The first film for the Cars film series (2006) centers around Lightning McQueen (voiced by Owen Wilson), an arrogant up-and-coming hotshot stock car racer whose only driving concern is winning. The film opens with McQueen vying for the Piston Cup, a coveted prize which assures the winner of a lucrative sponsorship. Despite a valiant effort, McQueen ends up in a three-way tie with retiring racing veteran Strip "The King" Weathers and perennial runner-up Chick Hicks. A tie-breaking race is scheduled a week later in California, and McQueen urges his driver Mack to get them there immediately.
Along the way, McQueen gets lost, ending up in Radiator Springs, a quiet rural town in a forgotten segment of Route 66. After accidentally tearing up the town's main road, McQueen is sentenced to repairing it as community service. As he toils to finish his service and get to California, McQueen makes friends with the locals, including Tow Mater and former big-city hotshot Sally Carrera, and learns that there's a lot more to life than just racing to the finish line.note
Oh! Right! Almost forgot: All of the characters are various sentient vehicles.
The movie was released on June 9, 2006, accompanied by the Pixar short One Man Band.
Holds the distinction of being the last Disney film released on VHS, as part of an extremely rare release◊ from the Disney Movie Club. Said tape is perhaps one of the most highly sought-after in existence.
Has three video game adaptions; the first, Cars: The Video Game, was released on June 6, 2006, roughly three days before the movie's release. The second, Cars: Mater-National Championship, was released on October 29, 2007. The third, Cars: Race-O-Rama, was released on October 12, 2009.
Cars ShortsPixar has also produced a number of Cars-related shorts, such as "Mater and the Ghostlight" (included with the Cars DVD release) and "Mater's Tall Tales" and "Tales from Radiator Springs" for the Carstoons series. More information about these can be found on the Pixar Shorts page.
Cars features the following tropes:
- Accidental Misnaming:Lightning: Adios, Chuck!
Lightning's crew: AND MY NAME IS NOT CHUCK!
Lightning: Oh, whatever.
- Thanks to the gratuitous amount of merchandising generated by the film, we even get a toy of the forklift...who is named "My Name is not Chuck" on the packaging!
- The character was also listed in the cast credits as "Not Chuck".
- Acting Unnatural: Lightning McQueen wants to surprise Sally with his new look.Mater: Here she comes!
McQueen: Okay, places, everybody! Hurry! Act natural.
[McQueen hides and everybody else gets in a perfectly straight line as Sally approaches]
Mater, Ramone, Flo, Luigi, Sarge, Fillmore: Hi, Sally!
Sally Carrera: All right, what's going on?
- Actor Allusion:
- During the Credits Montage, Mack (voiced by John Ratzenberger) is watching Cars-universe versions of Pixar movies (including Toy Car Story, Monster Trucks, Inc., and A Bug's Life), and initially praises the voice actor for Hamm Truck and the Abominable Snowplow (John Ratzenberger) ... but by the time A Bug's Life rolls around, he realizes they're just reusing the same voice actor and criticizes them for it.
- The King is Richard Petty voicing his 1970 Plymouth Superbird, even bearing the same font for the #43 as Richard Petty Motorsports has used ever since in the Cup Series. He has also won seven Piston Cup championships, the number of Winston Cup Championships that Petty won in his racing career. And his wreck at the end of the film is a nod back to Petty's wreck in the 1988 Daytona 500.
- Weathers' wife is voiced by Richard Petty's late wife Linda, and her vehicle is modeled off of the actual stationwagon the Petty family used to drive from race to race.
- Michael Schumacher Ferrari. Three guesses on who is the voice actor, but the last two won't count.
- NASCAR on FOX analyst Darrell Waltrip and NBC sports commentator Bob Costas lend their voices to Piston Cup announcers Darrell Cartrip and Bob Cutlass. Waltrip even gets to say "Boogity-boogity-boogity!", the phrase he says at the drop of the green flag of every NASCAR on Fox race.
- Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and Mario Andretti voice cars that they previously have driven: Earnhardt, Jr. as his #8 Chevrolet Monte Carlo from DEI, and Andretti as his 1967 Daytona 500 winning Ford Fairlane.
- McQueen's agent Harv is voiced in the American release by Jeremy Piven, best known for his role as Hollywood superagent Ari Gold on Entourage. In the foreign markets, he's voiced by Jeremy Clarkson, known for his part as the former host of Top Gear.
- Mater's "I don't care who you are, that's funny right there", and "Git-r-done!", both of which are Larry the Cable Guy's Catchphrases. It's so much that Mater's voice is actually credited as "Larry the Cable Guy", not "Daniel Whitney".
- A variant of this: Chick Hicks goes to victory lane after he intentionally crashes the King on the last lap of the final race, and is pelted with old tires and booed off stage. This is a nod to the reception given to Rusty Wallace after he spun out Darrell Waltrip on the last lap of the 1989 All-Star Race at Charlotte Motor Speedway and sent Waltrip into the grass. As Wallace claimed the victory and the $200,000 prize, fans booed, gestured rudely and pelted the track with beer cans, while a dispute on pit road quickly escalated into a twenty-five person fistfight, to which Waltrip said, "I hope he chokes on the $200,000, that's all I can tell him. He knocked the hell out of me. I guess I made a big mistake by letting him get up there too close to me in the first place." Two of the people associated with that All-Star Race are in this film: Darrell Waltrip (as Darrell Cartrip), and the speedway's operator, Humpy Wheeler (who voices Tex, Dinoco's owner).
- Fillmore is basically George Carlin doing "Al Sleet, the Hippie-Dippie Weather Man" as a car.
- This wasn't the first film in which Owen Wilson portrayed a rookie who starts out snobbish at first, but softens up eventually.
- Adaptational Context Change: Due to humans being completely nonexistent in the Cars world, the Monsters, Inc. scene where Mike and Sulley get banished to the Himalayas is changed so instead of Mike being angry about them being banished to the human world, it's about him being angry that they're stuck in the snow... without snow chains.
- Affectionate Nickname: Sally calls Lightning "Stickers".
- Almost Kiss: Sally and Lightning in the final scene. They're interrupted by Mater, and Lightning lampshades it: "Great timing, Mater!"
- Amusing Injuries: Lightning's first attempt at turning right to go left results in two of these. He ends up crashing into another cactus patch after falling off a drop, then a tall cactus plant falls on top of him, resulting in a hilarious scream of pain.
- Analogy Backfire: Doc makes clear his vendetta with Lightning is because of how selfish and undependable he is and he doesn't want that influencing the others:Lightning: "Oh, like you? You've been here for how long, and your friends don't even know who you are? Who's caring about only himself?!"
- An Aesop:
- There's a lot more to racing than just winning. It's important to slow down and enjoy life every once in a while.
- Put others before yourself.
- And the Adventure Continues: Radiator Springs is restored thanks to Lightning setting up his racing headquarters there and, despite not winning the Piston Cup, he has a new team backing him up and his selfless actions during the final race have made him a beloved racer and catapulted him, and Radiator Springs, into fame.
- Armor-Piercing Question:
- Doc Hudson to McQueen, which doubles as a Wham Line and initiates the latter's Jerkass Realization:Doc Hudson: When is the last time you cared about something except yourself, hot rod? You name me one time, and I will take it all back.
