My Hydrogen Car

The future is highly explosive

Sep 4, 2008
Outside Magazine
My Hydrogen Car

LIKE YOU, I had heard the various complaints against hydrogen-powered cars. "They blow up," said one friend. "They explode," said another. "They shoot apart to the internal blasting," said a foreigner friend.

I ignored the advice, and a few years ago I bought my first hydrogen-powered car. Not long afterwards, it exploded. Fortunately, I was not in the car at the time. It had been stolen by a neighbor boy.

For a while, I swore off hydrogen cars. But the call of hydrogen is hard to resist. You feel confident and guilt-free knowing you are not going around emitting noxious gases from your tailpipe.

So I bought another hydrogen-powered car. And I've been pleased with the improvements. The massive fuel tank has been redesigned so that if it suddenly explodes, the blast is channeled away from the passenger cabin, toward the cars behind you. The upholstery is now a thick vinyl, to prevent hydrogen from seeping inside and exploding. And perhaps most important, if the "sniffer" on the dashboard detects appreciable levels of hydrogen, it automatically slams on the brakes, throws open the doors, and shouts, "GET OUT! GET OUT! GET OUT!"

Remember how the old hydrogen cars had that single, brittle fuel line that went right through the center of the cabin? Just leaning on it with your elbow would crack it and send hydrogen spewing everywhere. Nowadays, dozens of smaller fuel lines snake their way under the cabin. That way, if one line snaps loose from the intense hydrogen pressure, it will merely whip back and forth beneath the car as you continue to drive. (Warning: If this happens, do not stop the car and get out, as the whipping action could cut off your feet.)

The car comes with double windshield wipers: a set on the outside, for rain, and one on the inside, for hydrogen condensation. The underside of the car is double-coated with rustproofing. This is to prevent a hole from working its way through to the cabin, then having a piece of gravel fly in, ping off some metal, create a spark, and trigger an explosion.

The hydrogen car is not without its drawbacks. Mileage is so poor that the driving range is limited, even with the extra fuel bladders in all four doors. (Remember, don't slam them.) The car pulls a little trailer that carries additional hydrogen, but the trailer is so heavy it requires its own gasoline-powered engine. One nice safety feature: In case of an accident, the trailer automatically uncouples from the car and goes off in a different direction.

The hydrogen engine, although low in power, throws off massive amounts of heat. When I bought my hydrogen car, I asked if it came in a convertible. "Anyone riding in a convertible hydrogen car would be instantly incinerated," laughed the salesman. It didn't seem funny to me, but he's the salesman, so I guess he should know what's funny. So I laughed too.

But the biggest problem is there still aren't many hydrogen filling stations. Most of my time driving is spent going to one, filling up, and then coming all the way back. On top of that, the attendants at the stations have this "hydrogen attitude" that I could do without. Man, just put on your helmet and do your job.

Driving home, it's easy to fall into a bad mood. The hydrogen car does not accelerate well. And while you're trying to get up to speed, cars are honking at you and almost running into your fuel trailer. But once you finally get her rolling, and the blurry billows of heat are washing up over the seven-inch-thick windshield, and the engine is purring out its steady ka-thunka-POW, ka-thunka-POW, you sit back and smile. And you think, Shoot me the hydro, Pedro. I don't know why you think that, but you do. Maybe it's because hydrogen causes brain damage.

Some people have told me they want to wait until the bugs are worked out before buying a hydrogen car. First of all, the bugs have been worked out. Other people tell me that hydrogen cars are not commercially available, that my knowledge of hydrogen is misinformed, and that I am what they call a "liar." But if I'm a liar, then what's that parked out in my driveway? Hey, my car's on fire!

Filed To: Culture

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