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Homer: Bart, would you go start daddy's car?
Marge: Homer!
Homer: What? There's nothing to worry about.
Bart: Well then, you start it!
Homer: All right, fine! I'll take a cab!

A favourite assassination method of terrorists, spies, and mobsters alike is to hook up a bomb to the ignition switch of a car, so that it will lie dormant until some poor soul starts it.

While the intended target is, naturally, the car's owner, this trope is the number one killer of chauffeurs and valets — which occasionally raises the Fridge Logic of why you would put an ignition-triggered explosive in a chauffeured car in the first place — and has claimed its fair share of helpful Dead Sidekicks and Disposable Women as well.

There is an interesting case of The Law of Conservation of Detail attached to this trope. In normal circumstances, little to no screentime is devoted to a character walking to their car or starting it. Hence, whenever this does happen — especially if you see a close-up of the key — the viewer probably has a distinctly uneasy feeling in his stomach. Wait for it... three... two... one... ignition! Another dead giveaway is if the car is a gift from someone the recipient really shouldn't trust.

Variations include remote-detonation and bombs hooked up to other parts of the car, but the idea is to kill the occupant. Vehicles turned into Molotov Trucks don't count.

A subtrope of Vehicular Sabotage. See Every Car Is a Pinto for cars blowing up that have no reason to. Can be combined with Suicide Attack if the car-bomber chooses to drive the vehicle themselves and stay inside when it detonates.

Unrelated to steam engines and Stirling engines, which really do work by "external combustion".


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    Anime & Manga 
  • City Hunter: Late in an arc, some of her pursuers plant a bomb to Ryo's car, ensuring that it'd explode only when Ryo tries to start it, in an attempt to get Ryo out of their way while their cohorts go after Miyuki, whom Ryo is hired to guard. That being said, the keyword is "attempt", because Ryo manages to get out of its range in time to avoid being in the radius of the explosion, before he confronts and beats up the saboteurs for it.
  • In The Fruit of Grisaia, Makina's sister is seriously injured by a bomb placed under her car.
  • Golgo 13: A criminal gang attacks a hijacker who's parachuted into the Amazon with his three million ransom. Actually they've been Lured into a Trap, as the hijacker is Duke Togo who has a contract on them. As Duke massacres the attackers with machine guns and rocket launchers he's pre-stashed in the area, their leader decides Screw This, I'm Outta Here and runs for the vehicles. One of his mooks starts a vehicle a moment before he does and blows up. The leader looks at his own ignition key, throws it away and decides to go on foot. He doesn't get far.
  • Mobile Suit Gundam: Manga adaptation Mobile Suit Gundam: The Origin covers a lot of backstory from prior to the start of the anime. One scene has a car bomb used against the sons of Degwin Sodo Zabi, who many suspected of having assassinated his predecessor, political rival, and fellow revolutionary Zeon Zum Daikun in order to take his job. Although the Zabi's eagerly blame Zeon's remaining followers, it's very strongly implied that Degwin's daughter set the bomb to take revenge on one of her brothers.

    Comic Books 
  • In The Amazing Spider-Man, a thug named Georgie Hill discovered a cache of weapons belonging to The Green Goblin, and showed the cache to a mysterious contact in exchange for money. The contact detonated a bomb under Georgie's car once the transaction was completed because he was a loose end. The contact later used Osborn's weapons and glider to become the Hobgoblin.
  • Batman:
    • In Knightfall saga, a villain has stolen the Batmobile. Batman gets in the car, starts it, and kaboom! Cut to Robin Tim Drake screaming, when Batman walks by and says he got out just in time, realizing it was booby-trapped, "because that's what I would have done."
    • The Batmobile gets targeted with a car bomb again in Red Hood: The Lost Days after Jason Todd's dip in a Lazarus Pit. The bomb is never set off since Jason wants to look Bruce in the face when he kills him and Bruce finds and disables it without learning who had planted it until his broken resurrected son returns years later as the Red Hood and tells him while trying to kill him.
  • Big Bang Comics: Reid Randall's brother and sister-in-law are killed by a car bomb by mobsters who want to take control of the family's garment factory. This inspires Reid to become the superhero Knight Watchman.
  • In the Daredevil "Man Without Fear" storyline, Kingpin dispatches one of his goons this way after he finds out the titular goon was running a ransom scam behind his back.
  • The Punisher: Frank once runs into villains who took to modifying taxis with booby-traps that would horribly kill the driver. When he realizes this, he switches cars with the bad guys pursuing him, who forget whose car the remote activated...
  • Strangers at the Heart's Core: When Linda Danvers realizes she and her mother have gotten into a car bomb (planted by a criminal group who is extorting Linda's father), she quickly gets her mother out of it, and then she throws the vehicle into the space where it blows up safely.
  • Wonder Woman (1987): Julianna Sazia took out her last major crime lord rival in Boston by planting a car bomb in her own car which she then activated when he stole it to try and escape from her hitmen.

    Comic Strips 
  • Dick Tracy had this as the way they killed off the Creator's Pet, Moon Maid. The twist is that instead of being under the hood, the bomber, Little Lettel, preferred to place his bombs under the dashboard in the interior of the car.