[Lightning tries to answer but can't, failing to prove Doc wrong]
Doc Hudson: Huh-huh, I didn't think so.
- Though Lightning does throw this back at him straight after, telling Doc that he's not any better than him:Doc Hudson: These are good folk around here, who care about one another. I don't want them depending on someone they can't count on.
Lightning: Oh, like you? You've been here for how long, and your friends don't even know who you are? Who's caring about only himself?!
- When Sally finds out it was Doc who called the press about where Lightning was to get him out of Radiator Springs, she confronts him with the same query.
- Doc Hudson to McQueen, which doubles as a Wham Line and initiates the latter's Jerkass Realization:
- Artistic License Sports: The racing here is most loosely based on NASCAR, and artistic license abounds.
- The plot is kicked off by a three-way tie which results in a tiebreaker race scheduled for a week later. Prior to the introduction of the playoff format in 2014, if two drivers tied for the points lead at the final race, such a tiebreaker would be broken by number of total race wins then total number of top-5 and top-10 finishes.Example
- Most notable is the fact that rather severe wrecks happen and the races just keep going, when a real organization would immediately throw a caution flag, if not a red flag.note
- NASCAR's contact rules are practically non-existent in the Piston Cup; bear in mind that circuit racers are zipping around those ovals in excess speeds of 100-200mph, and the tiniest bump can put the drivers at lethal risk. Even accidental contact is looked down upon, with the very least resulting in the bumped driver being pissed at you, and at the worst you can get penalized, especially if you are found at fault for a pileup. Not to mention that any driver that deliberately rams other cars and purposefully triggers a crash the way Chick did would be parked (see Matt Kenseth and Kyle Busch as demonstrations).
- The field is shown being filled with stock cars from various different eras, right down to the three main racers who get focus: The King is Richard Petty's 1970 Plymouth Superbird, Chick Hicks is a 1979 Pontiac Ventura, and Lightning is a cross of cars from several different types of auto racing.note
- Interestingly, Lightning McQueen is both an exception and the embodiment of this — being one of the few (if not only) characters not modeled after a real car. His base design is from a NASCAR Gen-4 stock car, with features of the more curvaceous Le Mans endurance racers, and a bit of Lola and Ford (GT40) influence. However, considering these cars are from 34 different distinct types of racing, such a car would never be suitable for any of these leagues.note
- The fact that in this universe the cars are the athletes is a fairly decent Tire Wave for why the rules wouldn't be exactly the same, but whether the rules make more or less sense because of such a setting is best not thought about too hard.
- After Doc Hudson recovered from a season ending injury, when he went back expecting he could race again, the sponsors told him he was history. As CinemaSins pointed out in their sins video, it's incredibly unlikely that an athlete in his prime would be completely ignored because of a season ending injury and that most would at least participate in their sport in one way or another. Especially when you consider just how many retired NASCAR drivers remain very much active in the sport in a supporting capacity, whether that be as a team owner (Dale Earnhardt, Sr. and Jr., Richard Petty, and Richard Childress come to mind), or broadcasters (Darrell Waltrip, Dale Jr., Jeff Burton, Jeff Gordon, Kyle Petty, Regan Smith, Clint Bowyer, etc.), or, hell, Lightning's decision to become Cruz's racing coach at the end of Cars 3.
- Lightning McQueen is being identified as the first rookie to ever win the Piston Cup, however, when Doc Hudson's trophies were discovered they are engraved "1951, 1952, 1953". Doc's license plate identifies him as a 1951. That would have made him a rookie when he won his 1951 Piston Cup. However, since most car models are released about six months before their model year (examples are the Chevrolet Lumina and the current Ford Fusion and Toyota Camry models), it is plausible that Doc was a rookie in 1950 with enough starts to not be classified as one in 1951.note
- On the last lap during the first race, one of Lightning's tires blows; in NASCAR, if there's an accident on the last lap where other cars and/or safety personnel might be at risk, the race is declared immediately over. Therefore, Lightning would've won the race anyway since he was in the lead, though it would've probably been met with controversy akin to Greg Biffle's win at the 2007 Lifelock 400 in Kansas.
- Also during the final lap of the tiebreaker race, Chick purposefully makes The King crash in the infield. Since Lightning was way ahead of them, if the caution had been thrown right away, Lightning technically won the Piston Cup anyway since the video evidence would show he was in the lead even before willingly letting Chick cross the finish line. The field would be frozen at the instant of caution, but his efforts to get The King back to the finish line would be unchanged, and in fact would still have as much weight as in the actual film since it would be viewed as rather gentlemanly sportsmanship.
- Aside Glance: While Mater is trying to get Lightnings parking boot off, Lightning glares at the camera for a brief moment.
- Assumed Win: After the race in the beginning, McQueen assumes he won the Piston Cup, and proceeds to make a big entrance... only to find out it was a tie.
- Badass Driver: Taken literally with Lightning, as he actually is the car, and has mad skills. Doc Hudson turns out to be this as well.
- Bait the Dog: Chick has this to say to Lightning after the first race:Chick: Hey, Lightning! Yo, McQueen! Seriously, that was some pretty darn nice racing out there... by me!
- Bang, Bang, BANG: When Sheriff chases Lightning, his rusty engine backfires, causing Lightning to panic, thinking Sheriff's shooting at him.
- Batman Gambit: Doc wins the dirt race against Lightning by taking advantage of the fact that McQueen has no experience racing on dirt, and no speed besides "as fast as possible". Doc doesn't even move off of the starting line when the race begins, knowing that Lightning is going to take one specific corner too fast and crash out, which is exactly what happens.
- Beta Couple: Ramone and Flo, who are Happily Married.
- Big "NO!": Lightning screams this during his humorous nightmare where Frank appears out of nowhere and wins the Piston Cup, and again when he wakes up from it.
- Big "YES!": By Lightning as he makes a big entrance on the press stage assuming he won, just before the announcement that its a three-way tie.
- Binomium ridiculus: The VW Beetle insects are named Vroomaroundus Bugus.
- Bishie Sparkle:
- Lightning does this every time he poses and says his catchphrase "Ka-chow", causing one of his lightning bolt stickers to glow. His paintwork also gives off a brief glow often when speeding by from a wide-enough distance.
- Chick also does this when he steals Lightning's "Ka-chow" bit in favor of one of his own.
- Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: Lightning acts nice and determined when racing, but off-track, he's obnoxious and self-centered, causing his own team to quit on him and even pushes Mack through the night. Finally averts this in the finale, when he becomes a good-natured racer when and when not racing.
- Bizarrchitecture: The Cozy Cone motel, which is based on a real motel modeled after Indian Teepees.
- Bland-Name Product:
- Racecars use Lightyear tires on the track. Lightyear uses the same logo and font as Goodyear, the official tire provider for NASCAR.
- Dinoco functions as the movie equivalent to Sunoco, the official fuel provider of NASCARnote .
- The Motor Speedway of the South is clearly Bristol Motor Speedway, right down to the logos. However, unlike Bristol, the track is a bit larger than the real one and has room for a grassy infield.
- Los Angeles International Speedway is meant to be the Auto Club Speedway, but with the outer facade of the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, and interior architecture from the Rose Bowl.note
- Bookends: The film starts and ends with a race for the Piston Cup.
