Similar to Weapon-Based Characterization, a character's vehicle can reflect their personality or character type. Be it a Volkswagen microbus for a New-Age Retro Hippie or a beat-up Alleged Car for a hothead who Drives Like Crazy, one's choice in vehicle often relates to who they are.
May overlap with Thememobile, where the vehicle matches a character's visual theme. Often found in Wacky Racing and Mascot Racers.
- Absurdly-Long Limousine: Someone, often wildly wealthy, has an extremely long limousine.
- Ace Custom: Ace Pilots are likeliest to drive custom vehicles.
- All Bikers Are Hell's Angels: Riding a motorcycle means you're a tough-as-nails thug.
- The Alleged Car: Someone, likely poor or unconcerned with appearances, drives a road-unsafe vehicle.
- Creepy Stalker Van: Creeps drive unmarked vans.
- Hero's Classic Car: Heroes drive distinctly cool, older cars.
- Hippie Van: Hippies travel in VW microbuses or similar vans.
- Hummer Dinger: Someone, likely Testosterone-Poisoned or Compensating for Something, drives a huge SUV.
- Itasha: Japanese for "pain car"; an otaku's car is decked out in anime decals.
- Rice Burner: A car equipped with (often tacky) modifications, reflecting an (often tacky) owner.
- Shag Wagon: The owner is quite libertine on the subject of sex and drugs, and likely uses their van to engage in both.
- What a Piece of Junk: Someone, potentially a Hidden Badass type, has a Cool Car that looks like an Alleged Car.
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- Oddbods: Each of the main seven Oddbods has a vehicle that reflects their personality:
- Scientific and nerdy Bubbles has a customized rover loaded with a variety of gadgets.
- Hot-headed and masculine Fuse has a large monster truck with a grille decal that matches his fire tattoo.
- Tidy and fastidious Jeff has a modern smart car in a bland color.
- Girly and sweet Newt has a pedal-powered flower cart.
- Prank-happy and noisy Pogo has an ice cream truck, which also doubles as his career.
- Cool and socially-conscious Slick has a custom paint job sports car.
- Lazy and sloppy Zee has a tractor.
- Pleasant Goat and Big Big Wolf: The vehicles the goats own in Happy Formula reflect their personalities.
- Clever, crafty Weslie rides an excavator named Dakuaitou.
- Fashionista Tibbie rides a hoverboat named Princess Sai, who is pink and wears a ribbon to accentuate her femininity.
- Lazy crybaby Paddi rides a baby carriage named Xianxingzhe.
- Sporty Sparky rides a fire truck called Big General. He previously demonstrated an interest in fighting fires in Joys of Seasons episode 6 and continues this interest in later seasons.
- Jonie rides a plane called Paitoubing, who like her, sometimes leads everyone astray by flying straight when it shouldn't have to.
- Village chief Slowy rides a motorcycle named Xiaotiantian with a small snail shell-like appendage on it, likely referencing Grany Snail from earlier seasons. Slowy would frequently be seen riding on the Speedy Snail, contrasting his Slower Than a Snail walking.
Anime & Manga
- The Big O: The two Megadeuses that Beck pilots demonstrate how inflated his ego is. The first one, the Beck Victory Deluxe, is plated gold and has a ridiculous-looking crown on its head. The second one, Beck the Great RX3, is a gaudy-looking Combining Mecha that wouldn't look out of place in a Super Robot setting. Both are easily destroyed by Roger's Big O with little effort.
- The '70s Lighter and Softer anime adaptation of Devilman makes Akira a biker as a shorthand for his strong, rebellious nature, since it couldn't show him reveling in violence like his manga counterpart.
- Archie Comics: Archie Andrews is a typical American teenager, with lots of ambition but not much funding. His jalopy is the cheapest possible automobile that borders on The Alleged Car, the perfect vehicle for a Starving Artist musician playing local gigs for pittance or charity.
- In Runaways, the Leapfrog is a boxy, awkwardly-moving prototype vehicle with a number of neat features that tend to fail or drain the battery if used for more than a few minutes, with the only consistently-functional device being its cloaking system. This is a good reflection on the Runaways themselves, who all have neat but unreliable powers and are best off avoiding fights.
- Guys Being Dudes:
- Arlo drives a black sports car featuring a number of bumper stickers, including a sophomoric challenge to anyone complaining about his driving, the insignia of several bands, and a faded Team Valor emblem. This establishes his immature personality, prioritization of edginess over practicality, and that he's not as disconnected from his past as he'd like to think.
