The setting for the fictional town of Radiator Springs is situated between Gallup, New Mexico and the Sonoran Desert in California. However, the physical location of Radiator Springs in relation to I-40 is similar to that of Peach Springs, Arizona.
Lasseter told film critic Joe Williams of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that much of the story is based on the recollections of barber Angel Delgadillo in the Route 66 town of Seligman, Arizona, where business withered soon after the opening of I-40.
Willy's Butte resembles the landmark of Mexican Hat, Utah.
Near "Ornament Valley" (a reference to Monument Valley) is derived from the rugged Black Mountains in Arizona, and the famous Cadillac Ranch sculpture in Amarillo, Texas.
Lizzie's Curio Shop in Radiator Springs resembles the crazy Route 66 jumble of memorabilia and knick-knacks at Hackberry General Store in Hackberry, Arizona and the Sand Hills Curiosity Shop, aka the City Meat Market building in Erick, Oklahoma.
The bridge that McQueen sees Sally driving on resembles several bridges on Route 66, including the Cyrus Avery Route 66 Memorial Bridge in Tulsa, the Colorado Street Bridge in Pasadena, California, and the now-closed bridge over Diablo Canyon at Two Guns, Arizona.