- Borrowed Catchphrase: Other characters would often use Lightning's catchphrase "Ka-chow!" certain times, especially when Chick steals it as his own, "Ka-Chicka!"
- When aired on Disney Cinemagic in the UK, Mater's line "He did what in his cup?!" when Lightning McQueen mentions the Piston Cup was cut.
- On Freeform, Lightning McQueen's line about being in "Hillbilly Hell" is edited.
- Break the Haughty: Much of the film's humor is derived from the misfortunes that fall upon Lightning during his stay at Radiator Springs.
- Breaking the Fourth Wall: During the end credits, Mater lip synchs to the lyrics of "Route 66" directly to the audience. Then there's Lightning staring at the camera when Mater tries to remove his parking boot and the bug bumping into it at a post-credits scene.
- Brick Joke: The couple who's passing through Radiator Springs in the middle of the movie reappears in The Stinger, lost and wandering around in the middle of the desert.
- But Now I Must Go: Lightning has to leave Radiator Springs for the tiebreaker race, but not before saying goodbye to Sally.
- Calling the Old Man Out: Sally angrily does a very short one after she finds out that Doc called the press about where Lightning was to get him out of Radiator Springs. Turns out to be an Ironic Echo when she asks if it was the benefit of everyone else in the town, or just for him, as Lightning did.
- The Cameo: No prizes for guessing who Michael Schumacher Ferrari and Jay Limo are voiced by...
- Tom and Ray have a cameo as well.
- And some obscure politician guy from California. (Though this being during his tenure as governor, he's actually voiced by Jess Harnell.)
- As does frequent NBC Sports host Bob Costas. And fellow announcer Darrell Waltrip.
- Dale Earnhardt Jr. appears as the #8 Chevrolet Monte Carlo he drove for his father's race team from 1999 to 2007 in the Winston / Nextel / Sprint / Monster Energy Cup Series (prior to his 2008 departure to Hendrick Motorsports), sans Budweiser stickers (to avoid advertising alcohol). Appropriately, his car name is... "Junior", which is pretty much how everyone in the NASCAR community refers to him.
- Camera Abuse: At the end of The Stinger with Minny and Van, one of the VW "bugs" flies into the camera lens, leaving a smudge from its hood.
- Captain Obvious:Mater: I'm startin' to think he knowed you was gonna crash!
Lightning: Thank you, Mater. Thank you.
- Cassandra Truth: No one believes McQueen at first about Doc being a former race car star.
- Catapult Nightmare: Lightning has one where he, The King, and Chick Hicks are racing on Motor Speedway of the South and are on the last lap until Frank appears out of nowhere and mows Chick while the King moves out of the way, and so does Lightning, but it costs him the win where Frank crosses the finish line first and wins Dinoco while Lightning gets licked by tractors and he wakes up screaming "No!".
- Central Theme: Understanding that winning isn't the best part of racing and learning what's more important in life.
- Champions on the Inside: Even though McQueen loses to help the King finish his race, he is still considered a winner in the audience's eyes. Doesn't help that the King was injured by the winner himself, costing him the Dinoco sponsorship.
- Character Tics:
- Lightning often sticks his tongue out when thinking of something. He also fidgets a tire when nervous. When racing, he smiles normally, but grits his teeth with a furious face if he struggles.
- During his stay in Radiator Springs, Lightning has a tendency to show disgust toward the townsfolk at first. He either scowls or rolls his eyes at whatever they do for him, especially Mater and Doc. He drops it by the finale.
- Chekhov's Gag: While chasing Lightning near the beginning, Sheriff muses that he might bust a gasket at the speed he's going. When Lightning busts into Doc's office later in the film, Sheriff is in there, probably for said busted gasket.
- Chekhov's Gun: During Lightning's Rust-Eze sponsor meeting, he mentions offhandedly that racecars don't have headlights since the track itself provides lighting. This ends up causing him problems when he gets accidentally pushed out into the highway and can't find his truck in the dark.
- Chekhov's Skill:
- Driving backwards, and turning one way to go another. Both are shown to Lightning when he is in Radiator Springs by Mater and Doc respectively. Both are put into play by Lightning in the final race to avoid crashing when Chick tries to wreck him.
- Luigi tells Lightning that Guido has dreamed of getting to do a real pitstop for a racecar early on. At the tiebreaker race, Guido gets his chance and speed-changes all four of Lightning's tires in five seconds.
- Chick Magnet: In Lightning's bad daydream, he imagines Chick Hicks getting the Dinoco sponsorship and becoming known as the "Chick Magnet", literally.
- Chromatic Arrangement: Subverted. When the three main racecars are introduced at the start, it starts with The King (Petty blue), then Chick (green), and finally Lightning (red).
- Classic Villain: Chick Hicks is the Envy and Pride version of this combined with Arrogant Kung-Fu Guy. In the beginning of Cars, he's simply a slightly darker copy of McQueen's own flaws. By the end of the movie, however, McQueen's Character Development makes them complete opposites, highlighting how much McQueen has matured. Hicks demonstrates what McQueen could have been if he hadn't ended up in Radiator Springs.
- Color Motif: Lightning is red, which shows he's the hero, but his racing coat he wears for most of the film is a shocking red shade, representing his arrogance and vanity. When he gets a new paint job from Ramone to surprise Sally, he becomes a darker red with a sparkly coating, which shows his new attitude is literally "sparking". Then, at the end of the film, he combines this paint job with portions of his racing getup, showing his HeelFace Turn is complete and finally knows what's more important in life than just winning.
- Community-Threatening Construction: Radiator Springs was bypassed by Interstate 40, leading to its decline. Like many real towns, the opening of I-40 caused a decline in traffic on US 66 and turned it into a ghost town. Unlike most examples, though, the residents did nothing to stop it because they mistakenly thought more interstate travelers would mean more visitors.
- Company Cross References: During the end credits, Mack watches several car versions of previous Pixar films at a drive-in theater, specifically Toy Car Story, Monster Trucks, Inc., and A Bug's Life.
- There is a tire brand called Lightyear, as well as an oil company called Dinoco.
- Composite Character: Of a sort — most of the characters are a fusion of the vehicle itself and the type of person who would be likely to drive that vehicle.
- Continuity Cameo: The birds from Pixar short For the Birds can be seen very briefly on their power line as cars zip by.
- Cool Old Guy: Doc Hudson, a former Piston Cup champion who becomes a mentor of sorts for Lightning.
- Copycat Mockery:
- When Chick says, "The first one to California gets Dinoco all to himself!", Lighting later repeats this line to himself in a mocking voice.
- When Doc says, "You drive like you fix roads!", Lightning once again repeats this to himself in a mocking voice.
- Cow Tipping: The Cars world's equivalent — tractor-tipping — is something Mater does for fun. He (and Lightning) startle the tractors into accelerating so fast they flip over backwards.
- Credits Montage: After the "Where Are They Now?" Epilogue, the credits continue over a series of slow-motion stills throughout the movie.
- Didn't Think This Through:
- In the opening race, Lightning refuses to change his tires so he can maintain his big lead. Predictably, this nearly costs him the race when two of his tires burst in the final lap.
- When Lightning was about to be hooked up to Bessie for community service, Mater took off the clamp without hooking him up to Bessie first, not realizing that Lightning could simply zoom off once the clamp is removed, and he does. Doc gives him a Death Glare in the process. Mater lampshades this seconds later by saying he thinks he should have hooked Lightning up to Bessie first before removing the clamp.