    Film — Live-Action 
  • At the end of 52 Pick-Up, Roy Scheider's character offers his sports car as part payment to the man blackmailing him. When he turns the ignition the doors lock, trapping him inside, and then the car explodes.
  • Angels & Demons (The Movie): The Dragon is killed this way.
  • Another Forty Eight Hrs. One of the protagonists proudly demonstrates the newfangled remote starter for his car...which promptly explodes.
  • The baddies in The Big Heat try to kill the hero this way but the plan gets thwarted when the wife gets into the car and gets killed instead.
  • Black Rat: Finally managing to escape from the school, Ryoka attempts to escape on his motor scooter, but the vehicle explodes, killing him.
  • Blown Away has a variation; the bomb is inside the bomb disposal robot. As per this trope, a closeup of a hand turning the key to shut down the robot after loading it in the bomb disposal van sets it off.
  • Famously done in the opening scene of Casino. Sam is narrating to himself as he walks out of a restaurant into his car, and it explodes when he turns the key. Subverted, however, as we see later on that he survived, as a metal plate under the seat (factory installed due to a balancing issue), delayed the explosion enough for Sam to notice it and jump out with only minor injuries.
    Sam: When you love someone you've got to trust them, there's no other way. You've got to give them the key to everything that's yours. Otherwise, what's the point? And for a while, I thought that was the kind of love I had.
  • D-Day opens with a Death Montage of several people, one which is by car explosion by hidden bomb. The victims later turns out to be the hero Ivan's former military comrades, and the car bombing victim turns out to be Faking the Dead - he's an Evil Former Friend working for the villains.
  • In The Dark Knight, a judge is shown out to her car by secret service types with sealed instructions as to her destination. When she opens the envelope, the note contains only a single word: "UP". BOOM.
  • One of Darkman's allies is killed this way in Darkman II: The Return of Durant.
  • In For Your Eyes Only, the Lotus Esprit used by James Bond self-destructs when one of the bad guys tries to use the butt of his gun to break into the car. Bond is not impressed, as he now has to find an ordinary car without his handy Q-Branch defenses to escape with.
  • A mob boss in The Gang That Couldn't Shoot Straight is terrified of being killed by a car bomb and always has one of his underlings start his car for him. At the end of the film, he is killed by a bomb that is triggered when the driver's door slams after the engine has been started.
  • The Godfather:
  • In Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla, the evil aliens put a bomb in the heroes' car. Nanbara saw it coming and starts the car at a distance by turning the key with a long string. After seeing the explosion at a distance, the aliens relax and think their plan succeeded.
  • Played for Laughs in Inspector Gadget (1999) — Sanford Scolex blows up John Brown's Chevette with an exploding cigar that has enough punch to lay waste to the unfortunate car.
  • The action film In the Line of Duty 4: Witness has protagonist Rachel trying to get on her car, oblivious that she's been targeted by The Mole who wants her dead. But then she noticed the blinking lights from a bundle of C4 tucked underneath her car, reflected on a water puddle, and narrowly escapes her car's explosion via Outrunning the Fireball.
  • Subverted in The Irishman to show Jimmy Hoffa's wife's paranoia after a number of such "messages" have been exchanged. We get the textbook ignition key close-up, she hesitates for a long time, and there's even a fakeout of a car exploding when she eventually does turn the key, which turns out to be an Imagine Spot.
  • Island of Fire revolves around a crime syndicate who employs desperate, suicidal men as their assassins, where after they carried out hits they're then allowed to escape via getaway vehicle... only for the vehicle to be revealed to be rigged, which blows up as soon as they stepped on the pedal. Andrew, the geeky protagonist, witnesses his father-in-law (a politician) getting assassinated, where the fleeing assassin tries getting away in a car only for the car to suddenly explode; it forms a nice set of Book Ends at the ending when Andrew, now an assassin himself, tries entering another vehicle, only to suddenly hesitate and warns his fellow assassins Lee, Da Chui and Fatty to not enter their getaway vehicle. Sure enough, their vehicle suddenly blows up a few seconds before they can board.
  • Parodied in Jane Austen's Mafia! (the Jay Mohr comedy), where Mohr's character is in the car when this happens. He survives, but loses most of his skin in the accident (leading to a major Squick moment when he eats a tangerine, leading to a multiple Vomit Indiscretion Shot). By the time he meets up with his wife again, he only has a small bandage on his cheek. When he is asked what happened, he replies, "Car exploded."
  • In Johnny Dangerously, Roman Maroni does this to you if you park in his space.
  • Law Abiding Citizen. The Well-Intentioned Extremist put remote-controlled bombs inside the gas tanks, where a prior search didn't find them. The protagonist is Forced to Watch as the woman he mentored struggles to escape from a vehicle with sabotaged locks as the other cars explode one by one, before her car also blows up.
  • Yuri's uncle in Lord of War, after Yuri gifts his car to him.
  • In Massacre at Central High, David sets up the hot rod Rodney inherited from Bruce to explode when he turns it on, killing him, as punishment for Rodney's bullying.
  • In the original version of The Mechanic (1972), McKenna gets into his car at the end of the film, realising too late it was rigged to explode by Bishop, who knew that McKenna would eventually kill him.
  • Michael Collins features one of the assassinations of British agents as being accomplished via this. The use of such a method in the time period (as well as the Northern Irish agents featured) is entirely fictitious, and an obvious reference to The Troubles.
  • In Nothing but the Night, five trustees are killed when their yacht explodes: dynamite stolen from the quarry rigged to explode when the engine switched over to the reserve fuel tank.
  • In the beginning of Ocean's Twelve, Rusty nearly meets this fate, but is spared by villain Terry Benedict under orders from his partner, so Benedict settles for exploding it ten feet from Rusty to show he's not a Harmless Villain and means business.
  • In Ordinary Decent Criminal, a judge is intimidated by planting a bomb in his daughter's car, triggered by the remote unlocker. The fact that it blew up right in front of the judge, and only injured his son-in-law instead of killing his daughter or himself, makes it a Gambit Roulette as far as intimidation tactics go.
  • As with the book, so with the film: in The Pelican Brief, attempting to kill the protagonist.
  • Alex Murphy becomes the eponymous character in RoboCop (2014) when this is done to him.
  • Royal Warriors combines this trope with Accidental Murder. Assassins attempts to kill Peter Yamamoto using this method, but only manage to blow up his wife and daughter causing him to go on his Roaring Rampage of Revenge.
  • In Scarface (1983), Tony is supposed to help a hitman kill a government official with the remote-detonated variant. He refuses to do so when he sees the official's kids get in the target car.
  • This is of course the whole set-up to Speed - the bomb is rigged to activate when the bus reaches 50 mph, and then detonate if it drops below that speed.
  • Stone. A Death Montage includes one of the outlaw bikers being killed by a hitman using a bomb placed inside his motorbike while he's trysting with a female friend. As the victim climbs onto his bike and turns the ignition key, there's a close-up of his name painted on the fuel tank: Blooey.
  • Double Subverted in the film version of The Sum of All Fears. Dressler has his bodyguard start the car first, as he's savvy enough to know people like him get offed this way. After a tense moment, the car starts just fine. When Dressler (who was established early in the film to be a chain smoker) pushes in the car's cigarette lighter, it explodes as soon as the lighter pops back up. The bodyguard who started the car survives.
  • Transporter
    • The Dragon in The Transporter attempts to get rid of Frank Martin with a bomb in a suitcase, resulting in his car going kaboom (he wasn't in it, but two policeman were).
    • In Transporter 2, the villains have attached a remote-controlled bomb to the bottom of Frank's car, which he sees reflected in a puddle of water. As the villains are pointing guns at him he has to get in anyway, and detaches it by launching the car into the air so the magnetically-attached bomb is knocked off by a crane hook. It would have been a lot simpler for the villains to have just shot him, or for Frank to have parked the car and ran away as soon as he was out of sight, but well...
  • Wise Guys has testing a car for this as Danny DeVito's chore, as the low man in the Family. Wincing, he turns the engine over, and doesn't blow up. He makes it back to the other happy laughing mobsters, including his boss, and they chat. THEN it blows up.
  • The X-Files: Fight the Future, where the Well Manicured Man is eliminated in this fashion. The implication is that he knew it was going to happen, or possibly he did it himself as he knew he would be hunted down for helping Mulder.

