Tom: And don't drive like my brother!
The single most popular show produced by NPR, Car Talk (pronounced "Caah Took") was a long-running weekly radio broadcast about automotive repair hosted by the wisecracking brothers Tom and Ray Magliozzi (also known as "Click and Clack, the Tappet Brothers"), proprietors of the Good News Garage in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Listeners would call innote and describe the problems with their vehicles. The brothers would crack wise, make fun of themselves, each other, and the listener—especially when the caller tries to reproduce the weird sound the car has been making—and oftentimes come up with plausible answers and solutions for the caller to investigate.
The show also featured funny or interesting letters from listeners, and a weekly brainteaser. Like Top Gear, it had a following that went beyond car nerds, people in need of car advice, or people who even owned cars.
In June of 2012, the brothers announced that they would be retiring from Car Talk in September, ending a thirty-five year run. NPR has continued airing the show via reruns, as well as calls that weren't used in the show before, however. The Powers That Be have said they won't run out of never-aired material for years. Tom Magliozzi died of complications from Alzheimer's disease ("He really couldn't remember last week's Puzzler after all" —Ray) in November 2014. As a result, the show is run as The Best of Car Talk; Ray still records a few new sponsor messages in retirement (e.g. getting up for a spot for Serial Season 2 in 2015), but otherwise, the format remains as before.
- Achievements in Ignorance: Many of Tommy's answers are delivered "unencumbered by the thought process."
- The Alleged Car: Both brothers have had their share of these, especially Tom's infamous Dodge Dart and his MG TD Roadster.
- Many of the people call in with ancient Alleged Cars; it wasn't unusual to hear a caller on a show in 2010 with a car from 1990. This makes the reruns less noticeable.
- One caller sounded like he had a really bad one ("It goes really rough for two and a half minutes, then goes smooth, then after six and a half minutes the engine dies" and that his odometer had millions of miles on it.). Turned out the caller was their fellow MIT alumnus, astronaut John Grunsfeld, who was calling from onboard the Space Shuttle Atlantis and was docked at the Mir space station.
- Alter Kocker: One of the many Punny Names in the credits is "Al Takaka", Director of Elder Affairs.
- Amoral Attorney: The show's "law firm" of Dewey, Cheatham and Howe. Note that they actually have a sign for this in Harvard Square, much to the amusement of the residents. Dewey, Cheatham, and Howe does in fact exist and is in fact related to Car Talk—as the Magliozzi Brothers' production company.
- Animated Adaptation: Click & Clack's As the Wrench Turns, the celebrity toon in which the brothers played their own animated counterparts.
- Annoying Younger Sibling: According to Ray, Tom and their sister didn't even know he existed until he was about 5 years old.
- Biting-the-Hand Humor: In The Stinger to each episode, and before every station break, the boys mention how much NPR staff members wince whenever they identify with the network. Though frankly, this might be an Inversion (after all, given their jokes about their low opinion of themselves, they're basically complimenting the rest of the network).
- Bunny-Ears Lawyer: Crazy as loons, but they're MIT graduates and experienced mechanics, and actually do know what they're talking about. Most of the time. To avoid harmful lawsuits, they advise their callers to consult professional licensed car mechanics before taking any of their (car-related) advice.
- Corpsing: Every. Single. Episode. Heck, it's rare for three minutes to go by without one or both of the brothers breaking up into snorting laughter.
- Dope Slap: The Trope Namer.
- Embarrassing Nickname: Producer Doug Berman has many, and we get to hear them during the credits.
- Early Installment Weirdness: Older versions of the show feature more calls from DIY-ers than in later episodes. The guys speculated that this was due in part to the fact that cars have become much more complicated than in the past deterring people from working on their cars by themselves.
- Hahvahd Yahd In My Cah: The boys have very strong Cambridge accents.
- The Hyena: The brother's laughs are especially distinct.
- Says Tom of his laughter: "My wife insists that if I had had a normal (i.e., abusive) childhood, I wouldn't be plagued with those continual bouts of raucous laughter."
- One caller claimed his flock of sheep were drawn to the sound of the boys' distinctive laughter.
- Instrumental Theme Tune: "Dawggy Mountain Breakdown", a bluegrass-style piece by mandolinist David Grisman.
- It's Pronounced "Tro-PAY": Inverted by Tom, who for a while pronounced Chevrolet Chev-ro-let (the last syllable rhyming with "bet"). He did however call his Dodge Dart the "Dartre".