- Blanche's car is eminently practical, being a recent, but not brand new model of standard shape and featuring some decoration in the form of magnets carefully positioned to not block visibility, demonstrating Blanche's focus on practicality and safety.
Films — Live-Action
- Several of the contestants in The Cannonball Run have quirky mindsets, and their choices of vehicle reflect that. Namely:
- JJ McClure drives a Dodge Tradesman ambulance fitted with an upscaled engine. He's a charmingly devious fellow, seeking to thwart police by claiming to be transporting a patient cross-country.
- Formula One icon Jamie Blake and his teammate Morris Fenderbaum, also charmingly devious, dress as Catholic priests while driving a 1979 Ferrari 308 GTS, on the theory that law enforcement won't ticket or arrest the clergy.
- Jill Rivers and Marcie Thatcher, two attractive vixens in skintight jumpsuits, race in a black Lamborghini Countach. Fast women, indeed.
- Two Asian drivers (names not given) race in a high-tech Subaru GL 4WD hatchback with a rocket booster engine and night vision viewscreen, representative of their being Asian and Nerdy. They plan to whizz past law enforcement by running without headlights at night, and with radar-jammers.
- Terry and Mel, two Good Ol' Boys, drive a replica of a Winston Cup Chevrolet stock car, filled with gallons of beer and two bags of Doritos.
- Seymour Goldfarb (played by Roger Moore) is a rich British playboy who drives a silver Aston Martin DB5. And it has the Q-class extras that are de rigeur for a Bond car.
- A wealthy Arab Oil Sheikh drives a white Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow with gold trim. He doesn't need the prize money; he's in the race because "I am destined..."
- Transformers: Three varieties come up throughout the Transformers franchise.
- Based on their function: Transformers might choose an alternate mode that helps with their function. For example:
- Starscream is often the leader of the Decepticon air forces and so nearly always transforms into a fighter aircraft. Some versions, such as the Transformers: Cybertron version of Starscream, transform into fighter spacecraft instead.
- The various incarnations of Warpath often transform into some sort of tank, reflecting his function as Autobot heavy artillery. This is atypical for an Autobot, among whom military vehicle modes are rare.
- Several incarnations of Bumblebee (except for his movie counterpart) transform into fairly innocuous vehicles, helping his function as a spy. Examples of this include the Volkswagen Beetle mode he originally started out with, while in the Alternity toy line he updated into the ubiquitous Suzuki Swift (a car that's a familiar sight on many roads in Japan and other parts of Asia).
- Based on their personalities: A Transformer might choose an alternate mode based on their own preferences. For example:
- This can often apply to the entire factions; with the Autobots and Decepticons generally favoring contrasting themes for their vehicle modes (and the Decepticons generally choosing forms that are more aggressive). For instance, in Transformers: Animated, the core team of Autobots are all various Emergency Services ground vehicles (reflecting their heroic natures), while the main Decepticons (with the exception of Blackarachnia, who is stuck with a beast form instead) are airborne military machines (going for superior firepower). In the Transformers Film Series (at least the first film), it's civilian vehicles (identifying with the people of Earth) versus heavy-duty military and police hardware (intimidation, and projecting authority they can abuse).
- Knock Out from Transformers: Prime is notable among the Decepticons for having a sports car alternate mode whereas the rest of Decepticon High Command all transform into aircraft. He explicitly explains he chose his alternate mode because he found it stylish.
- Galvatron of Beast Wars II chose a dragon and a drill tank to be his alternate modes due to his belief they were the most powerful of the alternate modes available to him.
- When the Dinobot Grimlock was given a car mode as part of the Alternity toy line, his alternate mode was a Ford Mustang. This reflected his "brute force" mentality, as the Mustang was viewed as a powerful muscle car compared to the other characters like Starscream with his sleek supercar mode or the aforementioned Bumblebee and his unassuming Suzuki Swift form.
- Based on their names: Some Transformers choose alternate modes that happen to line up nicely with their names. On occasion, Transformers actually change their names to suit their new modes better.
- The Autobot medic First Aid adopted an ambulance as his alternate mode, viewing it as an obvious choice considering his name and temperament (he would rather spend a battle tending to the wounded than actually engaging in combat).
- All of the above:
- Cosmos from the G1 series transforms into a classic "flying saucer" spaceship as part of his function as orbital spy. He's also noted to be a bit "spacey" at times (at least partially due to long periods of time being alone in orbit). Plus his name...
- Drillhorn of Transformers Victory transforms into a Drill Tank. He has "drill" in his name and while officially his function is strategist he's also the Decepticon siege expert. Additionally, one of his noted weaknesses is that once he's set on a course of action it's very difficult to get him to change direction: the same problem one would have with a drill.