  • Artemis Fowl manages to calmly deduce Holly's presence from the fact that Butler, the world's best bodyguard, didn't do his usual bomb check, and just about the only thing that would interfere with his reflexes is fairy mesmer.
  • Attempted in The Big Over Easy. Lord Spongg and Lola Vavoom wired Humpty Dumpty's custom Ford Zephyr to explode in an attempt to kill him, but Jack ends up on the receiving end of it instead after an anonymous tipster gives him the location of the car in an attempt to kill him and end the murder investigation. Fortunately, they notice it's wired and manage to sprint away just before it goes off.
  • In Dick Francis's novel Bolt, protagonist Kit Fielding catches the bad guy doing something in the engine compartment of his car. The Genre Savvy Kit resorts to a rather American way of dealing with the problem: his car happens to be fitted with a "remote starter", so he ties the bad guy to the steering wheel and tells him that unless he confesses to his crimes, Kit will walk away and start the engine from a safe distance. The bad guy confesses and tells Kit how to disarm and remove the bomb he had planted, after which Kit demonstrates that he wasn't lying about the remote starter.
  • Happened to one of Dirk Pitt's many vintage automobiles. He wasn't in it, and he had it restored at the end of the book.
  • The Dresden Files: White Night has Murphy's car wired with a pipe bomb by one of the villains, who doesn't want her and Harry looking into a series of serial killings. Fortunately, Harry was just a little bit pissed off from a meeting the scene before, so he lets off a hex to blow off some steam... which just happens to activate the car bomb's detonator while he and Murphy are across the street.
  • Empire from the Ashes: In the third book, a corrupt customs officer who was hired to help the villain's plot to interfere with an interplanetary teleport to replace a statue with a fake with a bomb inside is disposed of after the job has been done in this fashion.
  • Gunner Kelly by Anthony Price kicks off with an attempted assassination by car bomb. In an inversion of a common version, the target in this case is the chauffeur, but he has a lucky escape while his innocent employer goes up in smoke.
  • Hank The Cow Dog in one book where Sally is forced to borrow Slim's filthy and falling apart truck to drive Hank to the vet, she gets back at him by attaching fireworks to the spark plug of his car to make it seem like his engine is exploding next time he starts it as a prank.
  • The first updated The Hardy Boys novel killed off Joe's girlfriend Iola this way when the bad guys planted a bomb in Joe's car.
  • In the Modesty Blaise novel I, Lucifer, the villains attempt to kill the head of the French secret service with a car bomb. Willie Garvin sees the culprit leaving the scene after setting the bomb, recognises him as a criminal who specialises in this kind of crime, and intervenes to prevent the bomb going off. His knowledge of the culprit's methods also warns him of a booby trap: in addition to being wired to go off when the engine is started, there's another trigger that will set the bomb off if someone opens the hood (to, as it might be, check for a bomb).
  • Joe Pickett: In Stone Cold, Templeton's lackeys plant a bomb underneath Joe's pickup, to be detonated by a mobile phone. Fortunately, Joe discovers it before it can be detonated.
  • In Kiss Me Deadly Mike Hammer has a brand-new car delivered to him as a bribe by The Mafia. Realising it's Schmuck Bait, he has a mechanic friend check it out. He finds a bomb connected to the starter, and a second hidden bomb set to go off when the car accelerates to higher speeds while he's driving in the country. Later a couple of Mafia hitmen take Hammer for a ride in the car and congratulate him on having found both bombs. Mike says innocently, "You mean there was more than one bomb?" causing the driver to slam on the brakes in panic, giving Mike a chance to turn the tables on them.
  • In the first book of the Left Behind series (and its film adaptation), Alan Tompkins was killed by a bomb planted inside his car.
  • The second high-profile assassination in the first chapter of Never Send Flowers is a politician whose car was rigged with a bomb. The thing wasn't set to explode immediately, it took eight startings of the vehicle before the inevitable.
  • Stephen King's Nightmares & Dreamscapes: "Dolan's Cadillac" involves a guy whose wife was killed with a car bomb (she had information on a local mob boss). The rest of the story details how he gets his revenge. Getting a job with a construction company to learn how to use heavy equipment, digging a hole in a road he know the boss would take, then burying the boss alive in the car (also telling him to scream as loud as his wife did)
  • The Odessa File. The Intrepid Reporter has a bomb put in his Jaguar XK150, which wasn't attached to the ignition but set to go off when the suspension is compressed, as well as only using a very small pyrotechnic charge taped to the car's fuel tank in order to Make It Look Like an Accident. Unfortunately for the bad guys, their explosives expert failed to take into account the fact that a high-performance sportscar has rather stiffer suspension than a more mundane vehicle and the target never even notices it had been planted. Later one of the villains decides to make use of the car and when it hits a bump on the road...
  • In The Pelican Brief, the author of the titular brief realizes that she's onto something when "they" try to silence her by blowing up her car. She isn't inside the car; her lover is.
  • The non-fiction Prince of the City. Corrupt NYPD detective Robert Leuci, who was testifying against his former colleagues, would have his police bodyguards check his car for explosives every day. Showing typical cop humor, the bodyguards would then stand on the street with their fingers in their ears while he turned the ignition.
  • Quiller:
    • British agent Quiller is the target of one of these in The Tango Briefing. Fortunately, the bombers didn't have the chance to wire the bomb to the ignition, so they set it to go off when the car experienced a sharp vibration, such as the door closing. And then a heavy bus rumbled by and triggered it while Quiller was still halfway across the street. In Adam Hall's typical narrative style, it's stated:
      So at 19.15 I checked out of the Hotel Africa and went across to where the Chrysler was parked and they said later at the hospital that the glass had been the worst trouble because some very small fragments had got stuck in my face....
