Have you ever wondered about all the cars you see on TV shows, and in movies? Where do the studios get them? Why do ongoing characters’ cars sometimes change into a different model year or color?
There are two primary ways that studios get the cars they use in productions: product placement from manufacturers, and renting them from their owners (usually via a broker, who may act as a sort of agent for cars and their owners.)
For current model year cars, product placement is usually the source; a manufacturer—like Toyota and Lexus in Black Panther, for example—provides cars and pays the production, and their cars are featured prominently.
When a production needs older or rarer cars, they typically rent them from their owners, through a broker. For shorter-term use, cars are rented by the day, very similar to the way human extras are used in a show or movie. For longer-term/primary roles, a car may be used for months or years.
But because productions don’t generally own the cars they use, they aren’t always guaranteed access to them. So if you happen to notice car details, you might see a TV character driving a car that is similar but slightly different; yet it’s passed off as his or her regular ride.
It’s especially common to see a different (usually older) car when there’s a crash scene; the production usually doesn’t own and can’t actually total the car, so they’ll use an older, less-expensive stand-in to destroy.
Here are some of the noticeable (and less noticeable) gaps in car-related continuity in popular TV shows and movies:
In the first season, the year is supposed to be 1983… but Volkswagen geeks might have noticed that Barb’s Cabriolet is a 1988 (as Jalopnik points out, its headlights and its bumpers with plastic covers give it away.)
With a long-running show, like the 8-season Dexter, it’s even more common to see variations in the starring vehicles. Like Deborah Morgan’s BMW convertible.
In the first few seasons, Deb drives a dark green (maybe Boston Green) E36.
Later, around season 6, her BMW morphs into a newer, lighter color (Glacier Silver, maybe) later model 3-series convertible—the E46 style.
After her car crash (sorry if that’s a spoiler for anyone, but… that episode was seven years ago), there’s a scene showing the totaled car, and it’s back to being an earlier model E36… but silver, unlike her original E36. (The hood looks a little strange here, too—doesn’t really look like part of the car, more like it was just laid on top, maybe to hide the inconsistency.)
Small details, probably not noticeable to most people… but impossible not to notice if you’re a car guy.
This one goes way back to the 80s… when Sonny Crockett’s white Ferrari Testarossa became as (probably more) iconic as Elvis, his pet alligator.
There were actually two of them used for the show; they were originally painted black, but the producers opted to paint them white to stand out better in the night shots, which were very common in Miami Vice. There was a third car that keen eyes may have been able to pick out as not a genuine Testarossa; it was actually a modified DeTomaso Pantera built just for stunt scenes.
Before the Testarossa, Crockett drove a black Ferrari Daytona—or, what appeared to be a Daytona. It was actually a replica, built on a C3 Corvette by McBurnie. Ferrari had sued McBurnie to get them to cease operations, and subsequently offered two new Testarossas to the production. They had one condition; the faux Daytona had to be destroyed on the show. And it was—by drug dealers, in a fiery explosion.
To further complicate things, the “Daytona” inexplicably reappeared six episodes later (much like its Dallas-based contemporary, Bobby Ewing.) The producers, after seeing the explosion scene, decided it would make for a powerful opening to the season, and they changed the airing order of the episodes. (Continuity be damned.)
In another case of model year-fluctuating BMWs, in the Bodyguard, Julia and PS Budd leave a meeting in a 2018 BMW 7-series, but when a sniper starts shooting at them, the 7-series is suddenly a 2013 model. (Likely because damaging an older model was easier on the production budget.)
Dallas Buyers Club
This film was set in 1985, but a poster in one scene features a Lamborghini Aventador, which wasn’t launched until 2011.
Another classic film that has a more literal car-based mistake is Braveheart. That mistake being that there were cars in the movie at all. Most people watching probably didn’t catch it, but in this picture you can clearly see the car in the lower left of the screen. (Cars were no doubt a rarity in 13th century Scotland. Oops!)