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"Wheels on fire, rolling down the road..."
— "This Wheel's on Fire", The Band

When a car is wrecked (or explodes), often a lone wheel will be seen rolling (or flying) away from the vehicle. Since Every Car Is a Pinto, it may well be on fire. This is pretty much only used comically.

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

The vehicular equivalent of Smoldering Shoes.

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

Truth in Television, and real Free Wheels can be quite dangerous. They're heavier than they look, especially truck wheels, and can go a long way without losing much momentum.

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


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  • Parodied in an Australian insurance advertisement from 1984, where a wheel comes loose from a moving car and leaves a trail of destruction in its wake. It's still rolling at the end of the advert.

    Anime & Manga 
  • Black Lagoon. During the Greenback Jane arc, after the gangsters chasing the title character make the mistake of firing on the Rip-Off Church, only to get a hail of bullets in response (including from an M60 machine gun), they beat a hasty retreat in their shot-up cars. A wheel comes off in the process, but they (wisely) don't stop.
  • In the Cold Open of The Castle of Cagliostro, the casino staff's cars fall apart as a result of Vehicular Sabotage. A wheel from one rolls away and hits the bumper of the one car that had remained intact thus far, causing it to collapse. Additionally, when the car carrying the thugs chasing Clarice crashes, one of its wheels goes flying.
  • Played absolutely, unashamedly straight in just about every episode of Speed Racer ever.
  • Yakitori: Soldiers of Misfortune: The Yakitori's armoured personnel carrier is ambushed by a swarm of Rat Men clambering up the sides. One of the ratmen tries to Pop the Tires, and somehow this causes the entire wheel to become detached and go rolling off with another ratman desperately clinging to it.

    Comic Books 
  • A text-only piece from Transformers: More than Meets the Eye involves Swerve returning to his ruined eponymous establishment after the events of "Remain in Light," trying to vault over and behind the bar. He fails miserably and crashes out of view, with one of his wheels bouncing into view from behind the bar and doing three perfect loops around the legs of local psychologist Rung before said wheel comes to a rest. Since wheels are typically integrated into Cybertronian anatomy, this is usually treated as something akin to losing a finger, but given everything else that's happened so far in the arc, Swerve cheerfully brushes it off.
    Swerve: I'm Okay!
  • "The Wheel", a story in the DC Comics Anthology Comic The Witching Hour, has this happen with a wrecked carriage. In this case, the wheel survived because it was "haunted" and indeed had caused the crash in the first place.