      • Played straight in the TV adaption of the above novel, where the bomb is set off when the hotel valet goes to fetch Quiller's car. Quiller borrows The Handler's car instead, making sure to check beneath the car and under the hood first. He still gives a visible sigh of relief when nothing happens on turning the ignition key.
    • In The Berlin Memorandum, the car bomb is placed in the suspension, rigged to go off when it falls and hits the ground as the car starts moving. As Quiller needs to fake his death to escape surveillance, he starts the car's engine and leaves the bomb on the hood, hoping the vibrations will cause it to slide down the hood, fall off and detonate. After a while nothing happens, and Quiller thinks the bomb has got stuck and he'd better go back and dislodge it, when the garage blows up in his face. This scene is shown in the movie adaptation.
    • Happens again by accident in Quiller's Run. Quiller has been boxed in by an extensive surveillance team. As night falls, another agent of similar build plans to drive away in Quiller's car in the hope of leading off the enemy so Quiller can escape. It works better than expected because a bomb had been placed in the car. The surveillance team quickly vanish before the police show up, thinking Quiller has been killed.
    • And in North Light. Quiller is tipped off by his Spider-Sense on that occasion.
  • Protagonist Rafaella in Jackie Collins's Rock Star loses her father at a young age to this trope.
  • In one The Saint book, set in Italy, Simon borrows a Bugatti Type 41 "Royale" to get around, and his latest set of targets (specifically, the Mafia) rig it with a car bomb. Simon's reaction is, naturally, irritation; that people would try to blow up his car is to be expected, given his career, but this is a Bugatti.
  • The Specialist by Gayle Rivers. Rivers is hired to kill a Basque terrorist and make it look like the work of Spanish extremists. He decides a car bomb is best, but the terrorist has a bodyguard who always inspects the car and starts the engine beforehand. So Rivers studies the model and makes a shaped-charge designed to fit underneath the car without being seen, set off by radio detonation. After sliding underneath a long line of cars to get to the target vehicle without being observed, he plants the device and leaves, only to have the Spanish extremists he's trying to frame show up and blatantly stuff explosives inside the vehicle where the bodyguard is bound to notice. Fortunately the bomb goes off prematurely, removing the evidence of River's more professional attempt.
  • Happens in the Stephanie Plum book One for the Money, with the car she appropriated from Morelli (in this book, he's the skip she's chasing). Another of Vinnie's bounty hunters is the ill-fated person who starts the car.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Adam-12 had one with a stalker who made his ex girlfriend’s car blow up. Reed and Malloy were dealing with an over eager officer who had just returned to work after a severe injury several years earlier. He couldn’t adapt to the new police work rules and they are fairly sure that if he had done his job right and they’d been able to make an arrest that stuck, the guy would have been in prison before he could plant the bomb.
  • Double subverted in the final episode of Alias. An enemy agent frets over the usual ignition method, then turns the key and pulls off without issue. Another agent then detonates it with a remote control in his pocket.
  • The All in the Family episode "Archie Gets Branded" ends with a member of the Jewish Defense League getting blown up in his car in front of the Bunkers' house.
  • All My Children did something similar to the Hunter example when investigative journalist Edmund Grey was tailing a corrupt politician, shocking his wife and his other loved ones when he walked into his own funeral and revealed that the politician himself must have died in the explosion. Apparently the man didn't trust his own lackeys to do the job right and decided to plant the bomb himself.
  • Referenced in the finale of Angel. Izzy and his minions get into their car and there's a closeup of a hand turning the ignition key — but instead of an explosion we get Illyria revealed in the headlights, and after a cutaway the vehicle looks like it's been carbombed.
  • In Ashes to Ashes (2008), Alex's parents were killed by a car bomb that she believed was a political murder. It was actually a murder-suicide by her father.
  • Beverly Hills, 90210: Dylan's father was killed this way, kicking off his downward spiral. Years later, it was revealed that he had actually been spirited away into witness protection.
  • Theo is killed by a bomb strapped to his car (courtesy of Vogel) in the French crime drama Braquo.
  • Burn Notice:
    • The second episode Sam and Fiona do this accidentally - they were meant to hook up a small explosive charge to the electrical system to enable them to remotely disable the car, but it turns out Fiona attached it to the petrol tank... fortunately the target uses his remote starter, blowing the car up before getting anywhere near it.
      Michael: Fiona, you were supposed to stop the car, not blow it into the Everglades!
      Fiona: You said 'disable'. It's not going anywhere.
      Michael: You know what I meant.
    • A later example has someone try to ambush Michael with one, only to discover Mike had removed the detonator when the guy went to the toilet.
    • The season 1 finale two-parter has multiple examples:
      "There are two basic ways to blow up a car: use the gasoline in the tank, or provide your own explosive. They are two techniques that use opposite ends of the car and are disarmed differently. Some people prefer the gas tank. It tends to look more like an accident, but it's less reliable. Others prefer plastic explosive on the battery wired to the ignition."
      • A group of mercenaries take a more direct approach in another episode, the crooks that the gang was following get into their car only for it to be hit by a missile fired from the other side of the canal.
    • Several times Michael has Exploited this trope for Gaslighting purposes by simply disabling the ignition on the car of someone who's already paranoid (either thanks to Mike or because they're in a dangerous line of work to begin with).
  • Played with in an episode of Castle (2009). We see a character get into a car and die when the car explodes, leading to the usual expectation that someone planted a car bomb. As it turns out, the car was hit by a guided missile.
  • Chicago P.D.: The episode "Actual Physical Violence" has a B-Plot of a criminal Voight put away being released from prison. At the end of the episode Voight goes to his car, puts the key in the door, and hears a clicking. He has just enough time to yell for his family to get down before the car blows up. The next episode, "Debts of the Past", features another cop who put the criminal away being killed by a car bomb. Later, Olinsky goes to his car, thinks about what's happened, and decides to take a cab. It is later confirmed his car had a bomb too.
