"Well, maybe there's a killer after you."
The Big Bad, The Dragon, and everything with teeth are just outside the character's locked car door, salivating and howling to get in. Naturally, the car will not start. No doubt the character is thinking, "My car hates me."
Note that even if the car is stalled during an earthquake on a burning railroad track with two trains, a tornado, and a nuclear warhead all heading toward the area, the driver will keep turning the ignition key, hitting the gas pedal, and praying, "Please start, please start...". The driver won't try abandoning the car and running for it, even if the danger is slow and distant enough to evade on foot. Chalk it up to either Genre Blindness or being horrifically attached to personal property. Some may even get out only to apply Percussive Maintenance to the hood, which has a higher success rate than you would guess.
A favorite device of the Slasher Movie and Horror in general. A common consequence of driving The Alleged Car. Also see Plot-Sensitive Items. Can be preceded by a Dangerous Key Fumble, if the bad guys are a bit too far away to catch up. Often occurs after engaging in Auto Erotica.
Subtrope of Plot-Driven Breakdown.
- Parodied in this Volkswagen ad.
- ...and in this Chevrolet ad.
- One auto-part advertisement featured a variation which could be considered "My Car Hates Itself". It features a car sliding downhill on ice, headed toward another parked car. The owner of the parked car races towards his car (in order to move it out of the way), gets inside, and...fails to start it. As a result, the sliding car hits and damages the parked car.
- John Cleese, known to be desperate for money after being cleaned out by a rapacious ex-wife, has now revamped the famous Fawlty Towers sketch (see page photo) as an advert for a firm of opticians. He returns to what he thinks is his stubborn car and begins thrashing it with a branch. Only he realises, too late, it's the police car parked up in front...
- The French-Canadian movie Elvis Gratton spoofs this trope with a literal version of it. It involves a talking limousine which actually insults the titular character.
- Into the Night: Inverted. Insomniac Jeff Goldblum, who drove to the airport after finding his wife in flagrante delicto, has decided to go back home, but he can't get his car started. Enter Michelle Pfeiffer, being chased by Iranian diamond smugglers. She jumps into his car and tells him to go — and the car starts right up!
- Back to the Future — the moment it becomes critical for the time-traveling DeLorean to start up, it doesn't. There's an elaborate fan theory as to why this is, involving the supposition that the DeLorean's time circuit is being used at another point in time (preventing the one in the "now" from working), but it could also just be Plot Driven Phlebotinum Breakdown. Of course, despite the fact that he was working on a very strict timetable, and failed to get moving as soon as his alarm went off, he still managed to hit the wire at the exact moment lightning struck. To be fair, the movie does establish that there is something wrong with the starter,note so it isn't as if the car ran perfectly until the very moment the plot needed it to break down. The DeLorean's problems with breaking down were very much Truth in Television. It was also theorized that it was simply the the laws of time travel at work to keep time together. Marty wanted to go back to mall earlier to prevent the events of the movie thus far from happening. Since that would further complicate the situation (and have two Delorean's and Marties in the same area at once) the car failed to start until it was too late for him to do so.
- The Empire Strikes Back: The Millennium Falcon. The ship flies just fine, but the faster-than-light "hyperdrive" system is unreliable. Of course, this happens the first time after taking damage in battle, and the second time because of sabotage at the place of repair. Once R2-D2 manages to find and fix the uncoupled power coupling, it functions perfectly for the duration of the final film.
- In 28 Weeks Later, the protagonists jump into a handy van by the side of the road to outrun an advancing cloud of gas, horde of infected, and friendly troops with misguided orders. Of course, it doesn't start. This prompts one of the characters to sacrifice himself by jumping out and pushing the van to get it rolling, only to choke on the zombie-killing gas and then get incinerated by the flamethrower-wielding troops.