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

    Films — Animation 
  • Happens in Cars, when Chick Hicks causes a huge crash to try and stop Lightning McQueen, at one point a wheel is shown rolling freely among the wreckage.
  • Hotel Transylvania 2: After a tree falls on Drac's car and it explodes, Dracula and Denis staring in shock, a wheel is seen rolling away behind them with Wayne the werewolf in hot pursuit.
  • In the Monsters, Inc. short film Mike's New Car, when he finally zooms offscreen and crashes, five of the six wheels come bouncing back, followed by the sixth one which is just rolling.
  • In Shrek the Third, after the villains have taken over, one of the things shown in the scenes of destruction is a single wagon wheel rolling down the street. The accident that caused it to fall off isn't shown.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In Airplane! we see a hubcap rolling across the tarmac after an ambulance crashes.
  • Black Panther: Ulysses Klaue fires his Arm Cannon at Nakia and Okoye, causing their vehicle to literally get blown to pieces around them, including the requisite Free Wheel in the background.
  • The Car: After the Car kills the two cyclists at the start of the movie, there is a shot of the wheel from the girl's bike lying on the road, still spinning.
  • In Deadpool, Deadpool emerges from a vehicle that rolled over and crashed on a bridge, after a rogue rim spins out to the side.
  • In Final Destination 4, the first victim of Death's damage-control dies when a burning tire from the (unseen) mass pileup is flung clear out of the stadium and plummets down onto her in the parking lot.
  • Indiana Jones:
  • It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World - Terry-Thomas's Jeep, its front end damaged by an off-road swerve, rides more and more erratically until it goes into a tunnel with a large smash - a single wheel rolls out the other end, followed by the rest of the Jeep that finally rolls over and dies.
  • James Bond:
    • One of the more visible continuity goofs in Diamonds Are Forever is the loose wheel from the moon buggy that bounces through the chase while the buggy continues on with all its wheels.
    • Casino Royale: When Bond rolls his Aston Martin a wheel goes flying off in the direction of the camera — presumably this was unintentional, though it certainly adds to the drama of the crash.
  • Happens in The Lost World: Jurassic Park despite being a vertical crash. When the hero team's trailers fall off the cliff after the Tyrannosaur attack, one wheel flies up towards the camera from the massive explosion at the bottom.
  • An unusual variation occurs in The Love Bug, where the racers driving Herbie see a lone wheel roll away after getting sideswiped by Thorndyke's car, only to discover moments later that it is their wheel that has just fallen off (thanks to some earlier Vehicular Sabotage). Naturally, this causes a crash.
  • The Manhunt: After the police car of one of the Lemming Cops explodes for no reason during the second Car Chase, a wheel with a flaming tyre rolls past the camera.
  • In the New Zealand-made action-comedy film Never Say Die, a fleet of police cars drives into a one-way bus tunnel to pursue the protagonists — not realising that there actually is a bus heading in the opposite direction. Predictably, a wheel can be seen rolling out of the tunnel not long after.
  • Occasionally lampshaded during B-Fest screenings of Plan 9 from Outer Space, when someone will roll a single tire in front of the screen after the Sound-Only Death of the "grieving old man".
  • The photographs seen in the opening credits of Rear Window indicate that this is how Jeff broke his leg: being struck by a flying wheel while photographing a crash at a motor race.
  • Secrets In The Hot Spring: At the start of the movie, when Qie is walking to school, someone on a bike is trying to ride next to him. The bike rider ends up falling down. Despite the wheels being shown to still be attached, one of them rolls past Qie one cut later.
  • Terminator 2: Judgment Day after the truck is blown up, shortly followed by the iconic Out of the Inferno shot.
  • In The Titfield Thunderbolt, when the railway's locomotive is derailed. Which really shouldn't be physically possible to achieve with a steam locomotive, but hey, Rule of Funny.

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

    Live-Action TV 
  • Once on America's Funniest Home Videos this happened to an airplane that was landing (single-engined light airplane, with non-retractable tricycle landing-gear). On landing, the nose-wheel started wildly wobbling like a dodgy caster on a shopping cart. Eventually the nose wheel strut collapsed, and as the camera man panned to follow the plane, just as the plane stopped, the nosewheel came to a stop just in front of the camera, with perfect comedic timing. Fortunately, nobody was hurt. Hey, any landing you can walk away from is a good one!
  • Awaken: A burning wheel is seen rolling along the road in the prologue.
  • A non-vehicular version occurs in Band of Brothers. When the counterattack at Carentan is routed, a German soldier's death is indicated by his helmet rolling downhill.
  • Often done as a gag on Canada's Worst Driver. One time, it was the steering wheel.
  • Doctor Who: In "Wild Blue Yonder", the hover-cart the Doctor and Donna are using falls apart after taking damage. As it doesn't have wheels, the effect is achieved by having a headlight fall out and roll away.
  • Used for a spoof on Australian comedy series Full Frontal about Arnold Schwarzenegger doing a road safety video. He appears as The Terminator and blows up the vehicle with a rocket launcher. Cue flaming tire. "Now it is safe to cross."
  • One Leverage episode uses it for misdirection: it'd be natural to think that the camera's focusing on the wheel rolling out of the wreckage just because that's a standard convention for filming car explosions, but it's actually because that wheel is where all the money got hidden...
  • Lucifer. The burning tire version happens after Maze activates the remote-controlled bomb in Chloe's car. (Chloe isn't in there, she just did it to indicate how pissed off she was.)
  • The Reliant Robin in Mr. Bean repeatedly does this as a Running Gag.
  • This happened on an early NCIS episode. We see Gibbs diving to avoid a car bomb blast, then a flaming tire lands next to him.
  • Several times on Top Gear — for example, when Clarkson tries to use his Spiked Wheels in the "alternative police car" challenge.
  • World's Dumbest...:
    • In one segment, for no discernible reason, a wheel bounces off a truck (subverted by the fact the vehicle didn't crash or explode) and hit a car's windshield, leading the gang to sing along with the "bouncing tire".
    • In another one, a tire bounces into a gas station and knocks over some guy who's refueling his car.