- Made even funnier later when Lightning runs out of gas right in front of a waiting Sally and Sheriff, who knew full well what was going to happen because they had a role in it. We can't believe they cheated Lightning out on his gas.Sheriff: Boy, we're not as dumb as you think we are.
Lightning: B-B-But-But...H-H-H-How-How did...?
Sally: We siphoned your gas while you were passed out. Kachow.
- Made even funnier later when Lightning runs out of gas right in front of a waiting Sally and Sheriff, who knew full well what was going to happen because they had a role in it. We can't believe they cheated Lightning out on his gas.
- Different World, Different Movies: The automotive versions of earlier Pixar movies appear in the end credits, including Monster Trucks, Inc., Toy Car Story, and A Bug's Life.
- Directionless Driver: Minny and Van, the lost tourists who wander through Radiator Springs. Van, the husband, sternly refuses to ask for directions; after the credits, they're still lost in the desert, exhausted and delirious. The sequel shows that they found their way out.
- Dirty Old Woman: Lizzie, who slaps bumper stickers on strangers and ogles McQueen.
- The Ditz: Mater.
- Does This Remind You of Anything?:
- After the race in the film's beginning, Mia and Tia, two fans of Lightning come up and "flash" their "headlights" at him, much the way groupies lift up their shirts to flash people.
- The scene where Mack struggles to stay awake on the highway may seem familiar to any trucker or driver who has driven long distances in the dark on unlit country roads.
- The King's crash is supposed to be a recreation of the violent wreck Richard Petty took at the 1988 Daytona 500 (apart from the fact that Petty had a different car model, and that wreck involved an additional five cars).
- Chick being booed off the stage at victory lane was supposed to echo the backlash Rusty Wallace received when he spun out Darrell Waltrip to win the 1989 All-Star race at Charlotte.
- Radiator Springs is surrounded by rocky desert and flashes neon at night, just like Las Vegas.
- Don't Explain the Joke: Lightning's description of the Cozy Cone. Even Sally bluntly said that she's surprised that he figured the joke out on his own.Sally: [bluntly] Figured that all on your own, did you?
- Drill Sergeant Nasty: Sarge does this during the end credits montage when running a boot camp for pampered SUVs."A-TEN-SHUN! Kiss the pavement goodbye, gentlemen! When I'm finished with you, you'll have mud in places you didn't know you had!"
"Yo, I never been off road!"
- Driving into a Truck: At the beginning of the film, this is where Lightning lives. Unsurprisingly, this is the way real NASCAR teams transport their cars.
- Dude, Where's My Reward?: Subverted when Chick Hicks wins the race and the Piston Cup trophy without the crowd's favor; justified when the crowd voices their disapproval of Hicks' shoving Strip Weathers off the track by throwing his merchandise back at him due to his poor sportsmanship in contrast to Lightning McQueen, who helped push Weathers across the finish line in the final lap.
- Dying Town: Radiator Springs, until the ending.
- Earn Your Happy Ending: Lightning goes through a lot over the course of the movie to discover what's more important in life. By the end after giving up the Piston Cup to help The King finish the race, he politely turns down the Dinoco sponsorship, moves to Radiator Springs and sets up his racing headquarters there, which puts it back on the map.
- Embarrassing Tattoo: Sally has one. It looks like a small tribal design on her trunk which would be the equivalent of a "tramp stamp" on a human woman.
- Emerging from the Shadows: The movie starts with Lightning driving out of his dark trailer onto the racetrack.
- Epic Fail: Lightning's first attempt at turning right to go left, which results in him going over the edge of a drop and into another cactus patch. And then to add insult to injury, a cactus, dislodged by the impact, falls on top of him.
- Establishing Character Moment: Lizzie has hers in the courtroom scene.Lizzie: The only guy strong enough to fix that road is Big Al!
Ramone: Lizzie, Big Al left like 15 years ago.
Lizzie: Then why are you bringing him up, ya lemon?
- Everyone Has Standards: Even in Hillbilly Hell as Sally says.
- Evil Counterpart: Chick is this to Lightning, especially at the start of the film. Chick basically shows what Lightning could have become if he hadn't undergone Character Development.
- Exactly What It Says on the Tin: A movie about cars.
- Expospeak Gag: Occurs when Lightning talks to Mater after being forced to fix the road:Lightning: I shouldn't have to put up with this. I'm a precision instrument of speed and aerodynamics.
Mater: You hurt your what?
Lightning: I'm a very famous race car!!!
- Falling-in-Love Montage: Lightning and Sally have one during their drive up to the Wheel Well.
- Fantastic Fauna Counterpart: In this world of living vehicles, farming machines take place of cattle - tractors act like cows, gently grazing on wheat fields and tipping over when someone honks at them, and Frank the combine harvester acts like an aggressive bull, attacking cars who enter his field. There are also tiny VW Beetles that take the place of insects.
- Fantastic Racism: Lightning initially states his dislike of rusty cars. He gets creeped out at being up close with them, and is trying to get out of his Rusteze Medicated Bumper Ointment sponsorship due to not wanting to be associated with them, even stating they're bad for his image. When he points this out to Mater, Mater asked him what's wrong with rusty, old cars. To avoid hurting his feelings, Lightning says that he meant other old cars, not like Mater. He overcomes this prejudice after developing a friendship with Mater and happily stays on with Rusteze at the end.
- Feet-First Introduction: As Doc Hudson drives into the courtroom and takes the podium, the camera is focused on his tires.
- Fictional Province: Carburetor County, Arizona.
- Fiery Redhead: Lightning McQueen has a red paint job to match his personality. Frank is also colored red to match his irritable personality of a bull.
- Fish out of Water: McQueen, as he has to get accustomed to the very small town of Radiator Springs.
- Five-Second Foreshadowing: If you look behind Lightning when he backs up and blows a kiss to the paparazzi just after the security takes Mia and Tia away, the top three positions on the scoring pylon are not lit yet. This foreshadows the news of the three-way tie minutes later.
- Five Stages of Grief: Lightning hits all five beats throughout his stay in Radiator Springs: He immediately wanted to leave upon getting lost there (denial); repeatedly showed disdain to the residents at first and was upset at having to fix the road (anger); faces Doc in a race at Willy's Butte to see if he can leave (bargaining); feels bad for himself after learning about Doc's past and cries for the first time prior to his departure for California (depression); and gives up the Piston Cup and declines Dinoco, finally learning the true meaning of friendship in return (acceptance).
- Flashback Cut: Lightning experiences one the moment he sees The King lying unconscious on the infield after crashing, causing him to remember what happened to Doc and inspires him to give up the Piston Cup in favor of helping him.
- Flipping the Table: One of Lightning's pit crew members flip a stack of tires over when Lightning's tire blows out.
- Fly-at-the-Camera Ending: The Dinoco helicopter flies past the screen before the end credits start.
- Doc challenging Lightning to a race around Willy's Butte and giving him advice afterwards foreshadows Doc's racing past as The Hudson Hornet, which Lightning himself finds out the following day.