- In Gone in 60 Seconds (2000) the main character is recklessly driving a Shelby GT500 (nicknamed Eleanor), performing insane stunts and crazy maneuvers in order to get the police off his tail. He eventually manages to do so, and hides in an empty road. But just as a cop car shows up and he wants to inconspicuously get away, he accidentally breaks a sideview mirror and Eleanor's engine dies. He repeatedly tries to start it up (attracting the cop's attention), and when he eventually does the chase resumes with renewed vigor. In the same movie, after the original Eleanor gets destroyed, the main character's friends give him a (mostly) restored Eleanor as a present. He drives off with it, but as the screen fades out we hear the engine die again...
- Double Indemnity. They've pulled off the perfect crime, the plan's unfolded like clockwork, they hop in the getaway car and exchange a grin of triumph... cue trope. Supposedly inspired by director Billy Wilder trying to drive off the lot during a break in filming the scene.
- Octopussy: The Diabolical Mastermind's car at the end. Especially panic-inducing, as he was trying to escape his own Time Bomb. It started on the second try, though.
- Spoofed in Clue. "Why is the car stopped?" "It's frightened."
- Subverted in the monster movie parody Monster! when Genre Savvy hero Lloyd piles into the car with his frantic girlfriend Jill to escape the monster, which is literally right on top of them. Lloyd turns the key in the ignition twice to no avail; finally, he holds up a finger for pause and announces "Wait for it." The monster punches a claw through the hood of the car. Lloyd tries the ignition again — it works! "Got it," Lloyd declares brightly, and stomps on the gas.
- In The Evil Dead (1981), the car actually starts when the side-passenger says that she knows it won't start.
- Subverted in Sin City. When the Yellow Bastard kidnaps Nancy for the final time, her finicky car, which only Nancy can keep running, dies on him along the way, which gives Hartigan enough time to find and save her. Naturally, Nancy had pretended to not know why the car had died.
- Gremlins had a beat up Volkswagen that wouldn't start at an inopportune time. Since he wasn't parked long enough for any Gremlins to screw with his car, you have to wonder why Billy didn't just leave the engine running.
- The entire plot of the film Premonition was that a woman was living a week of time in mixed-up order and that at some point during the week her husband dies. His death eventually ends up being caused by a mix of her actions (distracting him) and by him being too stupid to get out of the car with an out-of-control semi barreling down the road toward his stalled car.
- Children of Men: This happens when the heroes try to escape the farm. A tense chase then ensues, with the heroes pushing their non-starting car, followed by angry pursuers — on foot.
- Out of Sight: Jack Foley was arrested shortly after robbing a bank because his getaway car wouldn't start.
- La Cité de la peur: Spoofed hilariously in the beginning of the French comedy. The hero of the painfully bad movie-within-the-movie is chased by Red the Communist serial-killer and runs to his car, produces a gigantic keyring and goes on to try all of them (including big old-school door keys). The camera zooms out as the killer approaches and the viewer discovers... it's a convertible. Once in, he proceeds to plug in the radio, the A/C, the phone and the fax machine before trying the ignition, and the car waits the appropriate amount of time before starting off at the last possible second. Red ends up being run over and sent in a pool of gasoline twice.
- Bumer: The titular car in the Russian movie ("bumer" being a slang term for BMW) does absolutely nothing but fall victim to one Plot-Driven Breakdown after another.
- The Mummy Returns: Rick's car hates Jonathan. He tries to start it when he hears fighting so that when Rick, Evie and Ardeth emerge from the British Museum they can all get away, but instead the key snaps off in the ignition and Jonathan has to steal a double decker bus.
- In The Princess Diaries, the emergency brake in the main character's car comes right off in her hand. Naturally, this is as she's going up a hill in San Fransisco. It makes you wonder why she decided to use the same car again when she had to rush out to the climatic ball, as it predictably stalls and won't start again. Though it isn't a life threatening situation, if she didn't announce her ascension to the throne at that time, she would lose her crown and someone else would take over. The car was established as a piece of shit even before all of this, though.
- In Tremors 3: Back to Perfection, Desert Jack has a switch in his jeep that he uses to deliberately invoke this trope to make his Graboid safaris more exciting.