- They also refer to the city of Detroit as "Day-twah" (though that is the actual French pronunciation).
- Long-Runners: The show began on Boston's WBUR-FM in 1977, with NPR picking it up nationally a decade later; the final new episode was produced in 2012, making a 35-year original run.
- Mad Libs Catch Phrase: "...and even though [somebody has an unpleasant reaction] whenever they hear us say it, this is NPR."
- "If you think you know the answer, write it on a postcard or on [some expensive item that's on their wish list] and send it to..."
- "And your answer here on 'Stump the Chumps' has not been influenced by our staff, the staff of NPR, or by the [extravagant bribe item] we sent you, correct?"
- From the credits:
- "Our technical, spiritual, and menu advisor, just back from the [extraordinarily long string of rhyming or alliterative phrases, many of which are food-related] is John 'Bugsy' Lawler."
- "Our chief counsel from the law firm of Dewey, Cheetham, & Howe is Hugh Louis Dewey, known to [group of people] in Harvard Square as Huey Louie Dewey."
- Malicious Misnaming: When Martha Stewart was on the show (she's been on twice) they called her "Margaret."
- The Musical: A musical version is currently running in Boston (well, Cambridge) and there's talk of it going to Broadway. (No, seriously.)
- Once per Episode: Tom never remembers what last week's Puzzler was about, and Ray never knows when it's time for "Stump the Chumps". Also most of the Running Gags below.
- Overly Long Gag: Producer Doug Berman's string of nicknames, which doubles as an Overly Long Name, and the food-themed, rhyming-named event John "Bugsy" Lawler just got back from this week.
- Our Product Sucks: Part of the ongoing Self-Deprecation. Among other examples, at the end of the show they announce, "Well, it's happened again: you've wasted another perfectly good hour listening to Car Talk." And if you listen via podcast, you also get interstitials letting you know you can download and listen to classic ("and by 'classic,' we mean..." "...old.") episodes via their website. They then mention one of a number of reasons why you might want to do such a thing. ("For example, if you're a dentist and you want to remind your patients that there are worse things than a root canal.")
- Punny Name: The show credits. A subset of those is read at the end of the show every week, after the actual credits.
- Running Gag: Many, most occurring Once per Episode. Most memorably:
- A new joke about how embarrassed the staff of NPR, the listeners, and everybody else on earth supposedly are about the show being on NPR, delivered at the very end and before each station break.
- The "real" reason for those station breaks.
- Telling stories about Doug Berman in the show proper, sometimes explaining one of the nicknames.
- Ray occasionally reading off the call-in number in some weird way, like "eighty-eight, eighty-two, twenty-seven, eighty-two, fifty-five".
- Tom not remembering last week's Puzzler... again.
- The expensive item they recommend writing the Puzzler answer on, and the expensive item they pretend to have bribed their "Stump the Chumps" caller with.
- Ray not knowing it's time for "Stump the Chumps", and guessing it's time for some other, ridiculous thing instead.
- The credits, in which Ray reminds listeners that they've wasted another perfectly good hour listing to the show, rattles off most-to-all of Doug Berman's nicknames and the culinary adventures of John Lawler, then throws in a bunch of fake credits with Punny Names.
- The penultimate fake credit is almost always for the head of the Working Mothers' Support Group, Erasmus B. Dragon.
- The final fake credit is always for the chief counsel from Dewey, Cheetham, & Howe—Hugh Louis Dewey, known to [group of people] in Harvard Square as Huey Louie Dewey.
- And of course: "Don't drive like my brother!" "And don't drive like MY brother!"
- Self-Deprecation: Half the humor on the show is of this variety. See above.
- Shout-Out: The show's studio in Cambridge is labeled on the outside as "Dewey, Cheetham, & Howe"
- Sitcom Arch-Nemesis: The brothers (particularly Tommy) had one in the form of Melissa Peterson, an eleven-year-old who sent them some of the most creatively vitriolic hate mail they'd ever read.
- Yet Another Christmas Carol: With Tom and Ray as the "Scroogiazi brothers," who took over NPR and turned it into a commercial outfit, to the chargrin of its veteran reporters and the fatally sincere Tiny Ira. Not to mention the supreme aggravation of the spirits, who quickly lock them in a belfry as punishment for their wisecracking. The stations air this special as part of their December fund drives.
- You Wanna Get Sued?: "As rantings about GM, Ford and Chrysler fill his headphones, Doug envisions yet more lawsuits arriving at the Car Talk Plaza fax machine."