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I've noticed in countless films and television shows that when characters stop for some reason-- to pick someone up, for instance-- they turn the car off, only to turn it back on again mere seconds later.

One example I recently observed was in the 1995 Michael Mann film Heat. The scene in mind had Vincent (Al Pacino), stop to pick up his girlfriend's daughter Lauren (Natalie Portman) from the side of the road. The driver of the car turns off the vehicle and Vincent and Lauren have a brief conversation. Upon the conclusion of the conversation, Lauren gets in the back of the car and the driver turns the car back on and the three drive away.

Why turn the car off at all?

To be clear: there are a plethora of examples out there, this is just one of them. I hoped to provide a clip for reference but it's challenging to find a clip of an event so irrelevant to the plot of a film.

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I think that, quite often, there is some time between the recordings of the scene due to new camera placements, make-up whatever. So what may seem like a few seconds in the film, might be a lot longer during production. Furthermore, if the engine would be running during this time there would be a lot exhaust gasses hanging around, which is not really realistic/healthy either. So I think they turn the car of because it is not needed for quite a long period of time, unlike displayed in the final movie. –  invalid_id Aug 19 at 9:41

4 Answers 4

It could be:

  1. They did not have the right sound library for a stationary vehicle with the engine turned on, so they make the actors turn them off to not have to create additional sound effects.

  2. The engine running might create unwanted noise with the conversation between the actors, so maybe they wanted the audience's full attention on the actors, not the background noise.

  3. Or the actors doing their job and feeling like turning off the engine makes the scene look more natural.
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There is nothing odd in it. I mean in general its a good habit to to turn off car, when not in use. Many people do this in regular life and it became in their habit.

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Even when stopped for... 10 seconds? In a situation where you know you're going to start it right back up again? How is it good habit? To my knowledge it's actually a waste of gas to stop then start it right back up again. –  stevvve Dec 5 '13 at 16:24
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@stevvve when you are not sure how much time its gona take then ? And sometimes its in users habit to turn of a car. –  Ankit Sharma Dec 5 '13 at 16:27
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@stevvve Just FYI, if you turn it off for 10 seconds or more you have reduced the gas consumption and/or CO2 emissions. Turn it off for a shorter time and you haven't, but not everyone knows that. I would find it odd if people turn it off for 1-5 seconds (knowing that they're gonna have to turn it back on again), though, but longer than that I'd say they're just trying to be eco friendly. –  Tom Dec 5 '13 at 17:21
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@stevvve Over here in Europe most new car models automatically turn off the engine when the car stops –  a_horse_with_no_name Dec 5 '13 at 20:45

It is so that you can hear the actors voices, which are usually being recorded without a car idling sound anyway. I tend to cut my car off like this when waiting / talking, so it seems pretty natural to me - but the short answer is so you can hear the dialogue.

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If you stop you car and keep the engine on, it means that you want to go away as soon as possible. So if you pick up a person this is unkind since it means that you don't want to have a conversation with the person before starting the vehicle (for example to know if that person has some need which would require you to wait longer).

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