- Ferris Bueller's Day Off and Cameron's piece of shit car (pre-Ferrari).
- The Love Bug: All of the movies at some point have Herbie refusing to start after the main character insults the car, and of course is right when they are about to race.
- Rainbow Valley: This John Wayne western manages to pull this off with just one automobile in a movie full of horses. As a posse heads off under the mistaken impression that John Wayne is working for the bad guys his car-owning friend receives a telegram with the news that he's actually undercover. The car won't start so he ends up hitching it to a team of horses.
- Kidnapping, Caucasian Style: Edik's ambulance in the Soviet comedy is, in the (translated) words of the driver, an "asthmatic vacuum cleaner." Hopefully, it doesn't have these kinds of problems when there's a medical emergency...
- Terminator 2: Judgment Day: John Connor's motorcycle fails to start while trying to escape from the T-1000 until it eventually gets going and he makes his escape.
- The Gods Must Be Crazy Has a landrover affectionately called "The Antichrist". Needless to say, a lot of bad things happen with it including having no handbrake, no brakes at all, and even being stuck up in a tree.
- In Poltergeist II: The Other Side when the father is cursing his car, Taylor tells him that his car is literally angry at him and refuses to work properly because of that. This of course leads to a dramatic situation when the family is trying to escape.
- Inverted as part of the symbolism in Tucker & Dale Vs. Evil—when college kid Chad finally goes from crazy but functional to just plain crazy, the hillbillies he insists are crazed murderers frantically try to start their car while he comes towards them with an axe.
- In P2, Angela's BMW doesn't start when she tries to make it home on Christmas Eve evening. Justified, in that it's implied that her stalker sabotaged it so Angela would be stuck in the parking garage to serve as his Captive Date.
- In Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon, the Genre Savvy killer sabotages his victims' cars before starting his attack, including the car of the journalists who really should have seen it coming.
- Parodied in Everything You Always Wanted To Know About Sex (But Were Afraid To Ask). In a segment parodying horror movies, Woody Allen discovers at an inopportune time, "The battery's dead and we're out of gas, oil, and water."
- In Reincarnation this happens to the truck driver's own truck right before he meets his fate.
- Happens to two cops who try to escape the title creature in Tarantula. This is especially strange given it was a (then) brand new 1955 car.
- The Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets film has a straighter example than the book (see below). When Harry and Ron are trying to escape the spiders, the Ford Anglia's flying gear happens to be jammed until Ron manages to unjam it at the last moment.
- At the end of The Stoning of Soraya M., when the journalist tries to flee the village, his car breaks down in the middle of the road. He manages to restart it Just in Time before the mob arrives.
- Jack's van in Jack Brooks: Monster Slayer stalls out every time, including when the creatures are coming after him.
- Ace Ventura's alleged car in Ace Ventura: Pet Detective in the beginning fail to start which lets the angry dirtbag man he took the missing dog from catch up to smash in his windshield and batter his car.
- Dark Night of the Scarecrow: When Philby is being stalked around the silos by the killer, he jumps in his car to try to get away, only for the car to refuse to start.
- The Windmill Massacre: After Jennifer forces the bus to stop, Abe is unable to start it again, stranding the tourists near the haunted mill. This is actually a deliberate ploy by Abe to herd the travellers to the mill.
- Lemon Tree Passage: When Jordan stops his car to search for Oscar, he then finds it will not start again. The next morning, after their terrifying night in the bush, it starts fine.
- In Stephen King's Cujo, mom and son are trapped for several days on a yard in a Ford Pinto by the eponymous dog. Justified because, well... it's a Ford Pinto. They're (un)lucky the car got them there in the first place, (they went there to get it fixed) and it's surprising the dog jumping on the back of the thing didn't cause it to explode. As King himself owned a Ford Pinto at one time, the choice of car is probably a Take That! at Ford.
- Needful Things: Later called back, as one of the characters ends up next to the same house where the events of Cujo happened. Then she thinks she hears a dog growling. Then she thinks she sees glowing red eyes to match the growling. Then her car won't start. Then, as whatever it is starts moving towards her...the car finally starts and she gets away. Phew.
