Some people tend to see automobiles as menacing, largely due to their tendency to cause road accidents and deaths, so it's not surprising that they are a recurring motif in horror stories.
The trope comes in two varieties, which may overlap: either the car in question is sentient and malevolent itself, or it belongs to some villain who uses it as a weapon to scare and terrorize others. Such a vehicle would often have nefarious-looking design elements, such as a monster-shaped hood figure or a toy skull and bones on the windshield.
Compare Creepy Stalker Van, Van in Black, Bad Humor Truck, Not My Driver, Harmful to Hitchhikers, and Murder by Remote Control Vehicle. Also compare and contast The Alleged Car, when the only scary thing about the vehicle is its technical condition. Not to be confused with My Car Hates Me.
- Duel is about a mysterious truck that attempts to kill the main character. The identity of the driver is deliberately left ambiguous, and the truck is treated as a nefarious sentient entity.
- The Jeepers Creepers series has a very large and rusted 1941 Chevrolet, which is a trademark of the titular villain.
- The Car tells the story of a mysterious car which goes on a murderous rampage, terrorizing the residents of a small town.
- Its standalone sequel, The Car: Road to Revenge features an unscrupulous District Attorney who is savagely murdered and tossed out of a building onto his brand new car. Mysteriously, the attorney and his car come back to life as a single being with a thirst for vengeance.
- In Death Proof, Stuntman Mike's car is a souped-up monstrosity that tears through other cars while leaving its psychotic driver unharmed. Anyone unlucky enough to ride in its passenger seat also gets pulped by Mike's crazy driving, as the passenger seat has all of its safety features removed.
- Maximum Overdrive, adapted from Stephen King's short story "Trucks" (see below), shares its main premise of intelligent trucks holding a gas station hostage for fuel. Interestingly, only large vehicles like trucks seem to gain intelligence — smaller cars are unaffected.
- Road Train is about a driverless road train that seemingly runs on the flesh and blood of the people that it stalks and kills in the Australian Outback.
- Stephen King is really fond of the trope:
- Christine is about a sentient 1958 Plymouth Fury that falls in love with its owner and starts murdering other people out of jealousy. Later adapted into a movie by John Carpenter.
- From a Buick 8 has the titular Buick, an otherworldly car that acts as a portal between two worlds.
- In Low Men In Yellow Coats, the titular Low Men drive garish cars that are implied to be sentient and malevolent.
- In "Trucks", a gas station is besieged by intelligent trucks who demand (using their horns to "talk" in Morse code) that the humans fuel them, and kill anyone who doesn't obey. It was later adapted by King himself into Maximum Overdrive.
- R. L. Stine also made use of the trope several times:
- Nos4a2 is about a Rolls Royce that feeds on human souls. It was written by Joe Hill, Stephen King's son.
- In The Grey Automobile by Alexander Grin, the protagonist Ebenezer Sidney has a phobia of cars, and believes that he's being stalked by the titular grey vehicle. However, the story pretty heavily implies that he's going off his rails, so it remains ambiguous whether it's true or not.
- Nightside: The titular Dark World has car-shaped predatory organisms hunting the streets. People looking for cabs are advised to check that the wheels rotate realistically and the driver isn't a human-shaped pseudopod before they get anywhere near.
- Two non-sequential episodes of Knight Rider featured the evil counterpart of KITT, known as KARR.
- In the season 1 episode Route 666, the ghost of racist Cyrus Dorian takes the shape of his old pickup truck for the sake of murdering the three black men who took part in his murder as well as the mayor who kept his murder covered up.
- Also gets invoked when Sam and Winchester's own Chevy Impala gets possessed by a ghost in both the pilot episode and the season 6 episode Mannequin 3: The Reckoning.
- Monty Python's Flying Circus has an animated segment about "killer cars" that ambush, attack and kill human beings. They're scared away by a monster cat the size of a Kaiju that was created through "the miracle of atomic mutation".
- Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.: Ghost Rider's Hell Charger. The Rider's power lets the car heal itself and shoot flames. Eventually subverted, as it turns out Robbie isn't really a villain at all.
- The Twilight Zone (1959): the episode You Drive features a hit and run driver whose car comes to life, turning on its own radio, and moving on its own accord. Eventually it chases the man down the road, nearly hitting him, forcing the man to turn himself in to the police.
- The 1980s Topps Weird Wheels series is a whole collection of cards dedicated to this trope. The cards include Hearse of Horror, Vampire Van, Putrid Porsche, Doom Buggy, Psycho Cycle, etc.
- SCP Foundation:
- SCP-3470 and SCP-2086 are variations of this trope, as they are predatory organisms that take the form of man-made vehicles, with barely visible drivers inside, to either lure in or catch their preferred prey (humans) off guard; 3470 has taken the form of a Ford Angilia 105E, while instances of 2086 will take on the forms of public transportation, usually buses.
- Downplayed in the case of SCP-973, a police cruiser, as it will only attack anyone that goes over a certain speed limit. However, said limit can vary anywhere from 35 mph - 70 mph, and the Foundation has yet to find a predictable pattern between the ever changing speed limits.
- In some former Eastern Bloc countries, as well as Greece, there was an urban legend in the 1960s and 1970s of "the Black Volga" (Volga being a popular car in the region). The black car was sinister for vague reasons — most versions of the story alleged that government agents drove the car (somewhat similar to the black helicopters in the US), but the mysterious Black Volga was also associated, among other things, with child abductions, sexual predators, Human Traffickers, organ thieves, The Mafiya, priests, Jews, vampires, and even the Devil himself. In more modern versions, a black BMW or Mercedes takes the place of the Volga.
- The development of Automated Automobiles has raised ethical questions about what might happen if such a car is put into a situation where it must choose between the life of its passengers or pedestrians (for instance, if a child runs out in front of the car and it has no time to stop, but it can swerve and potentially crash into a wall at fifty miles per hour). The issue naturally raises the idea that a self-driving car must be programmed with the ability to kill in order to protect those it deems more worthy of saving, as cars can cause fatal injury in a crash.