- After Mater's demonstration of driving backwards, Lightning sarcastically remarks that he may use it in his big race. He does, after Chick rams him and he ends up facing backwards. He simply reverses past him. He also uses it in the final lap, as he reverses out of the way of Chick trying to ram him again, and Chick hits the wall instead.
- At the race around Willy's Butte, Luigi tells Lightning that Guido's dream is to give a racecar a pit stop. At the final race in California, Guido fulfills that dream in the best way possible, changing all four of Lightning's tires, by himself, in about four seconds. This even makes the moustaches of Chick's pit crew drop off in amazement.
- There are a few unnoticeable hints at Lightning's HeelFace Turn throughout the film:
- When Harv calls him while on the way to California, he is reminded if he has any friends he can give the extra tickets to but can't think of any; when Harv hangs up, he slumps forward in sadness.
- He is immediately lovestruck the moment Sally first appears, not through manipulation like he tried to do with Mater at the impound, but through true, genuine feelings.
- Sally says to Lightning that she and Sheriff "siphoned his gas" while he was in the impound, foreshadowing the film's aesop that it's nice to slow down and enjoy life, which he says word per word after their drive together.
- While trying to fix the road, Bessie spits some tar on his right lightning bolt sticker which he has for most of his stay. This symbolizes that his ego has become slightly "darkened".
- When Lightning flirtatiously teases Sally about her pinstriping tattoo on her back, he is serious and actually being nice to her.
- Just before his departure, he is shown shedding tears as he talks with Sally. When he first arrived he wanted to go immediately, but now he's so sad he doesn't want to leave his new friends.
- For Want of a Nail: The film basically happens because of Lightning's refusal to change his tires on the final pit stop. In addition, the reason he gets lost is because of DJ, Boost, Wingo and Snot Rod messing with Mack on the highway by luring him onto the side of the road which is dangerously bumpy, and it causes one of Lightning's bobbleheads to fall off a shelf and hit the switch which opens the trailer.
- Freeze-Frame Bonus: In the close-ups of Lightning when he's stuck in the cactus after falling into such, car-shaped cacti can be seen on the cacti on either side of him.
- Friend or Idol Decision: Lightning McQueen gives up first place in the Piston Cup race to help The King cross the finish line after Chick Hicks causes him to wreck out. Hicks still wins the cup, but everyone knows that Lightning would have won, and Hicks' dishonorable tactics lose him any regard the win would have brought. In a mild Double Subversion and An Aesop, McQueen gains the adulation he had desired but discovers that he doesn't really need it anymore — the events of the movie have taught him that there are more important things than fame.
- From New York to Nowhere: Non-protagonist example. Sally Carrera recounts her story to Lightning McQueen that she used to be a fast-track lawyer in Los Angeles but grew disillusioned with the phoniness and the guile. She left California and kept driving through the desert until she broke down in Radiator Springs, where the townsfolk took her in and showed her kindness. She fell in love with the town and became its sole public defender, and has been content with that ever since. Sally recounts this as part of her stop-and-smell-the-roses Aesop.
- Funny Background Event:
- When McQueen gets shoved up on stage, someone in the back yells "Freebird!" at him.
- During the end credits scenes at the drive-in, a crowd of tractors gets increasingly larger while watching the movies, until they're even joined by Frank.
- Furry Confusion: Bessie.
- Gas Siphoning: Sally mentions that Lightning's gas tank was siphoned while he was passed out.
- Gentle Giant: Red, the huge fire truck who is very quiet and is seen taking care of his flowers most of the time.
- Get Out!: Doc says this to Lightning twice, following him witnessing his real driving leading him to reveal his dark past, making Lightning realizing what he should truly be.
- Gilligan Cut:
- While they're heading for California, Lightning McQueen promises to Mack that he'll keep him awake all night long by talking to him so he can keep driving. Cuts to McQueen sleeping soundly in the trailer and Mack starting to doze off.
- When Mater invites Lightning to come with him later that night, he says, You know who youre talking to? This is Lightning McQueen, I can handle anything. Cut to the two standing in a field later that night, and he proclaims, "Mater, I'm not doing this!"
- Goshdang It To Heck: Mater's "Holy shoot!"
- Hanging Judge: Doc Hudson if his opening speech is anything to go by.
- HeelFace Turn: Used and hinted at with Lightning throughout the film, in spite of his "designated hero" status. Examples:
- Lightning actually likes Mater's offer to show him around Radiator Springs at first; however, his ambitions remain clear: Get out of town and get to California before his rival, Chick. But by the time he does leave, he has made friends with the townsfolk and even taken their services and helped fix their lights. He leaves in depression when, thanks to Doc, the media finds him.
- Near the end of the climactic race, when The King is pushed off the track as Lightning is about to cross the finish line and win the cup, Lightning is reminded of Doc Hudson's own career-ending wreck and stops just short of the finish line, allowing Chick to claim the cup. He then goes back to push The King over the line, declaring, "I think The King should finish his last race."
- Hero Antagonist: The King. Though hes no jerk like Chick and he was one of Lightning's opponents, The King treats Lightning fairly and respectfully.
- Hey, That's My Line!: Lightning says it when he sees Chick steal his catchphrase on TV.Press: Show us the thunder!
Chick: You want thunder? You want THUNDER?!?! Ka-chicka! Ka-chicka! Ka-chicka!
Lightning: Hey! That's MY bit!
- Hood Hornament: Tex, the owner of Dinoco, is a Cadillac limo with a horn hood ornament functioning as a mustache.
- Hot Paint Job:
- Ramone sports loads of these in each scene he appears in.
- Lightning receives one in particular from Ramone to surprise Sally when he undergoes his HeelFace Turn.
- I Am the Trope: Lightning's Catchphrase — "I am speed."
- I Choose to Stay: At the end of the film, Lightning decides to keep his current sponsor Rust-eze, and also decides to make his home in Radiator Springs, and opens his Racing Headquarters there which puts the town back on the map and restores it to its former beauty.
- Impact Silhouette: Lightning leaves a himself-shaped hole in the smoke when he leaps over the wreckage during the first race.
- I Never Told You My Name: Fred. Everyone knows who he is because his license plate holder and license plate say "Hello, my name is" and "FRED", respectively. As a result, when McQueen says his name, he shouts, "He knows my name! He knows my name!" and gets so excited that his front bumper (which happens to be his lower jaw) falls off.
- In-Joke: When Lightning mistakes a trailer he's been following as Mack, said trailer declares he's a Peterbilt.
- Ink-Suit Actor:
- Despite the fact this world is full of anthropomorphic automobiles, a lot of them seem to closely resemble their voice actors. Lightning for instance has the same sky blue eyes and smooth smile as Owen Wilson, whilst Doc still looks like Paul Newman dead-on.
- Many prominent members of the racing community make cameos, voicing real cars that they've driven during their driving career:
- Strip "The King" Weathers is the #43 Plymouth Superbird that Richard Petty drove in 1970.
- Darrell Cartrip is essentially Darrell Waltrip voicing the 1977 Chevrolet Monte Carlo that Waltrip drove to a runner up finish in the 1979 points standings.
- Dale Earnhardt Jr. voices the #8 Budweiser Chevrolet Monte Carlo that he drove for DEI from 1999 to 2007note .
- Mario Andretti appears as his 1967 Daytona 500-winning Ford Fairlane.