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

    Video Games 
  • In B.C.'s Quest for Tires, if the unicycle crashes, its wheel comes loose and bounces across the screen.
  • An exploding Runner or Racer in Borderlands will usually throw off at least one of these (of the "on fire" variant).
  • Command & Conquer: Tiberian Sun had this; upon the destruction/death of a vehicle, it would spawn a random assortment of debris items that would go flying off, such as explosive gas tanks, chunks of armour plating, and so on. Wheeled vehicles could spawn rogue wheels, of course.
  • This happens when you crash in Taito's Continental Circus, the game was also made with a stereoscopic 3D Edition, making it even scarier as it flies towards your face.
  • The intro sequence of Day of the Tentacle has the car wreck offscreen with a bouncing wheel.
  • Kid Klown In Crazy Chase: In the city level, Black Jack tries to hurt/delay Kid Klown by elbowing him offscreen into open traffic, but whether Black Jack successfully shoves Kid Klown or accidentally launches himself into it, an Offscreen Crash will be heard followed by a tire wheel and car window landing on-screen.
  • The intro for the old Driving Game Ignition has a car race across the screen, crash off-screen, and a wheel from the car rolls back into the camera's view, forming part of the game's logo.
  • In Pole Position II, when your car crashes, all four wheels go flying.
  • Prince of Persia: The Two Thrones, at the end of one of the chariot-driving sequences.
  • Happens in Sonic the Hedgehog 2 when the first boss is defeated.

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

    Web Comics 

    Web Videos 
  • Formula 1:
    • At Spa 2020 the left rear wheel of Antonio Giovinazzi's Alfa Romero became detached from his car and free of the wheel tether during a crash then went bounding across the track to take out George Russel, who was doing his best to avoid hitting the Alfa Romero.
    • As can be seen in the Race Highlights and Best Team Radio compilations the front left wheel of Kimi Räikkönen's Alfa Romeo took off spinning during the 2020 Austrian Grand Prix when the tether failed. It luckily did not end up in the way of any other drivers and Kimi was able to get his car out of the way of the race.
    • Alex Albon spinning off the barriers at the 2019 Chinese Grand Prix FP3 with his left rear tire bounding into the air and rolling to a stop a few feet from where the car slides to received it's own multi angle video.
    • "Every 2020 F1 Driver's Biggest Crash" features Daniil Kvyat's crash during qualifying for the 2015 Japanese Grand Prix where both left hand wheels became detached with one rolling to a stop at the edge of the track and the other crossing it. Kimi Räikkönen's 2014 British Grand Prix crash where two wheels went rolling across the track at different times is included. Sergio Perez's featured crash was from qualifying at Monaco in 2011, where one tire came off during the initial crash and then rolled along after the car until wobbling to fall over several feet from the nose.
    • The number one for the Top 10 Spectacular Opening Lap Crashes in F1 is the 1998 Belgium Grand Prix where there's tires bouncing everywhere as most of the grid runs into each other, and then the camera turns to show at least six wheels continuing to roll down the track once all the cars have slid to a stop.
    • Michael Schumacher snapping off both left wheels with the tire barrier during Qualifying in Australia in 1994 with both wheels making their way back across the track is show in "The Top 10 Crashes You Forgot".

