5 Auto Myths that Movies Continue to Perpetuate

October 11th, 2023 by


Throughout the history of cinema, films and automobiles have shared an interconnected relationship. Take the New Hollywood era of the 1960s, which popularized the car chase genre. Icons such as Sean Connery in Goldfinger and Steve McQueen in Bullit could be seen racing through city streets without abandon, setting an inaccurate precedent for most cars’ typical capabilities.

From Back to the Future to Ferris Bueller to Mad Max: Fury Road, some of cinema’s most revered films conjure images of flashy cars in action. Cinema’s love affair with automobiles has only grown stronger throughout the years. Ford v Ferrari garnered a Best Picture nomination in 2020. The tenth mainline entry in the Fast and the Furious franchise was released this summer, with an eleventh and twelfth already in the works. Even the popular video game racing franchise Gran Turismo was recently adapted for the silver screen.

So much of what we know about cars was learned from the movies we watched growing up – and most of it is amusingly wrong. Before we get to this year’s Oscar season, let’s dispel myth from reality when it comes to vehicles in film.

Landing a Jump Means the Car is Totally Fine 

A car jumps a dozen feet off the ground and into a ravine, effortlessly nailing the landing on all fours with cat-like grace. It casually resumes driving in its usual manner, as if nothing unusual just happened. You see this scene all the time in movies.  Even the deadly ending of Thelma and Louise cuts out ambiguously mid-jump, allowing us the possibility that our heroines somehow, someway landed from that cliff unscathed. 

Peel back the Hollywood curtain and the results are much more damaging. Attempting the most minor of jumps, or even navigating unorthodox terrain, results in a plethora of problems for your vehicle: damaged tires, failed suspension, engine issues, and so forth. Even if the exterior of your car miraculously survives, it could very well be suffering from interior damage. Our Service Center is here for you whenever you encounter these issues – but you’re still better off leaving the stunts to professionals. 

Nitrous Oxide Equals Hyperspeed

A deus ex machina arrives at the end of many films to abruptly solve a seemingly unsolvable problem. In many of cinema’s great car chases, the unsolvable problem is simply that the hero’s car isn’t fast enough.  

Enter the nitrous oxide button, as made famous in Fast and the Furious, Mad Max 2, and countless racing video games. By simply enabling this “turbo” feature, the protagonist’s ride instantly shifts into a hyper-accelerated state. The background blurs into a series of horizontal lines as villainous competitors are left in the dust.  

Nitrous oxide actually is a helpful resource, capable of optimizing and increasing engine power for a brief duration. But unlike how it’s advertised in movies, nitrous oxide isn’t nearly capable of launching the driver into hyperspace. Overall, nitrous oxide raises engine power 10-15%. Efficient, but by no means physics-altering.

“Drifting” Helps You Cut Corners

As made most famous by the third Fast and the Furious entry, Tokyo Drift, drifting is a pretty bizarre concept. It involves steering a vehicle in a controlled, sideways skid. In Tokyo Drift, protagonist Sean Boswell must adapt to this constantly horizontal tactic or risk humiliation before his fellow drifters.

In reality, drifting is as impractical as it sounds. Any form of skidding during a race is counterproductive. Rolling in corners, rather than skidding, is the ideal way to maintain speed. The next time you watch a Formula 1 race, note the lack of skid marks on the racetrack. It’s as if the world’s greatest drivers know that drifting will only slow them down.

Another technique that hurts more than it helps is downshifting at high speeds. No matter how cool that intro scene from Baby Driver is, trying to recreate it will only result in damage to your clutch plate and flywheel. 

Weather Doesn’t Impact Performance in the Slightest

In perpetually sunny Hollywood, intense weather is more a source of dramatic effect than it is a natural occurrence. Unless the director moonlights as a storm chaser, the severe rain and snowfall effects you see on film is the result of rigorous set design and/or CGI. Accordingly, cars in these scenes behave just as unrealistically. 

For every I’m Thinking of Ending Things, where Jesse Plemons’ character advocates for the practical advantages of snow chains, there’s the Iceland scene from Fate of the Furious, in which cars speed and drift atop ice as if it’s an airport runway. Chances are high that such conditions aren’t nearly as conducive for your vehicle, as even slightly chillier Autumn weather can result in battery failure.

A Lone Bullet in the Gas Tank Causes an Explosion 

In movies, a vehicle’s gas flap is the equivalent of a human brain: if either takes a direct shot, it’s game over. In real life, a single bullet hitting a gas tank will… make a hole in it. For an explosion to take place, a mixture of fuel and oxygen is required, and fuel tanks simply don’t contain the amount of oxygen necessary for such a result. 

We are really hoping this clarification provides relief, not disappointment.  

If you do find yourself in a high-octane shootout, please note that hiding behind your car doesn’t actually provide adequate protection. Just as a single bullet creates a hole in your gas tank, multiple bullets will make multiple holes from one side of your car to the other. To reiterate the most important thing you can take away from this post: most real cars are not bulletproof. 

Now that we’ve established the difference between fiction and reality, continue to enjoy your movie nights! Just because we don’t live in a world of Matrix physics doesn’t mean you can’t appreciate the bonkers highway chase scene from The Matrix: Reloaded. 

In the meantime, Volkswagen of Macon is your home for all your real-world automotive needs. Whether you’re in the market for a new or preowned vehicle, or if you’re looking for new tires or parts, we’re here to make you feel like a star.