- Chick Hicks is based on a 1987 Buick Grand National NASCAR racer.
- The King is a 1970 Plymouth Superbird, one of Richard "The King" Petty's most famous rides. The Superbird was created to get him back into a Plymouth for the 1970 racing season and Petty himself provides the voice. The King's paint scheme is exactly as King Richard's was in the 1970 NASCAR season.
- Mrs. "The King" is a 1974 Chrysler Town and Country station wagon, modeled after the car in which the Pettys drove themselves and their children to the races during the 1970s.
- Mack is based on a Mack Superliner semi-truck. The character of Mack was originally going to be a Peterbilt, but was changed because John Ratzenberger's father drove a Mack in Chicago. This is referenced during the scene where Lightning exits onto Route 66 trying to catch up to Mack: the battery truck he mistakenly follows says "I ain't no Mack, I'm a Peterbilt!"
- Mia and Tia are modeled after the first-generation Mazda MX-5 Miata.
- Dusty Rust-Eze is a 1960s Dodge A100 van, his brother Rusty is a 1963 Dodge Dart.
- The cars that run a sleepy Mac off the road and are later caught speeding are collectively called the Delinquent Road Hazards. Each parodies a different modification style. "Wingo," a 1994 Mitsubishi Eclipse GSX, exemplifies flashy non-performance additions often called "ricing". "Boost," a 1996 Nissan 240/200SX S14A, is a nitrous oxide street racer. "DJ," a 2004 Scion xB, is a mobile audio platform. "Snot Rod," a 1970 Dodge Challenger R/T, is a classic supercharged muscle car (the graphics and grille badge are changed to S/R in the film).
- Sheriff is a 1949 Mercury Club Coupe.
- Doc is a 1951 Hudson Hornet two-door coupe.
- Fillmore is a late-1960s Volkswagen Type 2, otherwise known as the Transporter, or "Microbus." It was a very popular vehicle among hippies in the late 1960s and early 1970s, and even made its way into popular culture. It is heavily referenced in the Arlo Guthrie song "Alice's Restaurant Massacree."
- Sarge is a 1940s Willys MB "Jeep"
- Ramone is a 1959 Chevrolet Impala, a very popular car with the low riders.
- Luigi is a 1959 Fiat 500.
- Mater is a 1955 Chevrolet Stepside tow truck.
- Sally is a 2002 Porsche 911 Carrera (Type 996).
- Flo isn't based on any single car but shares elements of the 1951 Buick LeSabre, the 1951 Buick XP-300, and the 1957 Chrysler Dart - all actual show cars. Her appearance closely resembles Al's vehicle in Toy Story 2 (1999).
- In the montage after McQueen goes missing, Jay Limo is a third-generation Lincoln Town Car, Sven (Arnold Schwarzenegger) is a Hummer H1, Junior (Dale Earnhardt Jr) is based on a Chevrolet Monte Carlo SS NASCAR racer, as driven by Earnhardt between 1999 and 2007.
- The car used for Mario Andretti's cameo is the Holman-Moody Ford Fairlane Andretti drove to victory in the 1967 Daytona 500, a race in which Richard Petty was one of the favorites to win. Petty dropped out of the race due to a blown engine.