- Inspirational Insult: Doc tells Lightning after Lightning falls into the cactuses that his driving is as lousy as his ability to fix roads, giving Lightning more motivation to do a proper job in fixing the road he damaged. Lightning even says "I'll show him."
Chick: You want thunder? You want thunder?!! Ka-Chicka!
- Also McQueen calls Chick "Thunder" since thunder always comes after Lightning, much to Chick's annoyance. However, Chick later shows off with this new nickname after Lightning disappears in Radiator Springs, wooing his fans and stealing Lightning's.
- Instant Costume Change: When found, Lightning is still in his fancy getup when enters his trailer prior to leaving, but once he gets to the race he's back to his racing getup.
- Insulted Awake: Making any loud sound before a sleeping tractor causes them to wake up and jolt forward before tipping over.
- Intimate Marks: Parodied. Although vehicles obviously don't have naughty bits, Sally has a "pinstriping tattoo" over her bumper, and she's very embarrassed when Lightning notices.
- Ironic Echo: "There's a lot more to racing than just winning."
- Ironic Echo Cut: One occurs during the moment that Mack parked Lightning's trailer at the Rust-eze tent to make his personal appearance, and he's not happy about it.Lightning: No...No! NO NO NO NO!!
[Cuts to him in a Rust-eze commercial]]
Lightning: Yes yes yes!
- It's All About Me:
- McQueen starts off with this attitude but has changed ways by the end of the film.
- Doc too, when he contacts the press to tell them of McQueen's location and get him out of the town. Sally calls him out on it.
- Chick Hicks is evidently 10 times worse than Lightning is, even before the rookie ended up in Radiator Springs.
- Jaw Drop:
- The Rust-eze fan Fred promptly has his jaw literally drop to the ground when he is surprised when Lightning knows his name.
- The members of Chick's crew have their mustache grills fall off after Guido pulls off an amazing rapid-fire pit stop.
- Lightning McQueen starts out as a jerk to everyone else, but becomes a better person by the end of the movie.
- Chick Hicks embodies this trope, not only being cruel towards McQueen, but also causing pileups in races.
- Jerkass Has a Point: Two way case. Doc after The Reveal makes perfectly clear his qualms with Lightning are his selfishness and insincerity and how toxic that could be to the people of Radiator Springs. Lightning, though beginning to acknowledge his flaws, blasts back how Doc can call anyone a fraud after he's spent years lying about who he is to the same people who trust him. Similar to Lightning before, Doc can't answer for himself and just sulks.
- Jerkass Realization: Lightning has this in Doc's garage after he reveals his tragic backstory. Later one by Doc himself after the Sally calls him out for phoning the press to get Lightning out of town.
- Jerk-to-Nice-Guy Plot: Lightning starts out as an egotistical rookie race car who clearly dislikes his job advertising Rust-eze medicated bumper ointment and having to be around rusty cars, and longs to be the new spokesman of the Dinoco gas station. He ends up lost in Radiator Springs and put on community service, and over the course of the movie, he learns to be more humble, becomes friends with Mater, a rusty tow truck, and turns down the Dinoco sponsorship when it is offered to him as a reward for helping Strip "The King" Weathers cross the finish line after a nasty accident.
- Jerk with a Heart of Gold:
- Lightning, later on in the film. He starts off as selfish, conceited, and arrogant, but starts to warm up to the residents of Radiator Springs and becomes a nicer person in the end.
- Doc to Lightning. He hates Lightning because he sees his old self in him, implying he himself was like that in his past. He manipulates him into doing a good job of repairing the road by challenging him to a race he knows Lightning won't win, and reveals Lightning's location to the media to get rid of him, thinking (and saying) it would be better for everyone else, but really doing it for himself. He's still friendly with the rest of the Radiator Springs populace and warms up to Lightning when he sees just how much Lightning meant to the others, even becoming his crew chief and guiding him through the final race.
- Karmic Death: Done figuratively. In the end, Chick Hicks wins the Piston Cup, but in doing so his Pride, Wrath, and Ambition have revealed him to be a poor sport to the rest of the world. His career dies a metaphoric — yet very karmic — death as a result.
- Kissing In A Tree: Twice done by Mater when he teases about Lightning and Sally's suspected relationship; first when saying goodnight to Lightning after their Tractor Tipping game, and again near the end when he interrupts a romantic moment between the two at the Wheel Well.Mater: McQueen and Sally parked beneath the tree! K-I-S-somethin'-somethin'-somethin'-T!Mater: McQueen and Sally parked beneath the tree! K-I-S-uh... I-N-T!
- Laser-Guided Karma:
- Chick Hicks in the final race rams The King off the road and causes a crippling crash that takes him out of the race. Although he wins the Piston Cup, the confetti cannons are redirected right at him and he's mercilessly booed offstage while the angry crowd throws things at him, and he's denied the Dinoco sponsorship.
- Also in the final race, when Lightning sees The King's crash, he gives up the Piston Cup (even if it means Chick will win), just so he can make sure The King can finish his final race and retire with dignity. The whole crowd cheers Lightning on for his sportsmanship and recognizes him as the true winner of the race, leading to the above example with Chick, and he is even offered the Dinoco sponsorship, which he has always wanted. He politely turns it down, but he keeps his promise to Mater by getting him a ride in the Dinoco helicopter.
- Leno Device: Early on, Jay Limo does a Tonight Show monologue about McQueen.Jay Limo: I don't know what's harder to find: Lightning McQueen, or a pit crew who'll work with him!
- Lonely at the Top: Lightning; it's shown early on when he's talking to his agent and can't name a single friend to send race tickets to. He has also fired three crew chiefs in a row because he wants to work alone although it's shown he refuses to listen to their advice so they may have quit.
- Loser Buys Lunch: Sally challenges Lightning to a race from the Wheel Well Motel to Flo's, where the loser has to pay for their food.
- Macross Missile Massacre: In Lightning's daydream, he stars in an action film in which he fires a lot of missiles at an invasion of giant sparkplug robots.
- Maniac Tongue: Lightning jumps clear of the wreckage with his tongue hanging out the side of his mouth. He also sticks his tongue out at the end of the first race which causes a three-way tie.
- Meaningful Echo: "It's just an empty cup." - a lesson that Lightning learned from Doc.
- A Million Is a Statistic: In the teaser trailer, Mater mourns over the death of a bumble bee after it was squashed on his windshield. Lightning then tells him to get over it. At which point, an entire swarm of bumble bees splatters all over the former's face. Mater laughs it off as Lightning tries to cough out the insects.
- Mistaken from Behind: Lightning McQueen gets separated from his truck Mac and looks for him. He thinks he sees him getting off the interstate, but after he catches up to him, it turns out to be someone else.Strange truck: I ain't no Mack, I'm a Peterbilt, for dang sake!
- The Mockbuster:
- My God, What Have I Done?:
- Doc, after Sally calls him out for tipping off the press to take Lightning away from Radiator Springs and everyone turning their backs on him for his selfish actions. He decides to re-don his old racing paint job and go to California to be Lightning's crew chief.
- An earlier one done by Lightning when he finally realizes how awful he's acted over the course of the movie, with thanks to Doc giving him his Wham Line.
- Never Got to Say Goodbye: Mater never gets a chance to say goodbye to Lightning — until later at the race, anyway.Doc Hudson: Well, I didn't have a choice. Mater didn't get to say goodbye.