- Christine: The basic plot of the Stephen King novel. To be fair, she didn't hate her owner — she was just jealous of his girlfriend.
- In Jim Butcher's The Dresden Files novels, Wizard Harry Dresden drives an old beat up VW Beetle, choosing it for its simple and rugged nature so that it won't be overly hexed by his magic-ness. However that doesn't stop him from getting troped by this one very often, usually at the most inopportune of times.
- Half the time it is other beings hating his car, like Mold Demons...
- The legendary turquoise Ford Anglia from Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets was actually a very faithful (flying) automobile indeed (from staying airborne much longer than it was used to, to saving Harry and Ron's necks from a swarm of hungry Acromantulas). It did, however, happen to lose steam at the most unfortunate time- when Ron and Harry were positioned right above the Whomping Willow.
- Gervase Fen's car, Lily Christine III, is prone to breaking down just when Fen really needs her — for example, when he has to rush across town to prevent a murder.
- Miss Brooks' Alleged Car in Our Miss Brooks. It's almost always in the shop. In fact, the number of episodes (on either radio and television) where she gets to drive her car can be counted on one hand; namely "Game At Clay City", "Who's Going Where", "Four Leaf Clover", "Brooks' New Car" and "Head of the State Board of Education".
- Seen several times on the classic The Twilight Zone (1959):
- In "The Monsters Are Due On Maple Street" (first aired February 4th, 1960), perhaps the earliest instance of this trope on TV, an entire neighborhood loses its power, cars as well as electricity. When one guy's car does start running, everyone assumes he's guilty of something.
- "A Thing About Machines" features a man who hates machinery being murdered by his car, sort of a way for him to be Hoist by His Own Petard.
- In "You Drive" the car from a hit-and-run accident won't stop honking, running the radio, and attempting to kill him until the owner gives up and sits in the car... and it drives him to the police station.
- In the Fawlty Towers episode "Gourmet Night," Basil shows not only that his car hates him, but he hates his car in return and promptly gives it a damn good thrashing. This scene won the series a BAFTA award. They tried it with branches of varying size, until they found the funniest one.
- Arrived at serendipitously in an episode of Seinfeld. After the characters spend the entire episode looking for their car in a mall parking garage, the intended ending was for them to just find the car and drive off. No one was happy with it, but none of them could think of a better ending. Then they actually shot the scene, and the car wouldn't start. Everyone knew they had found their better ending. The reason the car wouldn't start was it had a dead battery, so they just let the scene run after the actors got in the car (you can see Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Jason Alexander cracking up in the backseat).
- Subverted in the Firefly episode "Jaynestown". Wash can't seem to get Serenity up in the air when the crew needs to make a quick getaway, until Inara walks into the cockpit and asks if there's a problem, when Wash gears up to yell at her-and the engines finally turn over. Subverted because there was a legitimate reason it wouldn't start; the magistrate had a landlock put on Serenity to keep Jayne hanging around long enough to bring him to "justice", and it finally started when the magistrate's son put a call into port to lift the landlocked-Inara's pep talk about what really makes a man made more of a man out of him than losing his virginity ever could, and he says so. His father actually backs out of the room, baffled and angrily mute, unable to fathom that his own son might object to the way he runs his mud farm.
- In Doctor Who, this has happened to the TARDIS at least once. She's not the most reliable of ships, and has been known to sulk.
- Mitch Hedburg references it in one of his shows - "I'd be a terrible mechanic. If someone told me their car didn't start, I'd say 'Maybe you're being followed by a crazy killer!'"
- Parodied in the 'Audition Tape' short which ended Stephen Colbert's WHCA speech. Colbert reaches the car, with Helen Thomas in hot -well, gradual pursuit, but is so terrified that he repeatedly fumbles the keys (in an exaggerated fashion) until he finally realizes the keys have a remote lock. Once he's in the car, He again fumbles the keys to get them in the ignition. However once he does, the car starts first time. He does however wait in the car engine running. He screams for a while, then backs out of the spot. Then stops for some more screaming. Then finally he drives out.
