The days of running his car on the smell of an oily rag are over for Vincent Lowe, now that he can do it on the water from a dishcloth instead.
Mr Lowe, 76, recently bought a hydrogen-on-demand system from the United States, which partly powers his car on a mixture of distilled water and potassium hydroxide, a compound normally used to make soap.
All he has to do is keep feeding the mixture into an apparatus connected to his engine, which converts it into hydrogen gas, making his car less reliant on fuel.
"I'm over the moon with it," he said. "I'm stoked to have found something like this that actually works."
He was confident enough in the system's abilities to invite The Dominion Post along for a test drive between his home in Paraparaumu and Otaki yesterday.
According to rightcar.co.nz, the average fuel consumption of his 2005 Toyota Corolla GL hatchback is 8.1 litres per 100km.
Yesterday, he got that down to 7.3 litres, while running the air conditioning and without any obvious sacrifice in power.
And he is confident he can get the petrol consumption down much further once the system has been running longer.
He has had the unit installed for only about a week, but once it has been running for about 1500km, enough hydrogen should have built up in the fuel cell to bring his fuel consumption down to between 3 and 6 litres per 100km.
His son, Dean, had been running a bigger version of the system in his 4.1-litre Ford Falcon for the past 6 to 8 months and it had improved his fuel efficiency by about 30 per cent, Mr Lowe said.
He first heard of the hydrogen fuel cell idea from an electrical engineer friend 40 years ago. The pair tried to build one, but could not make it work.
By the time Mr Lowe had paid for shipping and installation, the total cost of the system was about $1100, he said.
For every 3.7 litres of water the system consumes, it requires a tablespoon of potassium hydroxide, which sells for about $22.50 for 500 grams.
"I'm not sure how long it will take, but if I keep driving enough then it will pay for itself."
The only drawback is that his failing eyesight means he can no longer do the driving himself, and has to rely on wife Shirley, 77.
"So for me this is just a bit of fun," he said. "But I thought I'd share it with the world because there's plenty of people out there who like saving money."
- © Fairfax NZ News