- Based on their function: Transformers might choose an alternate mode that helps with their function. For example:
- In his All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten Robert Fulghum describes looking for a new car after his old one dies, explaining that a car is part of a person's image.
Despite what you hear, it's not really a matter of economics. It's an image issue. In America, you are what you drive. Go out in the garage. There you are. Well, my old hoopy has joined the cripples on the edge of the herd. A new vehicle (image) is in order.
- Discussed in All The Other Things I Really Needed To Know I Learned From Watching Star Trek: The Next Generation. Author Dave Marinaccio comments on how cars say who the driver is and isn't and comments on how silly the concept is. He says how Gene Roddenberry focused on the character of the Enterprise crew members instead of giving them cars to judge them by.
- Beef: The trailer establishes the respective financial situations of Danny and Amy in part with the cars they drive during their near-collision. Struggling blue-collar contractor Danny has a beat-up truck; posh housewife Amy has a Mercedes-Benz SUV.
- Breaking Bad: Walter White drives a gray-green Pontiac Aztek, a "sport recreational vehicle" that became an infamous flop. Practical yet forgettable, it matches the mild-mannered, underperforming family man he is at the beginning of the series.
- In Cape Town, Defective Detective Mat Joubert drives a junker VW Jetta.
- Chuck: Casey's precious car that he spends an episode meticulously taking care of until Chuck blows it up is a 1985 Ford Crown Victoria, specifically the police car model. It's a fitting dream car for a Marine-turned-NSA Colonel Badass who proudly serves his government.
- Cobra Kai: Johnny's car evolves along with his Character Development. He starts off with a classic Pontiac Firebird, reflecting his macho stuck-in-the-'80s personality. After he begins to have some success with the reopened dojo, it gets swapped out for a modern but still macho Dodge Challenger. Later on he loses the dojo and abandons the Challenger, and he eventually picks up a minivan as he becomes more of a comically awkward family man. In contrast, Daniel tends to drive a Simple, yet Opulent Audi.
- Columbo: Lieutenant Columbo's ancient silver Peugeot is perfectly fit to his Obfuscating Stupidity persona. His car also highlights his position as an ordinary man investigating the crimes of very rich scoundrels.
- Doctor Who: The Doctor travels through time and space in an outdated time machine stuck in the appearance of a 1960s British police box; for the first nine seasons of the show, they didn't even know how to fly it properly. Their continued use of the device ties in with their characterization as a seemingly humanlike, yet immensely otherworldly figure who often has to make their plans up as they go along while short on resources.
- Firefly: The tramp freighter ship Serenity is battered and has seen better days, just like Mal, her broken-down ex-soldier captain.
- The presenters on The Grand Tour once discussed that they believe Jaguar owners are Lovable Rogues. They can "borrow" hotel towels, get out of a speeding ticket by exploiting their passport, etc. and get away with it because they own a Jaaaaaag...
- Psych: Shawn owns a motorcycle, while Gus drives a company-issued sedan. This highlights how Gus is a (relatively) more mature Straight Man to Shawn's Manchild tendencies. In the series finale and ensuing movies, the pair of Heterosexual Life-Partners switch to a driver's ed car equipped with two steering wheels.
- Reservation Dogs: Uncle Brownie is a cop-hating odd duck who only recently stopped being a hermit. His vehicle of choice is a stolen riding lawnmower, which seats one. If he's forced to take someone with him on a ride, he attaches a wagon to the back.
- Star Trek:
- The various starships Enterprise tend to be cutting-edge science vessels, naturally reflecting the ideals and personality of both The Federation and their respective captains (Kirk, Picard, Archer, etc) who are Bold Explorers.
- Deep Space Nine: The U.S.S. Defiant, which is assigned to Sisko and DS9 in Season 3, is not a conventional multipurpose starship, but rather a Pint-Sized Powerhouse warship. Not the kind of thing Kirk or Picard would appreciate, but for a Knight in Sour Armor like Sisko and his Proud Warrior Race Guy StratOps officer Worf, it's a match made in heaven.
- Invoked in Voyager's "Relativity" when Admiral Patterson described the titular starship to Janeway as "quick and smart... like her captain."
- Stingray (1985) features a hero-for-hire known only as Ray who aids those caught in the crossfire of villainy. Ray drives a black 1965 Corvette Stingray that's sleek, fast, powerful, and stealthy, much like the covert detective work Ray performs.
- Ted Lasso: Sam Obisanya drives a Tesla Model S, the expensive electric car befitting a staunch environmentalist Premier Leaguer like him.