Mater: GOODBYE!!! Okay, I'm good.
- Newspaper Backstory: McQueen discovers that Doc Hudson used to be famous racer the Hudson Hornet when he finds Doc's garage full of newspaper clippings, including one for the big crash that led to his retirement.
- Nice Mean And Inbetween: The King is the nicest of the three leaders, being wise and openly caring to his team. Chick is mean and rotten, not liking to lose and threatening to cheat in any way. Lightning is in-between, due to starting out spoiled and narcissistic, but softens over the course of the movie.
- No Celebrities Were Harmed: During the montage of people reacting to Lightning's disappearance, there's a press conference held by the Governor of California: a Hummer with a thick Austrian accent. However, unlike Jay Leno, Arnold didn't voice himself in car form (Jess Harnell did), and his name isn't mentioned in the movie.
- Not Allowed to Grow Old:
- The Radiator Springs gang have the same appearances 40 years in between when the town was a success and when it became a ghost town, and don't show any signs of aging at all (Though Mater goes from a baby blue back then to rusty brown in the present, but is still the same size).
- Taken further with Doc — he looks the same as he did back then when he was a racer, fifty years apart.
- Not Now, We're Too Busy Crying over You: Lightning McQueen has finished the road and there is no sign of him, the others assuming that he just left without saying goodbye. Red starts crying, at which point McQueen appears and asks what's the matter with Red. Mater then explains to McQueen about McQueen leaving, and stands staring at him a long while before realizing whom he was addressing.
- Oh, Crap!:
- McQueen when he gets lost on the road and is pursued by the Sheriff.
- McQueen and Mater when they realize their Tractor Tipping game worked a little too well.
- Everyone at the tiebreaker race when Chick rams the King, seriously injuring the latter.
- Oh, My Gods!: Minny to Van in The Stinger: "Oh, for the love of Chrysler...can we PLEASE ask someone for directions?!"
- Ooh, Me Accent's Slipping: Owen Wilson's minimal southern accent appears in some parts of the film (like the way he says "now", leaving out the "G" in "ing" words, and, most notably, the way he pronounces "interstate" as "enner-state") but fades in and out most of the time. Somewhat understandable since the majority of the Piston Cup tracks are in the Southeast.
- One-Word Title: Cars.
- Only Friend: Mater is the only one who immediately befriends Lightning after he got lost in Radiator Springs.
- Our Founder: Stanley Steamer, founder of Radiator Springs.
- If you know your car history, the "Stanley Steamer" was the first steam-powered car in the world. Cars made by the Stanley Motor Carriage Company tended to be known as "Stanley Steamers."
- Out-Gambitted: Lightning attempts to escape Radiator Springs after Mater removes the parking boot, only to immediately run out of gas after a few miles, because Sally and Sheriff siphoned his gas while he passed out overnight.
- Outside-Context Problem: McQueen is this to Chick Hicks, who thought that this was finally his year to win the Piston Cup and finally get out of The King's shadow with Weathers' upcoming retirement. The rookie racer Lightning McQueen's meteoric rise to fame came completely out of nowhere and Hicks found himself overshadowed once more.
- Overdrive: A rare subversion of the "more speed always works" aspect of this trope appears in the beginning of Cars. McQueen gains a whole lap on Chick Hicks and The King by staying out on several pit stops — only to have both of his rear tires blow out in the final lap.
- Painting the Medium: You can see Mater mouthing along to John Mayer's "Route 66" over the end credits.
- Playboy Parody: When the press is covering Lightning McQueen's arrival at the Los Angeles International Speedway, one of the questions asked is "Is it true he's going to pose for Cargirl?"
- Porn Stache: Chick Hicks' grill. The forklifts of his pit crew are just the same.
- P.O.V. Cam: While Lightning is waking up in the impound, we get a shot through his eyes as he is opening them while the blurry view resolves into Mater standing before him. A few more of these can be seen while Lightning is racing, with the front end of his hood being positioned into the bottom edge of the screen.
- Precision Swear Strike: "I'm in hillbilly hell" arguably counts; granted, the point a comparison to the place, but it's still unusually heavy language for a G-rated animated movie.
- Pyrrhic Villainy: Chick Hicks' wins the last race through a combination of cheating and Lightning's heartwarming last-minute Honor Before Reason decision to help crippled The King finish the race. He is rewarded by being abandoned by his sponsor and jeered off the winner's podium complete with tomato-flinging.
- Racing the Train: Lightning McQueen does it while trying to catch up to what he thinks is Mack.
- Rapid-Fire "No!": Lightning says a few of these throughout the movie.
- "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Doc gives one to Lightning after explaining his tragic backstory, which causes the latter to have a Jerkass Realization and finally discover what an awful brat he's become—which makes Lighting rebound the speech back to Doc, stating that Doc is also selfish for not opening about his past to his friends. Instead of countering, Doc angrily tells him to finish the road and leave town.Lightning: Hey, look, Doc, I'm not them.
Doc: Oh, yeah?
Lightning: No, I'm not!
Doc: When is the last time you cared about something except yourself, hot rod? You name me one time, and I will take it all back.
Doc: Uh-huh...didn't think so. These are good folk around here, who care about one another. I don't want 'em depending on someone they can't count on.
Lightning: Oh, like you? You've been here how long and your friends don't even know who you are?! Who's caring about only himself?!
Doc: Just finish that road and get outta here!
- Recycled IN SPACE!: Cars is Doc Hollywood WITH CARS! In-Universe during a credits scene, Toy Story, Monsters, Inc., and A Bug's Life are also recycled AS CARS!
- Red Is Heroic: Lightning is red and is the main character, but due to being a Jerkass at the start of the film, it's played straighter after he becomes a better person.
- Repeated Cue, Tardy Response: Lightning McQueen says, "Is it getting dark out?" at which point Lizzie was supposed to activate the neon lights, but she didn't hear him. Lightning tries again, but Lizzie actually forgot what she was supposed to do and Red decides to do her job for her.
- Reveille: Sarge wakes up every morning with Reveille. This prompts Fillmore to counter with the Jimi Hendrix rendition of "The Star-Spangled Banner".Sarge: Will you turn that disrespectful junk off?!
Fillmore: Respect the classics, man! It's Hendrix!
- Riches to Rags: Doc was a famous racer like Lightning, but he was forced to retire for good upon being replaced by a rookie following his crash.
- Riding into the Sunset: The movie ends with Lightning and Sally racing each other back to Radiator Springs.
- Screw This, I'm Outta Here!: Played straight when Lightnings pit crew quits on him and takes off after he shows his one-man show attitude once too often; subverted when Lightning tries to escape from Radiator Springs only to run out of gas in the middle of nowhere and have Sheriff take him back.
- Also defied by the Radiator Springs gang from the moment Lightning is impounded to the moment he leaves town (but not really) after finishing his community service.
- Second Place Is for Winners: Even though Lightning didn't win the race, he is lauded for his heroic rescue of "The King" and Chick Hicks is booed off the stage for being a jerkass.
- Self-Deprecation: In the credits sketches we see Mack (played by John Ratzenberger) criticizing the fact that John Ratzenberger is always in Pixar movies."What kind of cut-rate production is this?!"
