clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile
a screenshot from Cars on the Road. lightning mcqueen, a red race car, and mater, a rusty tow truck, cower while surrounded by grungy and aggressive cars wearing spikes. it is night and the light comes from various torches. Image: Pixar

Filed under:

The 10 wildest things about the Cars universe revealed in Cars on the Road, ranked


If you buy something from a Polygon link, Vox Media may earn a commission. See our ethics statement.

As Polygon’s resident Cars stan, it was my duty — nay, my privilege — to dive into the new Cars Disney Plus series.

In addition to the three movies, a number of Cars shorts have debuted on television, alongside home media or with theatrical releases. There are also the Planes movies, which technically happen in the Cars universe, but aren’t made by Pixar. The Cars universe is ever-growing and constantly expanding, and each new revelation opens up a million follow-up questions — since Cars stories have airport security, does that mean Cars 9/11 happened? Since Sarge is a 1942 Willys Army Jeep, does that mean World War II occurred? There is a Car Pope, so does that mean there was a Car Jesus?

It’s a lot. And it’s a delight. As race car Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson) and rusty tow truck Mater (Larry the Cable Guy) set off on a cross-country road trip for Mater’s sister’s wedding, Cars on the Road continues this grand tradition of teasing absolutely bonkers reveals about the greater Cars world.

[Ed. note: This ranking contains spoilers for Cars on the Road — read at your own risk!]

10. Cars get gassy

mater and lightning looking at the camera. mater’s rear end is up in the air, because he has “backfired” — aka the car equivalent of farting Image: Pixar

As in, they can fart and burp. This isn’t super groundbreaking, all things considered (especially because they’ve burped a bit before). But Mater also mentions that he gets something called “the backfires” in the last episode, when he finally meets his sister and gets nervous and starts to involuntarily sputter out of his exhaust pipe. Is this the Cars version of needing to shit when you get anxious? That could imply that the cars in Cars have more elaborate nervous and endocrine systems, resulting in psychosomatic symptoms. Much to consider.

9. Cars drink champagne

a bottle of champage Image: Pixar

We know that a smattering of “real” food exists in the Cars universe. In Cars 2, Mater tries some wasabi because he mistakes it for pistachio ice cream, for instance. But now we know that they open a bottle of something bubbly — probably champagne — at weddings! Good for them. But what we still don’t know is whether cars get drunk.

8. “Brakelight Pictures” exists

the studio logo of “brakelight pictures”, which is white text on a black box, with drawings of lights on either side Image: Pixar

In the 7th episode, Mater and Lightning wander onto a movie set belonging to Brakelight Pictures. This is a clear spoof on Searchlight Pictures, down to the logo. If this company exists, does it mean it belongs to 20th Century Studios, and was thus acquired by in-universe Disney? By extension, does that mean Pixar exists? And by extension, does this mean that Cars-universe Pixar made Cars?! Or is it called Humans?

7. Cryptids are a part of the Cars world

a blurry, pixelated picture of the cars-universe bigfoot Image: Pixar

Episode 4 sees Mater and Lightning meeting a gang of cryptid hunters. They reveal that they search for all sorts of weird creatures, including the chupacabra, Mothman, and Bigfoot. Yes, Bigfoot and Mothman. There are a lot of layers here. For one, the chupacabra feasts on goats, which means that there must be some goat equivalent in the Cars universe. (Tractors in this world are cow-like, which isn’t too far off?) “Mothman” implies the existence of moths and men, though perhaps at this point in the Cars world, they just interchangeably refer to male cars as men. And finally, does the fact that it’s “Bigfoot” and not “Bigwheel” mean wheels and feet are the same thing? If a car in Cars wore pants, would they wear them like THIS or like THIS?

Anyway, as it turns out, the creature these cars think is Bigfoot is actually a reclusive monster truck named Ivy (Quinta Brunson), who left her life in the spotlight to live a solitary life in the woods. Which brings us to the next point…

6. Monster truck rallies are fucked up in this world

a monster truck lines up, ready to smash a row of waiting cars Image: Pixar

Ivy talks about the toll being a monster truck took on her and how she was just expected to smash cars. The show cuts to a flashback where she is making a grand leap off a ramp, about to smash a car. The small car looks helplessly up at her, right before she crushes it.

Monster truck rallies are basically public executions, apparently. And everyone is just… OK with this.

5. When cars get emptied, they die

mater, a rusty pickup truck, tied up with wires and pretending to get “drained” — he is screaming in pain. everything is surrounded in green light Image: Pixar

We’re in a morbid area of this ranking and somehow it only gets weirder from here, so buckle up.