- Ace Combat:
- Ace Combat Zero: The Belkan War: Dietrich "Boss" Kellerman, the flight lead of the Sibler squadron that's encountered in the Knight path of the mission "Mayhem" flies an F-4 Phantom while his students fly F-16 Falcons. Dietrich flying a Phantom represents how he's an old soldier, while his students flying F-16s are a representation of how they're a new generation of fighter pilots. However, despite Dietrich's students flying aircraft that are superior to his Phantom, he's still a better pilot than them, as he's harder to shoot down than his students.
- Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown: The SU-32 that Mihaly flies is a state-of-the-art aircraft equipped with the latest technologies such as thrust vectoring that not only reflects his determination to fly, but also his skill as a fighter pilot. The X-02 Strike Wyvern that he flies in his final showdown with Trigger further demonstrates his drive to keep flying, as it's much more advanced than the SU-32, and is even equipped with a railgun that Mihaly uses to good use.
- Crash Tag Team Racing: Fitting his status as The Big Guy, Crunch Bandicoot's available vehicles include Hummer Dingers called "The Guzzler" and "The Overcompensator."
- Lancer is first introduced riding a bike with the back wheel set on fire, and he uses it during the first two fights against him in Chapter 1, tying in with his nature as a small child who (initially) wants to be seen as an edgy, intimidating villain.
- Tying in with the Annoying Dog's nature as a trolling Author Avatar for Toby Fox, it first appears in the flesh driving a toy car at a ludicrously fast speed, enough to instantly KO Kris.
- Discussed by Char in Dynasty Warriors: Gundam. Should he come face-to-face with Athrun and the Justice Gundam in the second game, Char will comment that Athrun must be an ace. When Athrun asks why he would assume that, Char says that Athrun's mobile suit is painted red. Only an ace would be brazen enough to paint their Humongous Mecha red to stand out in the middle of a battlefield.
- Grand Theft Auto V: The three protagonists, by default, own vehicles that reflect their vastly different lifestyles. Wealthy family man Michael drives a Tailgater, an upper-class sedan. Franklin, a repo worker and street racer, drives the sporty Buffalo S; he also ends up taking ownership of a green Bagger motorcycle, which befits his association with the Families gang. Then there's Trevor, a meth head who runs a drug and gun enterprise out in the desert, and owns a rugged Bodhi pickup truck. Incidentally, the Bodhi's alleged history as a military vehicle complements Trevor's past service in the air force.
- Sonic & All-Stars Racing: Transformed: Each character has specific vehicles themed around their personalities and traits. To name a few, Sonic's vehicle is a sleek blue sports car befitting his free-spirited personality and desire to go fast, Beat's vehicle is a 4-wheeled ATV that reflects his nature as a rollerblading, graffiti-spraying Gang Banger, AiAi and Meemee's vehicles are themed around bananas to reflect their nature as monkeys, Amigo's vehicle is a toy train that shows off his playful personality for parties, and Vyse's vehicle is a Steampunk-esque car based on his airship The Delfinus, matching his nature as an adventurous Sky Pirate.
- Twisted Metal: A few vehicles have drivers with personalities to match, but this isn't always the case. The ice cream truck is driven by a serial killer Monster Clown, The Grim Reaper rides on a motorcycle, and the hearse has been driven by morbid individuals such as a mortician and a goth girl.
- Papyrus is a dreamer, keeping a car even while living in the Underground (where there's nowhere to ride), in hopes of getting to the surface one day. Papyrus is also eccentric, shown by him sleeping in this car.
- During the credits, Sans rides a tricycle faster than Papyrus drives a car. This little detail shows his Crouching Moron, Hidden Badass personality.
- Shown in RWBY Chibi in a sketch where the girls are street racing. Tough rebel girl Yang uses her motorcycle Bumblebee, childish Ruby has a wagon pulled by her dog Zweii, and sheltered rich girl Weiss has an old family heirloom tricycle. Weiss wins the race by using her powers to freeze her opponents at the starting line.
- Family Guy: Brian drives a 2004 Toyota Prius, reflecting his position as a staunch, sometimes "holier-than-thou" liberal (since it's a hybrid car). Some early appearances also gave it a "Kucinich '04" bumper sticker.
- Invoked in one episode of South Park, where Gerald buys a Prius and becomes a smug, holier-than-thou prick who begins to hand out tickets for polluting before relocating his family to San Francisco for a more open-minded community. In order to get Kyle back, Stan convinces the town to all buy Priuses, causing all of them to turn smug and cause an ecological "smug" disaster in the process.