- Shipper on Deck: Mater for McQueen and Sally."McQueen and Sally, parked beneath a tree, K-I-S-somethin'-somethin'-somethin'-T!"
- Shrine to Self: The luxury container Lightning McQueen travels in is full of trophies and gadgets of himself.
- Slower Than a Snail: Lightning complains that his driver, Mack, is driving him to California way too slowly, and a minivan (which should, for all intents and purposes, be slower than a mack truck) drives past Mack.
- Smoking Barrel Blowout: Guido does this after he changes all of Lightning's tires in seconds.
- Species Title: The movie is about a world of living cars.
- Spell My Name with a "The": Strip Weathers, AKA The King.The King: [to McQueen after the first race] Hey, buddy. You're one gutsy racer.
McQueen: Oh, hey, Mr. The King.
- Spit Shine: Mater offers to clean off a spot of tar on Lightning McQueen's hood, and he starts hocking before McQueen hastily declines.
- Stealth Pun:
- That little blue flying insect shaped like a car is a Volkswagen Beetle.
- Sally, a lawyer, is a Porsche. "Portia" used to be a slang term for a female lawyer (after Portia, who disguised herself as a lawyer to defend Antonio in The Merchant of Venice).
- The twins Mia and Tia are Mazda Miatas.
- Compared to "Toy Car Story" and "Monster Trucks inc.", "A Bugs Life" keeps the original name while referencing "Bug", as in "Volkswagen Beetle".
- Sticky Situation: Bessie has a tendency to spit tar on the car that is pulling her. Lightning eventually gets some on one of his lightning bolt stickers the moment he starts fixing the road, which remains there throughout the majority of his stay.
- Stock Audio Clip: Some of Lightning's freak-outs are recycled throughout the movie note
- His scream when he wakes up after getting lost is used again when he is about to crash into a Cozy Cone, a third time when the Stanley statue lands in front of him, and a fourth time when he sees Frank.
- His "Ow, ow, ow, ow, ow!" when he is knocking over a row of cones is used later when he is going off course into the cactus during his race with Doc at Willy's Butte.
- His "Wow!" when he sees the Wheel Well is used again when he approaches Doc after witnessing his real driving.
- Stock Desert Interstate: Radiator Springs, the main setting of the movies, is a desert town along Route 66, surrounded by picturesque rock formations. It was once a thriving community servicing cars driving across the country, but by the events of the first movie, was a Dying Town due to Interstate 40 cutting off its main source of income. It becomes a hot tourist attraction after racer Lighting McQueen makes it his base of operations.
- Stock Scream: During Lightning's first dream sequence, the car that gets dissolved gets a Wilhelm scream out.
- Subverted Rhyme Every Occasion: The Rust-Eze rhyme.Winter is a grand old time.
Of this, there are no ifs or buts.
But remember, all that salt and grime...
Can rust your bolts and freeze your— Hey, look! There he is!
- Suspiciously Specific Denial: After tractors run amok on the streets, Mater insists that he wasn't out tractor tipping.
- Sweet and Sour Grapes: In the end after giving up the Piston Cup to save The King, Lightning is offered the Dinoco sponsorship by Tex, which was his dream since the beginning. However, he turns down the offer, because the Rust-Eze team gave him his big break and knows there's a lot more to racing than just winning.
- Sympathy-Bankrupt Banker: Alluded to. Chick Hicks is sponsored by htB, Hostile Takeover Bank, which fits perfectly with his dirty driving methods.
- Tears of Joy: By Sally as Lightning helps The King cross the finish line and is praised by everyone.
- Tears of Remorse: Lightning and Sally shed these after she wishes him good luck, shortly before his departure. Notably the very first time Lightning actually broke down.
- Tempting Fate: During the first race when Lightning is far in the lead on the final lap:Lightning: Checkered flag, here I come!
[Cue one of his tires exploding]
- Toilet Humour: From the first movie:Sally: Flo! What do you have at your store?
Flo: I have gas! Lots of gas!
[Mater and Ramone snicker]
- Tractor-tipping: startling a tractor into falling over so it points straight up into the air, causing it to backfire in a manner that sounds like flatulence.
- Transformation Sequence: Lightning has a brief one when Ramone is giving him a new paint job to surprise Sally.
- Tripod Terror: Lightning's action dream sequence in the beginning. Gets a frightening reprise when he imagines trying to outrun Frank on the track.
- Unnecessary Roughness: Done repeatedly in Cars by Chick Hicks, who won't hesitate to slam other racers and cause a Big One to happen just to stop McQueen. He even does the PIT maneuver to turn drivers backwards — a move that NASCAR and other organizations deem illegal. We are left to wonder why the NASCAR-expy organization has never parked Hicks for his tactics, even after causing a near-fatal crash for the retiring champion and winning the coveted Piston Cup championship. For comparison For another comparison
- Unsportsmanlike Gloating: Chick again.
- Villain: Exit, Stage Left: After Chick is booed at for causing The King to crash on purpose, denying his victory, he runs offstage and isn't seen again.
- Visual Pun:
- A double case after the first race. Mia and Tia struggle to meet Lightning and turn on their headlights to him, and everyone acts shocked. They're flashing him with their headlights.
- The bumper sticker that Lizzie slaps on Van reads "Nice Butte".
- The Voice: Harv, Lightning's agent. He's heard over the phones (there are two of them, it's a different phone the second time) in Lightning's trailer twice, first when he's on his way to California, and second when his location is revealed to the press by Doc.
- Wham Line:
- In the tiebreaker race, Lightning says, "I think The King should finish his last race." This is a sign that his Character Development is finally complete and that he doesn't care about just winning anymore.
- In Doc's garage:Doc Hudson: When is the last time you cared about something except yourself, hot rod? You name me one time, and I will take it all back.
- Lightning fires back at Doc with one his own:Lightning: Oh, like you? You've been here for how long and your friends don't even know who you are? Who's caring about only himself?
- After Lightning leaves for the race:Reporter: Hey, are you Doc Hudson?
Reporter: Thanks for the call.
- Wham Shot: Lightning stopping just inches before the finish line to let Chick win, before proceeding to help The King cross the line, showing his change of heart has fully taken effect.
- What the Hell, Hero?: Sally quietly tears into Doc after finding out he was the one who called the press and told them where Lightning was.
- "Where Are They Now?" Epilogue: The end credits show Radiator Springs is restored and everyone is enjoying their new lives together.
- Wind Turbine Power: Mack passes by a pretty large field of wind turbines on his way to Los Angeles.
- Writers Cannot Do Math: Lightning says at the beginning, "One winner, 42 losers," implying there are 43 racers competing (as if this were a Cup Series race pre-2016). During the race, only 36 racers are shown, the size of an Xfinity Series field. Unless we're to assume that some cars had already been taken out in an earlier crash.
- Yank the Dog's Chain: Radiator Springs is rejuvenated by Lightning and everyone is happy, and it looks like the icing on the cake is the customers that seem to be approaching. Except they aren't customers. They're the press, who've been alerted to Lightning's presence by Doc, and Lightning is promptly whisked away for the final race.
- You Fool!: "Not Chuck" shouts this after Lightning's tire blows out.
- You Have GOT to Be Kidding Me!: Lightning says this after he learns Doc has sentenced him to community service and he has to mend the road before he can leave Radiator Springs.