Car choices on TV and in fiction

I recently watched some old episodes of Supernatural. Afterwards, I started thinking about the Chevrolet the Winchesters drive. It really doesn’t seem like a terribly practical choice. The gas mileage is likely appalling, which is a big issue when constantly travelling. I can imagine it would be a hassle of trying to get parts for a fifty year old car when stranded in some small town in the middle of nowhere. (Of course, cars never break down on a TV show—unless it’s needed for the plot. Even the most reliable car in the world will break on a TV if the story needs a chance for the 19 year old blond to get stabbed to death!) And the Supernatural Chevrolet is not exactly a discreet car to drive at those times when they don’t want to attract attention.

A more practical car, it seems, would be something like an older Toyota Camry. Or maybe a small SUV, which could handle bad road conditions, and treks off road while chasing down some horror living in the woods.

Admittedly, the Chevrolet is a fun car for Supernatural viewers. Certainly more fun than a Camry. And, of course, plenty of other TV shows have also had car choices that don’t seem quite right.

But the problem is that a poor car choice can make a TV show less believable. (Admittedly, a show with a supernatural theme already does ask one to suspend quite a bit of disbelief!)

Car choice is also important in books and short stories. I can think of plenty of bad choices authors have made. Including, I’m afraid to admit, me.

My worst car choice appeared in an unfinished novel I worked on many years ago. At some point, I decided to equip a 20-something young man with a first generation Mustang. I can’t remember the thought process—if there even was a thought process—but part of it was undoubtedly just for my own fun. (I fondly remember a 1966 Mustang my family had when I was young.) Problem is...a sixties Mustang was a horrible match for the character and his circumstances. I made some  attempts to justify the car. “Good deal from a neighbor” was the first attempt. A later idea was that he’d had a relationship, which had resulted in him somehow getting the car. Finally, I faced reality. The Mustang idea needed to be sent to the scrap yard ASAP, and replaced with something more suitable.

Unfortunately, the “more suitable” cars were also problematic. One idea was a BMW, which, again, was chosen for my own fun. I can’t afford a BMW, so I might well have give one to my character so I can have a BMW vicariously. In some ways, the BMW was also a good match for the character, but, again, it wasn’t quite right for the character’s circumstances.

At the same time, I did make some good choices of cars in this same work. One character, for example, has an old, cranky truck. The character is frugal, and willing to tinker to get full use out of something he owns. The truck is one thing he tinkers with to keep going a few extra miles. It can be used to haul stuff home for his current money saving project.

That unfinished novel is very likely going to be unfinished for all time. There are other problems—problems bigger than a character driving the “wrong” car. Although that novel was a good learning experience, and one thing I learned—well, I hope I learned—is to have characters owning a car that matches the character’s personalities and circumstances. Not just something I wish I could have on my driveway.