    Western Animation 
  • The first episode of Bojack Horseman has a Cutaway Gag depicting BoJack having a public freakout, during which he carjacks someone and subsequently crashes, all offscreen. A flaming tire is seen bouncing past Princess Carolyn and a bystander afterwards.
  • In Ed, Edd n Eddy, Johnny takes Kevin's bike out for a ride, crashes it off screen and one of the wheels rolls to Kevin's feet. This is the point where he's desperate enough to pay Eddy to keep Johnny away from himself.
  • Also parodied in Futurama where a tire can be seen flying away from an exploding spaceship.
  • In The Powerpuff Girls episode "Octi-Evil", Buttercup throws a water tower into a monster that then lands on a senior citizen riding a power scooter. A loose tire rolls to Buttercup's feet and then the senior citizen pokes his head out of it, showing that he's just fine.
  • Parodied in The Simpsons. After Abe crashes Homer's car and consequently has to walk along the neighborhood, a hub cap manages to roll alongside him, even though the crash happened the previous day. Abe just tells it to "go home", and it seems to oblige.
  • SpongeBob SquarePants This occurs in the episode ''Something Smells" when SpongeBob tries asking a boat driver if he is ugly. When his breath distracts the driver, he crashes the car and it explodes to leave one tire to land on SpongeBob's face.
  • In Steven Universe, a flaming tire rolls by after Steven and Connie defeat the training robot in "Lion 2: The Movie".
  • Total Drama: Chris lets the contestants' imagination run wild when he mentions getaway cars as part of the challenge in "Ocean's Eight - Or Nine". Said getaway cars turn out to be loose parts the contestants have to put together themselves. To taunt them further after their disappointment, Chris drives up in a fancy car to give them their instructions and then continues on his way. He doesn't get far before he crashes and one of the wheels of his car rolls back into view.
  • Young Justice. In "Satisfaction", Mercy and Roy Harper are blasting away at each other in an underground carpark, then we cut to a shot of Lex Luthor calmly watching as a hubcap rolls past him after Red Arrow blows up a vehicle.

    Real Life 
  • This is fairly common in car crashes in general. Here's a peculiar case: during a high speed police chase with a lumber truck, the rear of the trailer caught fire, causing one of the flaming tires to blow loose and roll free alongside the still moving truck.
  • Even dislocated wheels can have a mind of their own, as shown in this V8 Supercars clip. And a sense of humor.
  • Used to be fairly common with open-wheel racecars (like the Formula One series) until new safety measures (redundant wheel tethers) were taken specifically to prevent it. It still tends to happen on particularly violent crashes.
  • At yearly film festival B-Fest, whenever a car crashes in one of the films shown, there's a roughly fifty-fifty chance that someone will roll a wheel across the stage.
  • In Battlebots, Robot Wars, and other robot combat events, it's fairly common for robots with exposed wheels to have them torn off by opponents' weapons, which often results in a wheel or tire rolling away across the arena. On one occasion (Razer vs. Rick in Series 5 of Robot Wars), Dead Metal's sawblade fell off and rolled across the arena in a very similar fashion.
  • Dane Cook mentions an incident where a woman was killed by a freewheel from a race car crash. The tyre struck her in the face, and her Last Words were "OOOOOOOOH!!!" which he found hilarious.
  • Invoked by billionaire Elon Musk prior to the launch of SpaceX's Falcon Heavy rocket in 2018. The test payload for the rocket's first launch was Elon Musk's personal electric car (normally sand or concrete would be used as a dummy payload, but Musk intentionally wanted to do something "silly"). Citing the experimental nature of the brand-new rocket and the high risk of failure, Musk commented that he "had this image of just a giant explosion on the pad, a wheel bouncing down the road..."