Later in that same episode, Lightning, Mater, and Ivy team up to scare off the cryptid hunters. They stage a fake alien abduction, pretending to tie Mater up and “empty” him. Even though he’s pretending, he makes a big show like he’s in great pain, basically being tortured to death. This really freaks out the cryptid hunters.

Yes, death exists in the Cars universe — we know that because Doc Hudson (Paul Newman), Lightning’s racing mentor, died sometime before the events of Cars 3. But this casts a new light on just how many different and horrific ways cars can die. We know in Cars 2, a secret agent was viciously heated to death, while other cars blew up. (The body count, or chassis count, is high in that movie.) But is there a great beyond for cars? Do they cross over a rainbow highway? Go to the great manufacturer’s plant in the sky?

4. There’s a car Grim Reaper

a black hearse-like car with wings floating in the sky Image: Pixar

We might not know the details of the car afterlife, but we do know that when cars are about to die, a Grim Reaper figure fetches them. In the third episode, Mater does some very risky racing that pushes the limits of his capabilities, and as he is about to crash, he has a near-death experience. As he floats up above his body (implying a car soul???), he is greeted by a winged black car (Kathy Holly), who looks like a hearse. She introduces herself as the “Speed Demon” — or at least that’s the name the locals call her. With her chrome wings and black paint, she’s basically the Cars equivalent of the Angel of Death or the Grim Reaper.

Don’t worry — Mater doesn’t actually die. He annoys her so much that she decides it’s not worth it.

3. There are car ghosts

lightning mcqueen chased by three green glowing ghosts in a dark hotel hallway Image: Pixar

There’s car death, so it only makes sense that there are car ghosts, right? The second episode, which is basically a big The Shining homage, sees McQueen lost in the hallways of a creepy hotel, haunted by various ghosts (including two twin cars who just want to play). At first it seems like it could just be a nightmare and all in Lightning’s head, but the episode ends with the hotel clerk scolding the ghost for messing with the guests again. So Bigfoot is still an unconfirmed myth in the Cars world, but yes, ghosts exist.

2. There were car dinosaurs

a large t-rex-like car creature chases a prehistoric looking mater and lightning mcqueen. the t-rex creature’s giant maws gape open as the two heroes race away towards the camera Image: Pixar

Ghosts are fine and dandy, but the revelation that absolutely just blows (almost) everything out of the water happens in the very first episode: There were car dinosaurs.

CAR DINOSAURS! McQueen and Mater come upon a roadside dinosaur park, and while driving around, Lightning reveals that he’s actually a bit of a dinosaur geek. Not only were there dinosaurs (who have wheels, but for some reason use them like feet, at least in Mater’s imagination), but there are also fossils. Phrases like “first grazing dino vans” and “plains-dwelling sedans in the region” further complicate the Cars universe lore. Also, they were all wiped out by an asteroid some 50 million years ago.

Riddle me this — if cars use gas, and gas is fossil fuels made from, well, fossilized organic matter, and in the Cars universe, cars don’t just use gas, they eat it… does that mean the cars in Cars are… eating what remains of their ancestors? Is it like eating a mummy, or more like eating a mammoth?

This all happens in the first episode, which doesn’t interrogate any of this — it’s more about Mater actually having a fun time learning things. And honestly, it’s probably for the better that they don’t unpack this chaotic mess.

1. Mater comes from a rich family

lightning mcqueen and mater standing in front of a giant fancy mansion Image: Pixar

We spent a lot of time mulling over car death, but honestly, the bigger elephant in the room is the fact that cars have relatives — and birth order and families and HOW DOES THAT EVEN WORK?

The entire show is set up as a road trip that Lightning and Mater make to see Mater’s sister for her wedding. (Mater doesn’t ask his girlfriend, Holley Shiftwell, along, because at this point, Pixar is ignoring the underrated Cars 2.) It’s revealed that Mater’s family is actually really rich and made up of Southern socialites. Mater’s sister, Mato (get it… like… to-mahto…) is marrying the brother of Cruz Ramirez from Cars 3 — so there’s another family connection!

It is unlikely that Pixar will go as far as Shrek 2 did and really dive into the mechanics of what happens when two cars want to start a family. Instead, it’s left to our imaginations, and perhaps some creative people on the internet can answer that.

Cars on the Road is now streaming on Disney Plus.


Every new movie and show coming to Disney Plus in June


Celebrate your Cinderella wedding with some Cinderella accessories


Little Mermaid’s box office opening was impressive, but still couldn’t top Lion King

View all stories in Disney

Sign up for the newsletter Sign up for Patch Notes

A weekly roundup of the best things from Polygon