Here's What Happens When You Run A Car On Zippo Lighter Fluid

All screenshots: Garage 54 (YouTube)
All screenshots: Garage 54 (YouTube)

One thing that fascinates me about internal combustion engines is their ability to run on a variety of fuel types. I myself have been experimenting with this recently, having run my 1948 Jeep on moonshine. Now here’s a video from the loons at Garage 54, who tried running an old Ukrainian car on lighter fluid.

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The car in question is a ZAZ-1103 Slavuta, the replacement for the cute-as-a-button Zaporozhets. And the lighter fluid is from legendary American lighter manufacturer, Zippo, whose fluid is Naphtha, a hydrocarbon mixture made from petroleum distillates.

Just watch as the Russian mad-scientists who call themselves Garage 54 attempt to get the fuel-injected liftback from Ukraine to turn lighter fluid into reciprocating motion of a crankshaft:

The Garage 54 host, Vlad, pours a specific amount of gasoline into a bowl, and places the fuel pump assembly into it. He then fires up the ZAZ, and waits to see how long the car idles before the pump can no longer suck fuel out of the bin. He then repeats this method with the Zippo fluid, finding that the car ran 15 minutes on 200 ml of gasoline, and roughly 18 minutes on the same amount lighter fluid.

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“Honestly, the engine was running much more smoothly,” [Vlad] says about how it ran on the Naphtha. But getting an engine to idle isn’t nearly as hard as getting getting one to run properly under load without pinging. And indeed, this was a bit of a problem. “Oh wow does it haul!” says Vlad, before admitting that the issue:

“When I give the gas a good step, I can hear a knocking noise from the engine. It’s as if the ECU can’t keep the ignition timing in check,” he says.

Still, apparently there was a noticeable performance benefit over gas power, even if the Zippo fluid costs much more. “Oh man, it goes a bat out of hell,” Vlad said, before saying he thinks the engine control unit, the ECU, does indeed seem capable of accommodating the new fuel type.

“It appears that the ECU is learning after all,” he says in the clip. As he notices the knocking noise subsiding, Vlad admits that he should not have doubted the glorious ZAZ. “I wrong thinking that the ECU wouldn’t be able to adapt...But here it is gradually adjusting itself.”

Watch the video to see Vlad actually squeal the tires with the lighter-fluid-fed Ukrainian liftback as he drives it around near his workshop. It seems to work well.

Yet another great, silly Garage 54 experiment.

Sr. Technical Editor, Jalopnik. Always interested in hearing from auto engineers—email me. Cars: Willys CJ-2A ('48), Jeep J10 ('85), Jeep Cherokee ('79, '91, '92, '00), Jeep Grand Cherokee 5spd ('94).

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DISCUSSION

Back in high school, we had a really smart kid in Physics, who’s dad was some sort of doctorate of science. For his class project, he decided to make a lawn mower run on water.

First thing he did was show you could make hydrogen and oxygen by using electricity out of water. Then he hooked up a tank of oxygen and another tank of hydrogen to a lawn mower engine. After a few spins and adjusting on the mix of oxygen and hydrogen, he vaporized his backyard.

His project ended up being a very funny explanation of the 2nd law of thermodynamics.