7 weirdly cool materials used in cars today

Cars manufactured today have to meet stringent safety norms, be environmentally friendly and be economical to make. The materials that are normally used to build cars range from steel, aluminium, and magnesium, to various types of plastics, glass, and rubber. Carbon fibre has also been used extensively as a durable yet light-weight material in sports cars. There are cars that have had rare materials used as well like the 16g of gold used as a heat-reflector for the McLaren F1’s engine and titanium exhausts that are used in many supercars.

Left: The BMW-sourced 6.3-litre V12 motor had heat-shielding in the form of gold. Right: A titanium exhaust made for the E92 BMW M3. (Image source: Wikipedia Commons)
Left: The BMW-sourced 6.3-litre V12 motor had heat-shielding in the form of gold. Right: A titanium exhaust made for the E92 BMW M3. (Image source: Wikipedia Commons)

Whether it’s a bid to make a car unique or more eco-friendly, the list below has some really off-beat materials used to make important bits of cars:

Aerogel

This is a synthetic and extremely light-weight material used by NASA as cosmic dust catchers and thermal insulators. It has been used as the latter on their spacesuits and on the Mars Rover, named Curiosity.

Sharing parts with a vehicle that is exploring Mars is a really unique selling point. (Image source: Wikipedia Commons)
Sharing parts with a vehicle that is exploring Mars is a really unique selling point for the Chevrolet Corvette C7. (Image source: Wikipedia Commons)

Chevrolet has used this space-age material as a thermal insulator on its 2014 Corvette C7 sports car to keep the heat from the transmission tunnel from entering the cabin. This makes the Chevrolet Corvette C7 unique as it features space-age technology while using push rods in its engine, a technology that harks back to the early 20th century.

Cannabis hemp

In May 2016 Bruce Michael Dietzen from Florida used a Mazda MX-5 chassis to build a “high-performance” sports convertible out of cannabis hemp. The body panels on the car are reportedly made from three plies of woven hemp, making it lighter than cars made from fibreglass. This makes it nearly 10-times more dent-proof compared to using steel body panels. Dietzen used about 45kg of the illegal plant fibre that he had to import from China.

While based on Mazda's brilliant MX-5 chassis, Bruce Dietzen has built a cool looking convertible out of hemp (Image source: Mazda press site & news.com.au)
While based on Mazda’s brilliant MX-5 chassis, Bruce Dietzen has built a cool looking convertible out of hemp (Image source: Mazda press site & news.com.au)

The eco-friendly car runs on a bio fuel made from recycled agricultural waste and cost Dietzen about $200,000 (£ 153,000) to make. He hopes that this “green machine” will help combat the taboo against cannabis.

Tequila

Ford has been at the forefront of experimenting with different materials to build its cars. At a Ford-sponsored panel discussion on 16 August 2016 in San Francisco, the American manufacturer revealed that it had been working in conjunction with tequila maker José Cuervo to use a by-product created in the production of tequila to make a plastic-like material. The by-product, agave-fibre, is infused with plastics creating a more robust bioplastic that can be used in the dashboards, storage bins and wire harnesses in cars.

The agave fibre by-product would normally be used for compost, as paper and local crafts. (Image source: Wikipedia Commons and Ford press site)
The agave fibre by-product would normally be used for compost, as paper and local crafts. (Image source: Wikipedia Commons and Ford press site)

Besides creating a more robust form of plastic, using an otherwise discarded material is quite a boon to the environment.

Wood

The need to stand out in a crowd has been wholeheartedly embraced by Bentley Motors.  Its super-luxurious cars carry massive price tags for good reason. Even though wood isn’t a logical material to be used when making a car, Bentley wants to demonstrate its distinctiveness. As Autocar had revealed a couple of years ago, the British manufacturer has a wood shop near its manufacturing facility at Crewe.

The Bentley Mulsanne's interior is nothing short of opulent, and the wood inlays just add to the luxurious feel (Image source: Bentley press site)
The Bentley Mulsanne’s interior is nothing short of opulent, and the wood inlays just add to the luxurious feel (Image source: Bentley press site)

The exquisite woodwork seen in their cars like the Mulsanne and Continental is handcrafted from walnut, cherry and oak. This veneer comes from a tree’s root ball found underground. After painstakingly cutting, decorating and sanding the wood, it is then sent to the assembly plant where it is incorporated into Bentley’s cars.

Kenaf (Hibiscus flower)

The use of the Hibiscus flowers' fibre reduced the doors weight by nearly 25% (Image source: Ford press site)
The use of the Hibiscus flowers’ fibre has reduced the weight of the doors by nearly 25%. (Image source: Ford press site)

Ford has used kenaf fibre composites to replace the injection-molded plastic in the doors of their current generation Escape compact crossover. The material was traditionally used to make cords and sails for boats but its usage in the car has seen the weight of the part decrease by 25%.

Coconuts

The 2015 Ford Focus Electric is eco-friendly in more ways than one (Image source: Ford press site)
The 2015 Ford Focus Electric is eco-friendly in more ways than one (Image source: Ford press site)

It is not enough that the new Focus Electric doesn’t burn fossil fuels. Ford wanted the car to be even more environment friendly and has used fibre made from coconut husks in the trim panels and foot and trunk mats in the interior. Not only is this unique, it also reduces the usage of petroleum-made plastics.

Jeans

The new Focus uses recycled jeans as padding to improve the car's NVH levels (Image source: Ford press site)
The new Focus uses recycled jeans as padding to improve the car’s NVH levels (Image source: Ford press site)

Ford has taken eco-friendliness to new levels by using recycled jeans to insulate the 2016 Focus’ engine bay. Besides providing heat-shielding, the recycled material is used to decrease NVH (Noise, vibration, and harshness) levels in its hatchback.

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