptly taken to the air by the soldier. Next the guy attempts starting the door knob and then a home telephone, both times failing, and finally gets hit hard in the ear by the soldier.
Reboot: A Running Gag is that Bob likes his car, but his car does not like him. Many times he would spy some oncoming peril, leap in and curse as it noisily failed to start. And when he finally does break down and get himself a new mode of transportation, it's nearly immediately destroyed and he's back to his old unreliable car. His car finally was destroyed in the third season, and he finally had it replaced with a semi-reliable one. *
By this point, Bob could fly on his own power anywhere.
While The Penguins Of Madagascar's car is usually pretty nifty, in "Driven To The Brink" Rico accidentally trashes it and hastily rebuilds it on his own. Afterwards, it literally hates him, to the point of actively trying to kill him.
Danger Mouse's car, the Mark III, develops a mind of its own and turns on him in "What A Three-Point Turn-Up For The Book." When DM finally gains an upper hand, he discovers that the motor had been altered with the workings of Colonel K's washing machine.
On 15th February 2011 US Special Agent Jaime Zapata was driving through a particularly dangerous area of Mexico when he was ambushed by a heavily armed gang. This should not have been too much of a problem because he was driving a specially armoured Chevy Suburban capable of withstanding anything short of an RPG, and the ambushers only had AK47s, but when he stopped the car and put it in Park the car helpfully unlocked its doors. Zapata was killed and his fellow agent seriously injured.