Vapor Trail

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A vehicle is damaged and leaking fuel. The hero (and it is almost always the hero) ignites the trail of fuel, causing a line of flame to streak after the fleeing vehicle. The fire catches up to the vehicle, ignites the fuel tank and causes the vehicle to go up in an impressive fireball.

Compare Powder Trail. Also remotely related to the one of worst problems with Stealth in Space.

Nothing to do with a lack of a paper trail where there ought to be one. Also not to be confused with either the Rush album or the Crystal Method song entitled Vapor Trails.

Examples of Vapor Trail include:

Comic Books

  • In Tintin in the Land of the Soviets, the streak of flame almost catches up with Tintin's car. Then the fuel runs out.
    • Definitely not a case of Truth in Television: The fuel-air vapor in the empty tank would actually be a lot more flammable than liquid fuel.
  • Jonah Hex pulls one in Hex #18, lighting the fuel with his trusty cigarillo.
  • Marv does this to a wrecked car in the Sin City story, Just Another Saturday Night.
  • Happens in DC Retroactive: Batman - The 90's when a cabbie drops a lit cigarette into a pool of gasoline leaking from his wrecked cab.



  • One of W.E. Johns' Biggles adventures features this. An air pirate encounters Biggles' deHavilland Mosquito fighter variant (four 20mm cannon plus or minus four .303 machine guns) in place of the unarmed bomber-turned-civilian-transport he'd planned to attack. When Biggles nails his opponent's fuel tank, the fellow panics and attempts to return fire through his own vapour trail. Because he's using tracer rounds, which basically trail a stream of fire behind them for up to six hundred yards... well, you can guess the rest.

Live Action TV

  • Tested (and busted) on MythBusters.
    • A trail of gasoline can be set on fire, but if the vehicle is moving faster than about five miles an hour, the flame will never catch up with it, and even if it did, the gas tank won't explode.
    • Fuels other than gasoline, such as diesel or jet fuel, just can't be ignited if lying in a pool on the ground.
  • Farscape did this one too.
  • Alarm Fuer Cobra 11 uses this occasionally.
  • In the Angel episode "Redefinition", Angel sets Darla and Dru on fire at the end by smoking a cigarette and throwing it in to a trail of gasoline.

Music Videos

  • Happens in Music Videos for Radiohead's "Karma Police" and The Arctic Monkeys' "Florescent Adolescent".

Newspaper Comics

  • Happens to Measles' car in Dick Tracy. For added drama, Tracy was trapped clinging to the underside of the car at the time.

Video Games

Western Animation

  • In the Justice League episode "Fury", fallen power lines ignite a trail of spilled fuel leading to a downed helicopter.
  • On the Donald Duck cartoon "The Flying Jalopy", the villain cuts the fuel line of Donald's airplane and lights the trail in midair, which Don then tries to outrun.