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"No one but me can keep this heap running."
Nancy Callahan, from the Sin City story "That Yellow Bastard."

Sometime the owner or driver of a vehicle has a certain connection to their vehicle (be it a car or spaceship etc.) and a way to demonstrate that bond is to make the operator the only individual who can make it run. In the hands of someone else it will fail to start or come to a stop after a few seconds without the gentle touch of the person who knows the special trick to starting the engine or all the little adjustments you have to make.

It tends to happen with either the very best or very worst of cars. The Alleged Car is so rotten through that it needs someone with great knowledge of all its faults to keep it going (and sometimes overlaps with Percussive Maintenance when only the owner knows the sweet spot). The Cool Car can also be full of complex gadgets that you need to keep track of. Or maybe it's just so cool it only deserves the really attentive owner.

Related is Empathic Weapon, which typically will only work for its owner. (Though it is not unknown for a character using this trope to talk as if that trope was in play.) A Black Box is when the "I" in the equation is not present, and the people involved try to bulldoze their way into forcing the something to run, with unpredictable results.

Examples of Only I Can Make It Go include:


Anime & Manga

  • Eureka of Eureka 7 is at first the only one who can pilot the Nirvash Type Zero.
  • Simon is the only one who can pilot the Lagann.
    • This seems to have more to do with the fact that he's the only one with a core drill, not counting Lord Genome, and they might not be interchangeable anyway.
  • Kaneda's bike in Akira is tricked up enough that he's the only one who can keep it going. When Tetsuo tries to steal it, it ends up winding down and landing him in trouble.
  • Hayato from Future GPX Cyber Formula is the only person who can drive Asurada, since the car has an AI system with a unique security feature.


Comic Books

  • Archie in Archie Comics sometimes plays this trope straight, sometimes pokes fun at it. For instance, in one comic, Arch said he couldn't lend the car out to Betty because he was the only one who knew how to keep her running. Oh course, when the car did break down and he couldn't figure out what the problem was, guess who figures out how to fix the jalopy...
  • Nancy Callahan of the Sin City story "That Yellow Bastard" has a car so old and in such bad shape that it will stall out on anybody who tries to drive it, except for her. When her kidnapper, the title character, can't get it working, he has to take her to the Roarks' infamous farm on foot, giving Hartigan time to catch up to them and save her.
  • In Suicide Squad, Briscoe claimed to be the only one capable of piloting the team's helicopter Sheba. Given how possessive he was about Sheba, and that she seemed to respond to the sound of his voice, no one was ever quite game enough to test his claim.
  • Depending on the Writer, the Batmobile sometimes has anti-theft features specifically designed so that no one except Batman can start it.


Film-Live Action

  • Biff in Back to The Future: Part II had a very sweet ride which only he could start the ignition of (to the bemusement of his mechanic). After the Exposition of this in the scene with the mechanic, it's used as a sort of time travel Trust Password by his future self who had come to give him Gray's Sports Almanac.
    • It's also notable that the DeLorean's starter motor never stalls out for Doc, only for Marty.
  • In 2012, the car that's used to escape from the plane would only start from Yuri's voice recognition.


Literature

  • This is kind of the point of Atlas Shrugged.
  • When Mr Gilbreth dies at the end of Cheaper By The Dozen the family sells the car for scraps, seeing how he was the only one able to start it.
  • In Corner of a Round Planet this is subverted, but not averted. All Auggies have a custom-built rig that responds to their particular brainwaves. The rigs lose significant efficacy when the wrong driver attempts to use them.


Live Action TV

  • Michael Knight gave the explanation that the car's onboard computer could read his fingerprints - it's more plausible than the car having AI.
  • Implied in the old Doctor Who episode "The Pyramids of Mars" that only The Doctor can operate his TARDIS. He may have been lying, though...
    • The Master sure had no trouble using it, though it may be that only a Time Lord can use it and the Doc is usually the only one around.
    • Steven and Leela have both managed to pilot it.
    • So has River Song - though it's been both denied and implied (in that order) that the Doctor taught her to drive it.
    • In the 2010 Christmas special A Christmas Carol; although it's not a vehicle, it's a machine that controls a planet's clouds.
  • A partial example occurs in Lexx: Only one person has the "key" to the titular ship (a small Energy Being that embeds itself on the recipient's hand) at any given time and it can only be passed on by the original holder dying or being "brought to the height of sexual ecstasy". Severing the owner's hand seems to work too.
  • Played for laughs on an episode of Cheers. The gang takes a road trip in Cliff's car and crash. Getting the car back on the road requires some things Cliff didn't tell them.

 Sam:Cliff, I'm turning the key, but nothing's happening.

Cliff:That's because I've got it rigged up with a Cliff Clavin Anti-Theft System. What I do is I turn the wheel all the way to the left.

(Sam turns the wheel.)

Sam:Got it.

Cliff:And then I turn the key as hard as I can.

(Sam turns the key.)

Sam:Oh dear. Cliff, I just broke off the key in the ignition.

Cliff:I said as hard as I can, Sammy!


Tabletop Games

  • The Orks of Warhammer 40000 have a latent psychic field that allows their vehicles to function in bizarre ways because they believe they can (Red wunz go fasta, planes keep flying until the pilot is informed they ran out of fuel a while ago, etc). So when a non-Ork uses one, it tends not to work.


Video Games

  • Quite a far out example, but in Breath of Fire II, your town can be turned into a Floating Continent that can only be controlled by your father, who has been wired into the technology.
  • In Mass Effect, Joker says something along these lines when asked about piloting the Normandy.
  • In Jade Empire, Kang says the same for the Marvelous Dragonfly.
    • Both of those expand the trope from just being about clunkers in the hands of someone used to their quirks, to extremely sophisticated devices in the hands of a specialist.
      • And in Kang's case he spends literally every hour of the day making modifications to the Dragonfly (he doesn't sleep). The controls probably change completely from flight to flight.


Western Animation

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