Fact Check

A Ghostly Encounter? The Story of the 'Pushed Car'

Imagine being in a car with no one behind the wheel.

A ghostly transparent man with back to the camera, standing by a car looking out a sunset  On a winters evening. With a burred, out of focus, depth of field effect. (Getty Images)
A ghostly transparent man with back to the camera, standing by a car looking out a sunset On a winters evening. With a burred, out of focus, depth of field effect. (Image Via Getty Images)
Someone gets fooled into thinking a "ghost" is driving a car when, in reality, people are pushing it.

In 2002, Snopes documented this online message:

This story happened about a month ago in a little town in Mexico, and even when it sounds like an Alfred Hitchcock tale it’s real.

This guy (Cliff) was on the side of the road hitch hiking on a very dark night and in the middle of a storm. The night was rolling and no car went by, the storm was so strong he could hardly see a few feet ahead of him. Suddenly he saw a car coming towards him and stop. The guy without thinking about it got in the car closes the door just to realize there’s nobody behind the wheel. The car starts slowly, the guy looks at the road and sees a curve coming his way, scared he starts to pray begging for his life. He hasn’t come out of shock, when just before he hits the curve, a hand appears through the window and moves the wheel. The guy, paralyzed in terror, watched how the hand appears every time they are before a curve. The guy gathering strength gets out of the car and runs to the nearest town. Wet and in shock goes to a cantina and asks for two shots of tequila, and starts telling everybody about the religious experience he went through. A silence enveloped everybody when they realize the guy was crying and wasn’t drunk.

About half an hour later two guys walked in the same cantina and one said to the other. 'Look Pepe, that’s the asshole that got in the car when we were pushing it.'

This little howler appeared on the internet in early October 2002. Though its nature as a joke should be apparent to all, we’ve had folks ask us in all seriousness if the events it described had indeed taken place.

Sadly, we must inform those who inquired that no, they did not. This is a fine example of a shaggy dog tale, the appeal of which folklorist Jan Brunvand describes thusly: “The humor of these tales consists of telling an outrageous falsehood in the sober accents of a truthful story.”

Although accounts of ghostly encounters and rescues are a vibrant part of folklore, this particular blood-chiller is a deliberate joke and not an urban legend (a story that has been widely believed and told as true).

In September 2007, we saw the “pushed car” tale again, that time told online as a “True Australian Ghost Story” about someone named John Bradford, supposedly a Sydney University student. That version claimed the events described had happened “earlier this year in Brisbane.”

In July 2004, a sanitized version of the joke appeared as a “Laughter, the Best Medicine” item in Reader’s Digest.

However, the earliest sighting so far reported comes from 1979, when it appeared in a collection of jokes published that year.


Orso, Ethelyn G.   Modern Greek Humor: A Collection of Jokes and Ribald Tales.
Bloomington & London: Indiana University Press, 1979   (p. 118, #177).   

“Laughter, The Best Medicine.”
Reader’s Digest.   July 2004   (p. 131).

David Mikkelson founded the site now known as snopes.com back in 1994.