- In Primeval the presence of dinosaurs causes ignitions to fail.
- Top Gear
- Discussed by name on during a news segment in which, hilariously, Jeremy brought up astrology in relation to car ownership:
Clarkson : Pisceans like a bit of a blub, and there's nothing guaranteed to get the blubbing going like — "It's broken down again, it hates me!" It doesn't hate you, it's just an Alfa!
- Also occurs on their trip through the US deep south, when they need to get away from a gas station after their deliberate attempts to offend the locals prove excessively successful.
- In South America the trio travels along the Yungas Road aka El Camino de la Muerte — the Road of Death. A dead battery caused by a non-functional alternator means that James May has to swap batteries with Richard Hammond (who's alternator is one of the few things on his car that does work), strap a pair of torches/flashlights to the front since using the headlights drains the battery too fast and follow Hammond so closely their bumpers are almost touching. Genuinely terrifying.
- Also happens regularly in their Cheap Car Challenges.
- Discussed by name on during a news segment in which, hilariously, Jeremy brought up astrology in relation to car ownership:
- In an episode of ER, as Doug is driving to a benefit that he doesn't want to attend, his car suddenly blows a tire. Suddenly, the trope is subverted as this results in a young boy coming to him for help in saving his trapped brother, in one of the show's best episodes.
- It's pretty much a Running Gag that the cast and crew of Destination Truth are simply incapable of using a vehicle without having it break down or otherwise run into trouble. Pretty much every vehicle they've used on screen over the course of multiple seasons has had these troubles. They've lampshaded it recently, as it's now fairly common to hear somebody say "Can't we just get a car that works? Just once?"
- The RV in Breaking Bad causes its share of problems for Walt. In one episode toward the end of Season 4 Walt and Jesse are reminiscing about it, and it's explicitly pointed out that the only reason they had that particular RV because it was the only one they could afford at the start; after the first couple of cooks they had money and could have bought a much more reliable vehicle but didn't due to "inertia".
- Whose Line Is It Anyway? had a Running Gag in the "Sound Effects" gamenote : Every time Colin tried to start his car, Ryan would make sounds of the engine failing; as soon as Colin got out to look, Ryan would mime the car driving off without him. Which prompted Colin to chase it down on foot.
- Blake's 7. In "Bounty", our heroes rescue a Fan of the Past who owns a vintage motor car, which has to be crank-started. A guard is actually able to run up and order them out at gunpoint. Fortunately there's only one of them and he's overpowered.
- The narrator in the song ''Two Ton Paperweight'' by Psychostick is under the impression this is the case ("You never get me very far, when you decide driving to the store is a mortal sin"), and assures that, like in Fawlty Towers, the feeling is indeed mutual ("I guess I'm just a little angry, but for some reason getting stranded kinda chafes my hide").
- Referenced in "Stuck In A Movie!" by The Aquabats!:
Coming after you, and it's getting dark
You fumble with your keys, and your car won't start
- Brazilian example: Raimundos, "Eu Quero Ver o Oco" is about the bad experiences of the narrator with cars - a line goes "My hatred for automotives started early, when I trapped my fingers in the door of an Opalão".
- The song "Sabbatical With Options" by hip-hop producer Prefuse 73, featuring rapper Aesop Rock, has a short middle section where Aesop pleads with his car:
1985 Dodge Aries hand-me-down freebie piece-of-fucked-with-shit with the fucking yellow plates, you are going to start for me... Do NOT do this to me today. Look, man, look...you have been a very good car to me, okay? I'm going to point you in one direction, all you have to do it go - Look, I'm not even going to steer, man, please!
- Adam Sandler sings about this in the song "Ode to my Car", complaining about how the car that is so busted up that it barely runs a few feet.
- The Offspring's "Bad Habit" is a song about an Ax-Crazy guy who Drives Like Crazy with a gun on his hand. The singer said he was inspired by his old Chevette that "wasn't really able to reach freeway speeds" and thus left him with feelings of revenge.