  • Spoofed in the Community episode "Conspiracy Theories and Interior Design", when a car belonging to Annie is rigged to blow to scare her and Jeff off investigating the college's night school and the mysterious Professor Professorson... except the car in question is a small model car on a diorama she's constructed, and the 'explosion' is a handful of small, insignificant sparks.
    Jeff: Looks like someone sent us a message... a tiny, thoroughly underwhelming message.
  • Criminal Minds deals with the problem mentioned above in an interesting fashion in the Season 3 finale. We see all the team getting into their respective cars, in a way that practically screams "car bomb". But because they're official FBI vehicles, they all are driving the same car. The episode ends with one of them blowing up, but without showing which one. It was the one that Hotch and his old friend who happens to look just like his (ex?)wife and had been introduced in the same episode. He lives, but she dies at the hospital.
  • CSI:
    • In "Cat's in the Cradle", the B-plot involves a bomb planted in a woman's car that explodes when she stops at a garage to investigate a strange noise the car is making.
    • A simple time bomb left in the boot of a cheating husband. Unfortunately an unexpected detour means the bomb takes several bystanders with it.
    • In "Hog Heaven", an undercover cop is killed by a bomb planted in her car. Nick and Greg are standing in the car park when it happens.
  • One of these is left in Simon Elder's car in Dirty Sexy Money, instead taking out one of his nameless Living Prop henchmen.
  • Due South: The fate of Ray's second (or third) '71 Buick Riviera. Rigged to the driver's side door handle in this case. However, Ray, the intended target, wasn't the one who opened the door.
  • In the 1990s Australian series Embassy, a terrorist tries to kill the Australian ambassador by putting a grenade (minus pin, with the lever held down with tape) in the fuel tank of his official car. When the petrol dissolves the glue on the tape, the safety lever flies free and sets off the grenade. It's effective for random terrorism but not assassination, as shown when the car explodes while it's parked on the embassy grounds, not while the ambassador is in it.
  • Parodied in Father Ted, which was spoofing Speed - Father Dougal gets hired to temporarily drive Craggy Island's milk truck, which has been wired to explode by disgraced ex-milkman Pat Mustard
  • In an episode of The Flash (1990), the main villain knows Barry's identity but dies this way after threatening Barry that They'd Cut Him Up.
  • A variation in the second season of Forbrydelsen, in which one of the victims is killed by an ignition-activated bomb in a motor boat.
  • Foyle's War: A grenade wired to the steering wheel and rigged to explode when the door is opened is used to kill a former Nazi in "Sunflower". Or so it seems. Actually, the explosion was used to fake his death.
  • Funky Squad: In "A Degree in Death", the on-campus protest at Central University ends spectacularly when the Dean's car — and probably a fair slice of the opening episode's thousand-dollar budget - is blown sky high. Later, the bomber tries to blow up Stix, but Ponch stops him starting the car and removes the bomb from underneath.
  • In an episode of F/X: The Series, a main character is saved from this by her habit of remote-starting the car with one of Rollie's gadgets: The car explodes in front of her and she's hospitalized.
  • General Hospital:
    • Sonny's wife Lily was killed this way, when her father planted a bomb meant to kill Sonny, enraged that he had not stopped carrying on with his ex-girlfriend. The sad irony is, Sonny and Lily had just reconciled and resolved to start over. She was driving the car because Sonny had drunk too much champagne celebrating her pregnancy. The scenes played out very much like in the trope description—a joyful Lily walking towards the car, turning to smile back at Sonny, getting into the car, starting the ignition. . .cue the sound of the explosion and a Big "NO!" from the now widowed Sonny. Her father later commits suicide when he finds out, unable to live with the fact that he inadvertently killed not just his own daughter, but his unborn grandchild!
    • One year later, on the eve of his wedding to Brenda, Sonny had a nightmare about Lily's death. But when he got to the moment that haunted him the most—when she reached the car and turned back to smile at him—it was Brenda he saw. The fear that Brenda might end up like Lily prompted him to leave Brenda at the altar for her own safety.
    • And a year after that, Robin nearly met Lily's fate after an evening out with boyfriend Jason, who had taken over Sonny's position. The scene played out almost identically, with Robin even dressed the way Lily had been. However, when she reached the car, Jason, who had witnessed Lily's death, suddenly had a premonition of what was going to happen and managed to save her.
  • The Glades: In "Family Matters", someone attempts to murder Jim by planting a bomb in his car linked to his remote locking system. The plan fails because they lock the car door and Jim never locks his car at work. He backs off and beeps the car, which blows up.
  • Hawaii Five-O, the original version, does this with McGarret's car. He was temporarily blinded, but they eventually caught the guys, and Hollywood Healing meant he was back to relatively normal by the end of the episode.
  • In the 2020 miniseries The Head, there is a killer among the winterers on an Antarctic research station and the satellite radio has been sabotaged, so someone has to drive a Snowcat 270 miles in mid-winter to another station to get help. The Snowcat is packed full of fuel cans and someone gets in and presses the ignition button twice with no effect, but the third time the Snowcat bursts into flame burning them to death. Naturally no-one thinks this was an accident.
  • This is the backstory of Detective Levon Lundy of Houston Knights; the criminals he was investigating decided to get him off their case permanently, but unfortunately his wife took the car out that morning.
  • Hunter (1984):
    • A journalist writing a story on the mob is apparently blown up in his car. Later his wife is shocked to find him turn up at their home in the middle of the night; when she asks who was in the car he replies: "The unluckiest car thief who never lived."
