When characters are on a road trip or have to get from place A to B, the people who don't drive get bored easily, and children especially can get annoying. People usually have only each other to play games with in the confined space of a car. In some cases, some basic equipment like a pen and paper may be employed.
These games often serve for characterization. They can show how creative, competitive, or clever the players are, or how good their memory is; sometimes the characters will show their geeky side, or sometimes they'll be completely unable to grasp the concept and will be shown to be too stupid to play. The Ditz can completely spoil the game, much to the annoyance of everyone else. Some people treat even these simple games as Serious Business. If someone loses a car ride game, it can reveal they are a Sore Loser. Sometimes the winner will gloat and rub it in the loser's face.
The game can be used as an actual Plot Device and lead to something very intriguing. Perhaps they play "I Spy," notice something out of the ordinary, and decide to pursue the issue or investigate.
- In Tiny Toon Adventures: How I Spent My Vacation, we see Hamton's family and Plucky playing two of these while driving through a desert. First, they play Spot the Car, which the family gets far too excited over, leading to Plucky getting Squashed Flat as they jump up and down. After two rounds of that, they come up on a tunnel, where they hold their breath to make a wish. Plucky, of course, can't hold out for the whole thing, and ends up flying out the back window, then dragged across the road when he grabs the car from behind. Eventually, when everyone else all breathe out at once at the end of the tunnel, the excess air causes the car to pop like a balloon, before returning to normal in the next scene.
- In Jeepers Creepers, Darry and his sister play a game of guessing the meaning of license plates, and especially vanity license plates, such as 6A4EVR meaning "Sexy Forever". They try to come up with a phrase using the letters and numbers.
- Diary of a Wimpy Kid:
- In "Dog Days", Manny tries to entertain his family in the car by telling nonsensical jokes.
- In one book, Greg tries to entertain Manny in the car by making silly faces, but when Manny laughs so hard that apple juice goes down the wrong way, their mother Susan says, "You could've killed him!" which makes Manny cry.
- In "The Long Haul", the Heffleys are on a road trip and they play two games: Alphabet Groceries where people have to think of food that begins with each letter of the alphabet, and "I Must Confess" which is similar to the real-life game "Never Have I Ever".
- In the Dirty Bertie story "Loo", Bertie tries counting the cars to keep himself occupied, but because he has to urinate, he says "thirty-loo" instead of "thirty-two".
- Ellen Tebbits by Beverly Cleary: At one point, Ellen and Austine play the Alphabet Game (searching for letters on signs) in the car.
- Paper Towns: During the 24-hour road trip, our heroes play these to kill time. One game is to make up backstories for people they see driving alongside them. Another is "metaphysical 'I Spy,'" where they play "I Spy" with abstract concepts, rather than physical objects (since otherwise the only real options would be "tree" and "car").
- Harmony (2016): On the way to the camp, Iris and Tilly play That Didn't Hurt, which involves hitting and pinching each other to see who has the highest pain tolerance. Their parents hate the game because it usually ends with someone crying.
- How I Met Your Mother: On road trips, the characters play a game called Zitch Dog. There is just one rule: if you see a dog, the first person to say "Zitch dog!" gets a point. Whoever has the highest score by the end of the car ride wins. Marshall easily beats anyone because he's unusually good at playing games. He beats Ted in "Arrivederci, Fiero" and he owns Lily and Barney in "Shelter Island".
- The Partridge Family: To keep the kids entertained in the tour bus, Shirley comes up with a game called Highway Bingo. She gives them bingo cards with the names of car manufacturers on them, then calls out the name of every car she sees.
- In Cabin Pressure, Arthur is fond of a game called Yellow Car, most prominently featured in "Ottery-St-Mary". The rules are as follows: when you see a yellow car, you say "yellow car". Arthur also assumes everyone on all car journeys is playing, even when they specifically tell him they're not, until:
Martin: Turn straight around and ... yellow car ... back on the M5...Douglas: Martin, why did you say "yellow car"?Martin: I just happened to see one.Douglas: But why did you say "yellow car"?Martin: Look, I'm not playing it, I just wanted to say it before Arthur.Douglas: That's what playing it is.
- In a Handy Manny episode, the tools are in the car, bored, and playing "I Spy", but one tool "spies" the toolbox twice in a row.
- The Loud House: In "The Sweet Spot", Lincoln tells the viewers that he can't sit next to Lynn Jr. on his family's road trip, and a flashback shows the reason why; in the flashback, Lynn Jr. decides to play "Auto Attack," wherein she punches Lincoln every time she sees a car. Cue a car carrier trailer with many cars in it passing by Vanzilla and Lynn Jr. punching Lincoln many times.
- In the Nina Needs to Go! episode "Traffic", Nina, her parents, and her older brother Frank play "I Spy" in the car to pass the time.
- The Simpsons:
- In "Simpsons in the Wild", Bart and Lisa play "Guess That Smell". Bart wins by correctly guessing "Dad's feet".
- In "Selma's Choice", Marge thinks it's nice that Bart and Lisa play a "counting game" when they go by car to Aunt Gladys's funeral. Too bad they count bags and suitcases that fell off the car.
- In "Bart vs. Lisa vs. the Third Grade," Bart and Lisa play Punch Buggy on the bus in Capital City. When other nearby students ask what they're doing they explained the rules, only for the bus to immediately drive past a Volkswagen dealership. The entire class begins wildly punching each other, with even Otto getting involved ("Two for flinching!") and when they exit the bus everyone is rubbing their arms and groaning.
- In the Teen Titans Go! episode "Road Trip", the Titans try to pass the time by playing "I Spy" and "Slug Bug". Starfire needs to be explained what Slug Bug is, so every time she sees an insect of some sort, she punches Beastboy. After being bruised enough, he questions why there are so many bugs on the road.
- In Tiger Family Trip from Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood, Daniel and his family take a long trip on Trolley to get to Grandpere's house. Trolley is technically not a car, but all of the normal Road Trip Plot rules are in effect, including Daniel squirming and asking Are We There Yet? Mrs. Tiger reminds him of one of the show's strategy songs - "When you wait / You can play / Sing or imagine anything" and he decides to play a game with his little sister Margaret in which he asks her to point to various parts of her body. "Where is Margaret's nose? Where are Margaret's ears?" It works great until he grows bored with the game and tells her that he's done playing. Still wanting to play, she starts pointing to various parts of herself and poking him.
- The Alphabet Game: Players look out the window for different letters. The first person to find all 26 wins.
- I'm Packing Grandma's Trunk: A memory game. Each player comes up with something to put in Grandma's trunk. The next player must recite all the items that have already gone in the trunk, then come up with his own. The game is usually played in alphabetical order, ending at the letter Z.
- I Spy: One player says, "I spy with my little eye..." and provides hints as to what they see. The other players try to guess.
- Punch Buggy: Known as Slug Bug in certain regions of the US. If a rider sees a Volkswagen Bug, they punch the person beside them. Often with the phrase "no tag backs" or "no punch back" to stop the person from punching back. A common game played by older siblings.