"No one but me can keep this heap running."
— Nancy Callahan
, from the Sin City
story "That Yellow Bastard."
Sometimes the owner or driver of a vehicle has a certain connection
to their vehicle (be it a car or spaceship etc.) and a way to demonstrate that bond is to make the operator the only individual who can make it run. In the hands of someone else it will fail to start or come to a stop after a few seconds without the gentle touch of the person who knows the special trick to starting the engine or all the little adjustments you have to make.
It tends to happen with either the very best or very worst of cars. The Alleged Car
is so rotten through that it needs someone with great knowledge of all its faults to keep it going (and sometimes overlaps with Percussive Maintenance
when only the owner knows the sweet spot). The Ace Custom Cool Car
can also be full of complex gadgets that you need to keep track of. Or maybe it's just so cool it only deserves the really attentive owner.
Because horses are just another kind of vehicle
, a Moody Mount
may respond this way to a Fluffy Tamer
Related is Empathic Weapon
, which typically will only
work for its owner. (Though it is not unknown for a character using this trope to talk as if that trope was in play.) A Black Box
is when the "I" in the equation is not present, and the people involved try to bulldoze their way into forcing the something to run, with unpredictable results. Magic Powered Pseudo Science
is when the maker is the wizard who did it.
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Anime & Manga
- Eureka of Eureka 7 is at first the only one who can pilot the Nirvash Type Zero.
- Simon is the only one who can pilot the Lagann.
- This seems to have more to do with the fact that he's the only one with a core drill, not counting Lord Genome, and they might not be interchangeable anyway.
- In addition to the key, the Lagann is attuned to Simon because of his latent Spiral power. Other characters develop Spiral power over time, and eventually get their own Lagann-type mechs in the end, so it's likely that someone else could pilot it if Simon gave them the core drill. The one time he tries, Kamina rebuffs him because he recognises that Simon is better suited to it.
- Kaneda's bike in AKIRA is tricked up enough that he's the only one who can keep it going. When Tetsuo tries to steal it, it ends up winding down and landing him in trouble.
- Hayato from Future GPX Cyber Formula is the only person who can drive Asurada, since the car has an AI system with a unique security feature.
- Explained as one of the problems with the Zeta Gundam by the time Mobile Suit Gundam ZZ rolls around. By the end of its service life, the Zeta Gundam was so customized and tailored to Kamille Bidan's specs that while Judau and later Roux are able to pilot it with some effort, they can only as much as it's base specs allow. They can't access the biosensor to let it do the crazy things Kamille made it do in Zeta because only his mind could trigger it, even though Judau was an even stronger Newtype than Kamille.
- In GaoGaiGar, the titullar mecha could only be piloted by Guy. Originally, anyway.
- It's likely any G stone powered being could use it. It's just that Guy was one of only two around and the other was kid that was too young to use it properly. Gaofaigar on the other hand was fueled by his evoluder powers which were unique to him (Mikoto's were different) which meant only he could use it.
- Archie in Archie Comics sometimes plays this trope straight, sometimes pokes fun at it. For instance, in one comic, Arch said he couldn't lend the car out to Betty because he was the only one who knew how to keep her running. Oh course, when the car did break down and he couldn't figure out what the problem was, guess who figures out how to fix the jalopy...
- Nancy Callahan of the Sin City story "That Yellow Bastard" has a car so old and in such bad shape that it will stall out on anybody who tries to drive it, except for her. When her kidnapper, the title character, can't get it working, he has to take her to the Roarks' infamous farm on foot, giving Hartigan time to catch up to them and save her.
- In Suicide Squad, Briscoe claimed to be the only one capable of piloting the team's helicopter Sheba. Given how possessive he was about Sheba, and that she seemed to respond to the sound of his voice, no one was ever quite game enough to test his claim.
- Depending on the Writer, the Batmobile sometimes has anti-theft features specifically designed so that no one except Batman can start it. An interesting incident happened during the tail end of Knights End: after AzBats drops into the river, Batman races to the Batmobile (which somehow followed them) and tries to get in. Jean-Paul changed the locks, but Bruce overrode them. He hops in, starts it up... and the Batmobile explodes. He survives and tells the Tim Drake Robin that he would have done the same thing for an anti-theft deterrent, but not like that.
- Biff in Back to the Future: Part II had a very sweet ride which only he could start the ignition of (to the bemusement of his mechanic). After the Exposition of this in the scene with the mechanic, it's used as a sort of time travel Trust Password by his future self who had come to give him Gray's Sports Almanac.
- It's also notable that the DeLorean's starter motor never stalls out for Doc, only for Marty.
- In 2012, the car that's used to escape from the plane would only start from Yuri's voice recognition.
- The Transporter has his cars equipped with a keypad that requires a correct code to turn the key. The second film starts with a bunch of punks trying to steal his car only to find out that it won't start without the code. And Frank won't give them the code. Then they make the mistake of trying to beat it out of him.
- This is kind of the point of Atlas Shrugged.
- When Mr Gilbreth dies at the end of Cheaper by the Dozen the family sells the car for scraps, seeing how he was the only one able to start it.
- In Corner of a Round Planet this is subverted, but not averted. All Auggies have a custom-built rig that responds to their particular brainwaves. The rigs lose significant efficacy when the wrong driver attempts to use them.