    • Another episode had the bomber using the "someone else starts the car" to his advantage. He was a police chief who wanted to kill his wife, so he left his car in the driveway so that his wife would have to move his car to get hers out, activating the carbomb that was supposedly left for him.
    • In the third-season episode "Overnight Sensation", this happens to a journalist who is investigating Hunter, convinced that Hunter is a Cowboy Cop dealing out vigilante justice. He eventually changes his mind, only to climb into his car and get blown to bits. Hunter of course looks like an obvious suspect.
  • Law & Order: Criminal Intent: A variation happens in "Contract". The Victim of the Week is killed by an explosive charge hidden in the headrest of his car seat; detonated when he activates the cigarette lighter.
  • Lethal Weapon (2016): In "Jingle Bell Glock", Hannah the meddling journalist gets outed in a carsplosion, courtesy of Eddy Flores from the town's drug ring. The show's detectives pose it could have been remote controlled.
  • Used on a number of occasions by the Leverage team and their opponents.
  • Magnum, P.I.
    • In "Did You See The Sunrise?" one of these, intended for Magnum, kills recurring character Lt. MacReynolds instead. Magnum is not happy.
    • Magnum's wife and daughter were killed when a bomb set in their car went off. Later, he finds out that his daughter actually got out moments before, leading him on a quest to find out if she survived and where she is.
  • Major Crimes: The Body of the Week in "Year-End Blowout" is a used car dealer killed by a bomb placed in one of his vehicles. A second bomb later turns up in the car of the company's comptroller.
  • In the Miami Vice pilot, this is what happened to Crockett's first partner.
  • Monk's wife's Death by Origin Story is a textbook case. More show up over the course of the series, sometimes hitting their intended target and sometimes not.
  • An episode of My Name Is Earl in which Earl was studying for a GED ended up with this trope as a downtrodden teacher was convinced to play a trick on an unruly student but got some wires crossed. The car was supposed to lock the teenager in and play an annoying tune, but the results were a bit more dramatic.
  • New Tricks: At the end of "Last Man Standing - Part Two", Gerry is seemingly killed by a car bomb. The explosion was actually used to fake his death to allow him to disappear into witness protection.
  • NUMB3RS:
    • Two episodes have the respective antagonists get rid of a witness by blowing up their car. A third episode has another antagonist try to do the same thing, but the bomb explodes prematurely before the victim gets in the car, and she survives.
    • In another episode, a Mad Bomber sets a bomb in an ATF agent's car because he blames her for blowing a case that was personal to him. Luckily for the would-be victim, rather than an instantaneous explosion, the bomber decides to trap her in the car and then alert her to the bomb's presence (even giving her a visual on the timer) because he wants her to suffer before she dies. This advance warning gives the team the chance to thwart the bomb before it goes off.
  • Person of Interest
    • A favourite assassination method of Elias, though using the more efficient remote detonator.
    • John Reese is being chased by HR, an organisation of corrupt police, who try to detonate the bomb they've planted in Reese's car. Unfortunately for them Reese not only deactivated the bomb, he also broke into their car and attached the remote detonator to the explosives they had stored there, so all they do is blow themselves up.
  • Phoenix (1992) is about the investigation into a car bomb that exploded outside a police social event in Melbourne, Australia. The criminals who plant the bomb are amateurs who use a Time Bomb set-up so crude the forensic scientist is surprised they didn't blow themselves up driving there. This is foreshadowed when an ex-IRA terrorist is brought in for questioning, and he says he'd never use a car bomb for an open area like that, but a mortar shell fired from the next street.
  • The pilot episode of The Pinkertons gives this trope a 19th century twist: the villains try to sabotage a passenger train by disguising explosives as lumps of coal (though a steam train is already an external combustion engine in the original sense of the word).
  • In the Police Woman episode "The Company", Pepper and Crowley are tailing a suspect when his car suddenly explodes. It turns out the bomb was hooked up to the car's speedometer and went off when the car hit a certain speed.
  • The Professionals
    • In "The Purging of CI5", two CI5 agents return to their car after wasting time searching a derelict building over a fake tip-off. One of them turns the ignition, but nothing happens until he closes the car door as well. Later Bodie and Doyle worry there might be a bomb in their own car. They search it and find nothing, but Doyle suggests Bodie wait across the street while he starts the ignition—Bodie just replies, "Stick it in!" There's no bomb, but as they drive off Bodie suggests the bomb might have been set to go off once they reach 30. Doyle's response is to floor the accelerator.
    • Lampshaded in "Hunter/Hunted" when the Villain of the Week uses a thirty-second delay fuse so Doyle has time to get clear.
  • Rizzoli & Isles: In "Built for Speed", the Victim of the Week is a street racer who is killed when his nitrous tank is replaced with propane and detonated with a remote detonator.
  • This occurred once or twice on The Rockford Files. However, the interesting part was not the explosion, but rather Jim's attempt to explain what happened to his insurance agent.
  • A clip of one of these going off is part of the Opening Montage to the "MacGruber" recurring filmed sketch on Saturday Night Live.
  • Sisters. Teddy's cop husband met his death this way, courtesy of a drug lord he was preparing to testify against.
  • One joke on Titus:
    My girlfriend has that Irish temper, but she's Northern Irish, so we don't fight, she just puts a bomb in my car.
  • Tracker (2001) This was attempted in "A Made Guy", but Cole used his abilities to hyperspeed and manipulate electronic devices to disable it before it could go off.
  • The Revival season of Veronica Mars ended with Logan being killed by a car bomb hours after marrying Veronica.
  • In The X-Files episode "Fire", Mulder and Scully get into their car to find a strange cassette tape on the dashboard. They pop it in, and a voice informs them that by doing so they have armed a bomb hooked up to the car, and opening the door will trigger the explosion. Someone then opens the door from the outside, and Scully jumps—turns out the voice on the tape was just Mulder's New Old Flame, trying to mess with their heads.

