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Automobile folklore


Dec 17, 2021

The major effects of the automobile on societies include the development of diverse customs and traditions.

Car accident omen
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The examples and perspective in this article deal primarily with the United States and do not represent a worldwide view of the subject. (April 2018)

Some drivers believe that a new car is in greater danger than a used car of getting into an accident or having a collision.[why?] Some drivers will leave change under their seats. Others use one coin to scratch the car, based on the (false) belief that since the car is new and nothing has happened to it yet, the chances of something bad happening to the car is greater when compared to a used car which already has its fair share of dents and scratches. In hopes of preventing a high damaging accident, they will place a small nick or scratch on the car in an area where it will not be seen. The inside of the wheel well is one commonly scratched area.[not verified in body]

There are also a few practices associated with graduations. In the days leading up to a graduation, some drivers (and in some cases friends of the driver) will write on the car windows with washable paint. The messages usually congratulate the driver of the car and list the driver’s school and year of graduation. After graduating from high school or college, some drivers choose to hang their tassel from the rearview mirror.[not verified in body]

Some people throw change under a bed in hopes of bringing good luck to the new home. Change is known worldwide as a good luck charm.[not verified in body]

Mourning Car decked with flags

. . . Automobile folklore . . .

There are also religious acts that are associated with automobiles. This can include getting the car blessed by a cleric or placing an object of religious significance inside the car.

A predominately Roman Catholic practice is to place a medal of Saint Christopher, the patron saint of truck drivers and travelers in general,[1] inside the car. Usually, the driver will have this medal blessed by a priest. An ancient legend, mentioned by Erasmus in the Praise of Folly, holds that those who see an image of Saint Christopher cannot die through misadventure during that day. Not surprisingly, images of Saint Christopher became popular automobile accessories. Through the presence of the medal, the driver is asking the Saint to pray on his or her behalf for a safe and uneventful journey.

A somewhat more sombre purpose originally stood behind the familiar plastic Jesus that some Christians have mounted on their dashboards. The original plastic Jesus was circulated by the Sacred Heart Auto League, founded in 1955 by Father Gregory Bezy, SCJ. This devotional society placed the traditional Roman Catholic figure of Jesus displaying his Sacred Heart on the dashboard. Father Bezy was moved to do this as a “practical answer to what he considered the ever-increasing dangers of our overcrowded streets and highways.”[2] In other words, in the event of a fatal accident, Father Bezy hoped that the last thing the riders would see would be the image of Jesus, and as such face Eternity with faith and contrition.

The plastic dashboard Jesus proved popular among non-Catholic Christians as well. The figure is well known enough to have inspired a folk songPlastic Jesus, originally attributed to Ed Rush and George Cromarty, which has acquired many anonymous folk variants. One frequent set of verses has it open:

I don’t care if it rains or freezes
Long as I got my Plastic Jesus
Riding on the dashboard of my car.
Through my trials and tribulations
And my travels through the nations
With my Plastic Jesus I’ll go far.

Some Catholics will also hang rosary beads from their rearview mirror.

Catholics and other Christians may also hang crosses or crucifixes from the rearview mirror.

Wedding Transport

Cars are often decorated, and have wishes written on them, and various streamers or trailing objects attached, in celebrations of weddings and graduations.


A frequent wedding tradition in the United States involves the decoration of the vehicle the bride and groom drive take at the conclusion of the wedding ceremony. Typically, various ribbons and streamers are attached, and words written upon the surface of the vehicle, and often tin cans are attached to its fenders or bumpers by strings to serve as noisemakers. Jan Brunvand‘s American Folklore: An Encyclopedia speculates that the decoration of the car and its equipment with noisemakers may perpetuate the shivaree, a custom in which newlyweds were given a noisy serenade; when honeymoon travel became a custom, it made a traditional local shivaree impractical, so the vehicle is given a noisy sendoff instead.[4]

Some cars are used chiefly for special occasions and social rituals, such as limousines.

. . . Automobile folklore . . .

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. . . Automobile folklore . . .