- In Shadows of the Empire, the Millennium Falcon is described as this, with Han Solo and Chewbacca having overcustomized the freighter to the point where even Lando can't do proper maintenance on it because the circuitry is such a mess. Interestingly, it fits both sides of the trope; it's The Alleged Spaceship to look at it, but one of the best ships in the galaxy with Han Solo flying it.
- Rangers' horses in Ranger's Apprentice can only be ridden if rider asks for permission in specific words mounting for the first time. Anyone who didn't gets a free lesson in doing summersaults.
Live Action TV
- Michael Knight gave the explanation that the car's onboard computer could read his fingerprints - it's more plausible than the car having AI.
- Implied in the old Doctor Who episode "The Pyramids of Mars" that only The Doctor can operate his TARDIS. He may have been lying, though...
- The Master sure had no trouble using it, though it may be that only a Time Lord can use it and the Doc is usually the only one around.
- Steven and Leela have both managed to pilot it.
- So has River Song - though it's been both denied and implied (in that order) that the Doctor taught her to drive it.
- Ultimately denied: she was taught by the TARDIS itself.
- In the 2010 Christmas special A Christmas Carol; this time it's not the TARDIS in question but, a device that will save the lives of people aboard an out-of-control shuttle craft in a cloud belt storm. Although it's not a vehicle, it's a machine that controls a planet's clouds. Too bad the only one who can work the controls is a bitter old sod who couldn't give two dumps about what happens to the people aboard. The Doctor gets so fed up with the man's heartless personality that he goes back in time to directly alter that man's past so he doesn't grow up into such a monster. Unfortunately, the Doctor's meddling works too well and the machine no longer recognizes the man because his personality has become remarkably different.
- A partial example occurs in Lexx: Only one person has the "key" to the titular ship (a small Energy Being that embeds itself on the recipient's hand) at any given time and it can only be passed on by the original holder dying or being "brought to the height of sexual ecstasy". Severing the owner's hand seems to work too.
- Played for laughs on an episode of Cheers. The gang takes a road trip in Cliff's car and crash. Getting the car back on the road requires some things Cliff didn't tell them.
Sam:Cliff, I'm turning the key, but nothing's happening.
Cliff:That's because I've got it rigged up with a Cliff Clavin Anti-Theft System. What I do is I turn the wheel all the way to the left.
(Sam turns the wheel.)
Cliff:And then I turn the key as hard as I can.
(Sam turns the key.)
Sam:Oh dear. Cliff, I just broke off the key in the ignition.
Cliff:I said as hard as I can, Sammy!
- Stargate SG-1 and Stargate Atlantis, and their Ancient technology, which can only be used by those possessing the Ancient gene.
- The Orks of Warhammer 40,000 have a latent psychic field that allows their vehicles to function in bizarre ways because they believe they can (Red wunz go fasta, planes keep flying until the pilot is informed they ran out of fuel a while ago, etc). So when a non-Ork uses one, it tends not to work.
- Depends on the writer though, as Ciaphas Cain (HERO OF THE IMPERIUM!) at one point had a sizeable fleet of comandeered ork vehicles for his ragtag refugee army. Granted, he had a techpriest along (who was fascinated by them, as they shouldn't have worked at all), but most worked without her help.
- Quite a far out example, but in Breath of Fire II, your town can be turned into a Floating Continent that can only be controlled by your father, who has been wired into the technology.
- In Mass Effect, Joker says something along these lines when asked about piloting the Normandy.
- In Jade Empire, Kang says the same for the Marvelous Dragonfly.
- Both of those expand the trope from just being about clunkers in the hands of someone used to their quirks, to extremely sophisticated devices in the hands of a specialist.
- And in Kang's case he spends literally every hour of the day making modifications to the Dragonfly (he doesn't sleep). The controls probably change completely from flight to flight.
- The Alteisen from Super Robot Wars Original Generation is an impractical junk heap of a Humongous Mecha that's very hard to handle due to its grossly encumbered frame, unbalanced weight, and ridiculous amount of thrust. Only Kyosuke is stated to be able to handle the machine within the story, thanks to his devil's luck. However, in gameplay, there's nothing that's stopping you from switching in any other pilot.
- The thing about the Alt, and it's upgrade, is that piloting it is much like gambling. To use it effectively, the pilot has to dash in and hammer the enemy with close-to-mid-range weapons. The pilot can do a lot of damage this way, but it also leaves them wide open enemy retaliation; It's a high-risk-high-reward style of fighting. Kyosuke, being The Gambler, likes to fight that way, and has the skill to pull it off.
- In the original Ratchet & Clank, only Clank can start Ratchet's ship at the beginning of the game, since Ratchet is missing crucial components that makes it start. This aspect is almost immediately forgotten, until Clank reminds us of this after the first boss fight.
- A large part of the premise of Megas XLR is that Coop messed around with the mech's interfaces while refurbishing it, to the point that Kiva can no longer make heads or tails of it. Therefore he has to pilot it.
- In an episode of the The Flintstones where Fred gets himself fired, Mr Slate is forced to get him back after discovering that his handling of his dinocrane has made it so that only he can use it properly. Which makes sense, since its an animal that he "tamed"
- Certain high end cars, such as Mercedes, tried this particularly those sold in countries prone to carjacking, sometimes offer thumbprint recognition as an ignition lock. Unfortunately, this just makes carjackers cut the driver's thumb off. Some thumbprint recognition devices also make sure the thumb is alive first (i.e. check for temperature and blood flow).
- Additionally, manual gearboxes are not as common in the United States as they were previously. Which makes for excellent theft deterrence.