    Music Videos 
  • A car explodes on ignition in the video to the Beastie Boys' "Sabotage".

  • The BBC Radio series Paul Temple had this Once an Episode while the title character and his wife were investigating murders and n'er-do-wells.

    Video Games 
  • This is how Mia Loukas is killed in Criminal Case: The Conspiracy. Ironically, it wasn't even aimed at her, but to the player.
  • Déjà Vu (1985) has a booby-trapped car that will explode if you start the ignition or pop the hood.
  • Deus Ex has the infamous aerial version. Say it with me: a bomb!
  • Grand Theft Auto
    • Grand Theft Auto 2: While car bombs can still be found in later GTA games, they aren't as relevant as in this game. Every garage (as opposed to later games, which require traveling to a special garage found on a hidden location) has, as one of its servicesnote , the ability to put a bomb in the chosen car. Many missions have objectives that are completely invulnerable to your weapons — whenever you find one of these, those easily available car bombs will be your only option, as nothing is immune to them.
    • Grand Theft Auto III: An early mission has you booby-trapping a guy's car. For added irony, he just came out of a restaurant called Ernie's Eat Till You Explode. And later, you can end up on the receiving end of this trick if you're not careful.
    • Grand Theft Auto: Vice City has a garage that outfits any car you drive in with a remote-detonated car bomb.
    • Grand Theft Auto Online features a similar mechanic as in Vice City, though you can also get a variant that instead simply detonates the next time someone starts the car. Some enterprising players who are fed up with other players jacking their cars at gunpoint will purposely affix one of their nicer, more expensive cars with a remote bomb, then cruise around town until someone has the gall to try and steal it. Then, just as the would-be car thief thinks they got away, they simply whip out their phone and watch with glee as the carjacker explodes.
  • In Hitman: Codename 47 one of the missions in Hong Kong requires Agent 47 to use this method. Same goes for one mission in St. Petersburg in Silent Assassin. In Hitman 2, a flashback shows Diana was almost killed by one used to kill her parents, one that was set up by 47, no less.
  • The second Car Escape game largely centers on defusing a bomb hidden in Mike's BMW, which detonates if the player starts the engine or runs too far. Notably, the car even detects the bomb's presence under "Services".
  • Similar to the example in The Godfather, Tommy is sent to kill crime boss Sergio Morello with a car bomb during a mission in Mafia. The gangster's wife decides to take the car out shortly after Tommy plants the bomb and spares her husband a fiery death.
  • In the GenoHaradan questline in Knights of the Old Republic, which sees the player killing assigned targets on behalf of a shadowy organization, the target on Dantooine can be assassinated this way by planting a frag mine on his landspeeder, causing it to explode when he tries to leave in it.
  • If you return their brains, Maloof (who is implied to be from a mafia family) and Mikhail of Psychonauts can be found rigging Coach Oleander's car to explode. Since he's last seen leaving the camp in a jet, we don't know if it ever worked.
  • During the make-your-own Teen Girl Squad segment of the first episode of Strong Bad's Cool Game for Attractive People, using the car on Whats-Her-Face at the right time will reveal that her dad bought her a car "at a government auction", which turns out to be rigged with a bomb. "A SPLODE!"
    First Gangster: Mr. Pagliogaglioleri will be very pleased.
    Second Gangster: Nuts!
  • Urban Strike starts with an undercover government agent working for former Presidential candidate H.R. Malone. He's killed via car bomb after Malone catches on to him being a spy.
    Malone: Real story is: switch channels on Malone and you'll get cancelled.
  • In Yakuza 0, Wen Hai Lee falls victim to one of these, intended to kill Makoto.


