The story behind the ‘cheater car’ seen driving around Boston

Off Beat

There is a car seen around Boston that appears to be vandalized, with the word “CH3ATER” written across it in blood-red paint. Is it just a Halloween gag?

A picture of a gray Subaru, covered in caution tape and red paint that spells out the word "ch3ater." The car is parked in front of the MGM Music Hall in Boston.
Dubbed the “cheater car” on social media, Bostonians have speculated online whether the car is the work of a resentful significant other or just for Halloween. Courtesy of Perry Sullivan

You’ve more than likely seen it parked in front of Boston University campus buildings, outside of a Target, or driving around Allston. On the driver’s side of a Subaru Legacy are the words “CH3ATER” in blood red, with more paint splattered across the vehicle and caution tape wrapped around the front bumper.

Simply dubbed the “cheater car,” it’s been turning heads and creating conversation online since Only in Boston posted a photo of it on social media last year around Halloween.

“She got her point across!” 

“Why can’t people just deal with their personal drama in private?”

“He deserved it.”

Also, several references to “Before He Cheats” by Carrie Underwood. 

The seemingly vandalized car is back on the streets of Boston once again, and at this point, most people who were around to see the car in Allston and near BU last year ahead of Halloween know it’s just an act — or a Halloween “costume” for the driver’s car.

But BU student Perry Sullivan, who owns the car and said it should not be taken literally, noted that it’s funny how many people online assume they know about a situation. He also finds it strange that people think he would drive around in a car that was damaged, if that were really the case.

“People would jump to these conclusions,” Sullivan said. “I found it very interesting.”

He simply does it for fun, a hobby he started during the pandemic as a way to get out of his head during a stressful time. Sullivan said his love for cars started when he was little, and he just never grew out of it. 

“When you’re younger, you’re playing with toy cars,” Sullivan said. “My love of cars, it didn’t end.”

A decade ago, he started sharing his love for cars on Instagram with @massmotors. It’s mostly photographs Sullivan takes of luxury cars, though the “cheater car” has made an appearance, as have his other projects involving his modified Subaru.

There was one year where it looked like a zombie hand was coming out of the front hood of the car. Around Christmas in 2020, he wrapped his car like a present. 

When he’s not decorating his car, he also drives around often without his bumper attached. 

Writing “CHEATER” on the side of the car was something he and his roommate, Cheryl, came up with last year. 

It took one day to put together, around $200 worth of red Plasti Dip and Goo Gone adhesive remover, and a little bit longer than one day to clean it all off. 

This year the car is slightly different. He added “x2” on the driver’s side since it was his second year doing it, used a little less Plasti Dip for the fake blood — the spray-on rubber coating for cars is apparently the most difficult design item to clean off — repositioned the caution and biohazard tape, and added a short message to those who do (and don’t) get the joke of the car. 

“Joke’s on you,” said Sullivan, could be interpreted as something a resentful partner writes when damaging an adultering significant other’s car, or it could be a message to those who maybe once believed the cheater car was anything but a Halloween gag. 

Even when people get that it’s a joke, not everyone appreciates it, as seen on social media.

That includes some flack the driver received after leaving a pet bearded dragon in the cheater car. Animal control said they never went to the scene because police handled it, and Boston police never filed a report over the incident. Sullivan said he didn’t interact with authorities, and the bearded dragon was removed safely from his car. 

He also sees complaints about the modifications to his car. 

‘“His artwork sucks,’ or ‘his taste in modifications suck,’” Sullivan quoted some of the more negative comments. “The point of this car is to have fun and to do weird stuff that makes people smile, especially after these past couple of years — it’s been so tense.”

Sullivan graduates in 2024, so depending on where his post-collegiate life takes him, this might be the last year Bostonians see the cheater car. But keep your eyes peeled for a return of his seasonally appropriate wrapped present car come December.