Does the “water-powered car” really work?

Unsurprisingly, inevitably, rising gas prices have brought increased interest in the water-powered car. Is there really a simple technology that can dramatically boost the efficiency of conventional cars or, better yet, allow you to run your car entirely on tap water?

No. No, there is not.

I don’t want to belabor this topic,1 and as it happens, the available information about various water-powered car schemes is scant enough that they’re generally hard to debunk fully. A couple of points do bear mentioning, though:

* Water is not a fuel.2 And not just because we aren’t clever enough to turn it into one. Water simply doesn’t carry chemical energy in the way that gasoline does. Consider: when you touch a match to water, it fails to explode. You can drink all the water you want without gaining weight.3 This isn’t a technology issue, it’s just a fundamental property of water.4
* Some of the so-called “water-powered” cars are simply cheating: they use another fuel that releases energy upon contact with water. Or they use a charged battery as an energy input. It is accurate to say that such cars do not run on gasoline. It is inaccurate to say that such cars are “powered” by water. Invariably, whatever it is they are really running on is expensive and/or hard to come by. (If you’re interested in learning more about the role that water can play in the energy cycle, check out our toy fuel cell cars.)
* The water-powered car kits commonly advertised on the internet claim to use water to boost the efficiency of a conventional gasoline engine. This isn’t an inherently crackpot notion, and in fact a quick search turns up some non-crazy people who have done research suggesting that electrolyzed water can improve the performance of internal combustion engines. The problem is that the web sites selling the car kits generally *are* completely crackpot, offering up a stew of conspiracy theory, outlandish claims, and typographical errors that fairly screams scam.

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