    Web Original 
  • Used in the SCP Foundation story Yesterday as the method Clef uses to take out Moose in his Gotta Kill Them All plot. After Moose fakes her death, she escapes into her car - convinced she's outsmarted Clef, until she starts the car's engine and it bursts into flames.

    Western Animation 
  • An episode of American Dad! has Roger plant bombs in the cars of three teachers at Steve's school after they gang up on him. Only the first two bombs actually go off; the third teacher suddenly becomes Made of Explodium and his torso explodes, leaving behind his legs.
  • Family Guy:
    • In "There's Something About Paulie", when Lois is wanted by the mob, the valet retrieves their car shortly after a hit is called off. It ends rather poorly for the boy.
    • The action-packed fake Previously on… in "Brian Does Hollywood" begins with Lois getting off the phone to tell Chris to warn Peter not to start the family car, followed by said car exploding.
    • "Nanny Goats" had Mickey Mouse killing Fievel this way.
  • In The Simpsons episode "Mayored to the Mob", when Homer was the Mayor's bodyguard, and the mob had threatened to kill him, he tries to get Bart to "start daddy's car for him". When Marge protests, he decides to get a cab.
  • One of Bill Plympthon's early shorts had a vignette titled "The Mafia, the Early Years", which showed a cowboy's horse blowing up after he spurred it.
  • In the Superman: The Animated Series episode "The Late Mr. Kent", Clark discovers evidence that supports the alibi of a falsely convicted murderer who's scheduled for execution. The real killer plants a bomb in his car, which of course doesn't hurt him one bit but leaves him unable to show his face as Clark until he can find a way to explain away his survival without revealing his secret identity.

    Real Life 
  • Commonly used by terrorists and guerrillas in real life. Although popularly associated with Middle Eastern hot spots, the basic structure of the car bomb was invented in the 1920s.
    • These were frequently used by extremist groups on both sides of the Troubles, both in Northern Ireland and elsewhere in the British Isles.
  • The Mike Davis essay, 'The Poor Man's Air Force,' explores the psychology behind car bombs. In his view, the car bomb is difficult to trace and deadly effective at destroying their targets and spreading fear and panic, but also points out that it is an "inherently fascist weapon" that is just as effective at making the car bombers morally bankrupt extremists.
  • Organized crime often uses this method to eliminate the inconvenient. During the 1950s and 1960s, car bombs were used so frequently by Ohio racketeers they were nicknamed 'Youngstown tune-ups.'
    • Frank 'Lefty' Rosenthal, who was the basis for the character in Casino, was targeted by a car bomb as shown in the movie.
      • He survived because a Good Bad Bug in the car's balancing system necessitated a heavy steel plate be installed under the driver's seat to compensate.
    • The Irish Gang War of Boston in the early 60s escalated when one gang tried to wire a bomb in the car of the wife of the Winter Hill Gang leader.
      • The Winter Hill gang would later bomb the car of the lawyer of Joe "The Animal" Barboza, who at that time was a government witness. The man who helped arrange the bombing, Frank Salemme, would later become a notorious informant for the FBI.
    • Milwaukee Mafia don Frank Balistrieri often used IEDs attached to cars as a way to get rid of enemies. He was nicknamed "the Mad Bomber" for this reason.
    • In the 1970s, a Mob War between the Cleveland mafia and Irish mobster Danny Greene resulted in Cleveland being nicknamed "Bomb City U.S.A." The war ended when Greene and his right-hand John Nardi were killed off by Mafia hitman Ray Ferritto in 1977. On the flip side, the war decimated the Cleveland Mafia with several high-ranking mafiosi turning informer and increased FBI scrutiny in the 1980s and 1990s.
    • Across the pond, the Sicilian Mafia used IED to not only kill stoolies and their relatives, but they also assassinated anti-Mafia judges, activists, and cops in broad daylight. This all ended in 1992 when two high-ranking prosecutors were killed off in separate car bombings.
    • While trying to rally up support within the Gambino family for John Gotti, Frank DeCicco was blown up in 1986 for his involvement in the assassination of Paul Castellano and his Number Two Tommy Bilotti the previous year. Gotti himself was also targeted but escaped unscathed by canceling at the last moment. The plotters thought that the Gambinos would blame the Zips (Sicilian mafiosi), who are notorious for using car bombs.
  • Very External Combustion: Operación Ogro, the plot to assassinate Admiral Luis Carrero Blanco, the confidant, prime minister, and presumed successor to General Francisco Franco. Four ETA members posing as student sculptors rented a room on the street Blanco used to go to church, dug a tunnel under the road, and packed it with 80 kilograms of explosives. When a second set of "electricians" detonated the bomb as Blanco's car passed over it, the vehicle sailed over 60 feet into the air before landing on a second-floor balcony of a building the next street over. Blanco's successor was a relative liberal who openly called for reform, and King Juan Carlos I (who Franco named as his new successor before dying) ended up supporting democratic change as well, ultimately leading to the end of the fascist regime.
  • Louis Mountbatten, 1st Earl Mountbatten of Burma (and uncle of Prince Phillip), was murdered by the IRA in 1979 by a remote-detonated bomb attached to his fishing boat.
  • The invasion of Ukraine by Russia in 2022 has seen some such attacks happen:
    • At least two Russia-appointed officials in the Russian-occupied cities have been killed by bombs in cars by the local Ukrainian resistance. One that survived reportedly had his butt literally torn off by the explosion.
    • Darya Dugina, daughter of Russian national-bolshevik ideologist and propagandist Alexander Dugin (who's close to Vladimir Putin) and herself a war propagandist, died in the explosion of her car on August 20, 2022. Alexander was to travel with her that day but didn't.


Video Example(s):

Alternative Title(s): Boobytrap Car, Car Bomb


Nice car gone

The BMW sedan used by John Maritz's attorney was rigged to blow up after (likely) he tried to get away from the detention center.

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