- Exmortis 2: In the Point and Click game, there's a mini game of this trope. The player must find the keys to start a car in the back yard of a building while the clouds of Exmotis approach him.
- EuroTruckSimulator does this if your truck is seriously damaged leading to repetitive false start noises and it could go forever or until it finally starts for the 10th time.
- Dead Rising: The intro scene features a young mother and child attempting to start their car, to find themselves surrounded by zombies and their car hates them.
- In the ending sequence of Campfire Legends: The Hookman the main character's boyfriend's car wouldn't start until right after the titular villain grabbed the door handle with his hook-hand.
- Mystery Skulls Animated: The group's van breaks down on Arthur twice at inopportune moments. Once in front of a haunted mansion causing Vivi and Mystery to glare at him and them to enter the place which hosted a ghost that deeply wants to kill him. The next time on the highway while being chased by the same ghost in a haunted semi-truck. Both times it is actually caused by the ghost but Arthur doesn't know this.
- The G Mod Idiot Box: Episode 7 up with a guy (A parody of YouTube visitors on DasBoSchitt's profile) not bothering to read the video description. A Combine soldier then attacks his house. His first instinct is to escape in his car, but it does not start and is promptly taken to the air by the soldier. Next the guy attempts starting the door knob and then a home telephone, both times failing, and finally gets beaned on the nose by the soldier.
- Reboot: A Running Gag is that Bob likes his car, but his car does not like him. Many times he would spy some oncoming peril, leap in and curse as it noisily failed to start. And when he finally does break down and get himself a new mode of transportation, it's nearly immediately destroyed and he's back to his old unreliable car. His car finally was destroyed in the third season, and he finally had it replaced with a semi-reliable one. note
- On The Simpsons episode "The Lemon of Troy", when the Springfielders need to escape from the Shelbyville impound lot, Flanders is unable to start the RV. Turns out Homer was draining the battery by cooking roast chicken.
- While The Penguins of Madagascar's car is usually pretty nifty, in "Driven To The Brink" Rico accidentally trashes it and hastily rebuilds it on his own. Afterwards, it literally hates him, to the point of actively trying to kill him. It was really a mistake in Rico's reconstruction, but Rico became convinced that the car was sentient.
- Danger Mouse's car, the Mark III, develops a mind of its own and turns on him in "What A Three-Point Turn-Up For The Book." When DM finally gains an upper hand, he discovers that the motor had been altered with the workings of Colonel K's washing machine.
- Invoked in Total Drama. The episode "Hook, Line, and Screamer" opens with the campers watching a cheesy horror movie where a teenage couple fails to escape from a chainsaw-wielding Serial Killer because their car won't start.
Leshawna: Yo, fool couple! Stop making out and START THE CAR! (throws popcorn at the screen)Izzy: They're gonna be chainsaw sushi! Hahaha!Owen: Great Canadian cheese! Now the car won't start!
- On 15th February 2011 US Special Agent Jaime Zapata was driving through a particularly dangerous area of Mexico when he was ambushed by a heavily armed gang. This should not have been too much of a problem because he was driving a specially armoured Chevy Suburban capable of withstanding anything short of an RPG, and the ambushers only had AK47s, but when he stopped the car and put it in Park the car helpfully unlocked its doors. Zapata was killed and his fellow agent seriously injured.
- There was a popular trick in the Eastern Bloc during the Communist times, to make sure the cars (or heavy machinery) start during the nastiest winters in the wilderness. Keep a pot in the trunk, drain the coolant (usually straight water, when not even antifreeze will work) when you expect freezing temps overnight. Cut a few branches of wood in the morning, light a fire, heat the water to near-boiling temp and pour it directly into the radiator cap. The pre-heated engine always started this way. It proved quite useful during the harsh winters on the Eastern Front. Soviet military later built directly into the engine bays small gasoline-powered heaters to heat the coolant and oil before engine starts.